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Not a Black and/or White Issue

It’s another of history’s dirty little secrets. While black slavery in this country is well documented, there is little said about its white counterpart. If mentioned at all, white slavery usually masquerades under the broad labels of “indentured servitude” and the “convict trade.” (The word “slave” originally referred to the Slavs of Eastern Europe who were in bondage off and on for centuries.) Gypsies and the Chinese were also victims of forced labor in this country, and the rarely acknowledged enslavement of California’s Mission Indians by the Spanish padres was the subject of my book, Communion of Sinners. Our historians’ biased insistence on ignoring this ugly reality deserves to be rectified. In the 1600s,...

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Rebel with a Cause

William Bruce Mumford was an unlikely candidate for martyrdom. A native of North Carolina, he fought with honor in the Seminole and Mexican-American wars and, like many men from small Dixie towns, sought his fortune in the big city. When he discovered a knack for card games, he became a regular in the New Orleans gambling houses and found further success on the Mississippi River steamboats. Like the vast majority of Southerners, seventy five percent in fact, Mumford did not own slaves, nor did he champion the region’s “peculiar institution.” He wasn’t even particularly political, but when his beloved South and her Queen City were threatened by civil war, Mumford rushed to embrace the Confederate cause. His fierce loyalty would have terrible consequences. In...

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Southern Discomfort

In 1861, New Orleans was the jewel in the Confederate crown, the fourth largest city in the country and unquestionably the richest in the South. With the outbreak of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln made certain this ripe plum fell hard and fast. He put her conquest at the top of his priority list for the simple reason that whoever held the city controlled the mouth of the Mississippi River, and he sweetened the deal by promising to make whoever took New Orleans a lieutenant-general in the Union Army.   Anticipating the attack, the Confederacy beefed up defenses at Forts Jackson and St. Philip, which faced each other seventy miles downriver, and went on the offensive when they learned the Union Navy had entered the river from the Gulf of Mexico....

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