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Stories of Atlanta

Ignored Laws

Atlanta’s population in 1850 was around 2,500 people, of which 493 were slaves. Unlike the southern part of the state where large landowners utilized slave labor to tend and harvest crops, the bulk of Atlanta’s slave population was utilized for domestic labor, carpentry and blacksmithing. Unlike their southern counterparts, many of Atlanta’s enslaved peoples lived apart from their owners, which provided them with a small measure of independence. Slaves were able to acquire income of their own by selling cakes, fruits, vegetables and other consumables as street peddlers.

White slave owners were able to augment their incomes by “hiring out” their slaves to those in need of additional labor and, as a result, slaves, mostly male, were able to acquire new skills. It was a win-win situation. The slave holder appropriated a portion of the hired-out slave’s wages. Slave owners discovered that having a slave with newly acquired skills could save them money as that slave could make repairs for which the owner would have otherwise needed to pay. Finally, having a slave with skills would put extra money in the owner’s pocket when that slave was put on the auction block. The benefit to the slave was the ability to earn income. Some enslaved people were actually able to purchase their freedom with the money they made working as hired-out labor.

The relative independence given to some slaves, however, was a cause for concern among Atlanta’s white population and, in the decade leading up to the Civil War, the City would pass regulations in an attempt to curtail freedom of movement…regulations that, by-and-large, were mostly ignored as we see in this week’s Stories of Atlanta.

Lance Russell

Lance Russell is an Atlanta-based filmmaker and media communicator who, for over three decades, has been entrusted by clients to tell their stories. A seasoned producer with an innate ability to cut to the heart of the matter, Lance’s instincts are tailor-made for today’s “media bite” culture. Brief, poignant and always entertaining, Lance’s current passion is bringing Atlanta’s colorful and inspiring past to life with his “rest of the story” style video series, Stories of Atlanta. “History’s best communicators,” says Lance, “have always been storytellers. It’s in our DNA. ‘Once upon a time’ is how we got to where we are now.”


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  1. Renell McCoy February 19, 2021 2:12 pm

    No part of being a slave is a “Win.” Even though modest funds were available to be earned and new skills acquired. These human beings were still considered someone else’s property. Please consider all facets before you publish.Report

  2. Steve February 23, 2021 9:50 am


    Thanks for documenting Atlanta’s past. As a 20-year resident of the city, I greatly appreciate your thoughtful approach and balanced perspective.

    – SteveReport


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