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A Byte Out of History: Civil Rights Case One of Our First

The new special agent force announced by Attorney General Charles Bonaparte on July 26, 1908—the forerunner of today’s FBI—was just days old when a civil rights crime in North Carolina led to one of its first investigations.

Aug 08, 2013 03:00 PM

A Byte Out of History: Civil Rights Case One of Our First


The new special agent force announced by Attorney General Charles Bonaparte on July 26, 1908—the forerunner of today’s FBI—was just days old when a civil rights crime in North Carolina led to one of its first investigations.

It was a case of peonage—compelling a person to work to repay money owed. A fundamental denial of freedom without due process—and a practice that sometimes trapped people in a form of slavery when debts were never allowed to be fully repaid—peonage became a federal crime in 1867. Although rare in the late 1800s, by the early 20th century peonage had become a regular practice in certain industries and parts of America, and the Department of Justice was routinely investigating such cases.

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