Tuesday, November 19, 2013
Brian Sawers (Ohio State) presented Poll Taxes and Labor Control in the Postbellum South at Loyola-L.A. yesterday as part of its Tax Policy Colloquium Series:
The poll tax is best known as a tool to disenfranchise black voters in the Jim Crow South. This article shows that the poll tax was used to control and coerce black labor even before Jim Crow. Free blacks before the Civil War and freedmen afterwards resisted working for low wages for white employers. Occasional work, combined with a garden and wild food, could feed a family in many parts of the South. Planters, on the other hand, needed and wanted low-cost black workers. To limit black economic autonomy, planter-dominated state and local governments to impose head taxes, later known as poll taxes. Since the tax had to be paid in cash, the poor were forced to work for wages, most often for white employers.
W. Elliot Brownlee (UC-Santa Barbara, Department of History) was the commentator.