In a curious twist of events, on Aug. 10, 1944, the Bulloch Herald reported that plans were finalized for the county's new prisoner-of-war camp. The barbed-wire compound was being built on Dover Road near the city limits. At first, talks were underway to build two camps — one near Portal and one in Statesboro — but those plans were shelved and the decision was made to build a single large camp to be open until at least October 15, 1944.
The camp was to house some 150 Italian and German prisoners and would have a large military police contingent to handle security issues. Bulloch County commissioners agreed to pay for the camp's basic construction and to provide lights, water and telephone service as well as to observe War Department regulations when erecting the security fence and prisoners' quarters.
According to the U.S. Army, Statesboro's camp would be one of 26 such facilities constructed across the South's "Peanut Belt." Not surprisingly, the prisoners would be responsible for harvesting the county's peanut crop.
According to John T. Allen, the state's emergency farm labor assistant for Bulloch County, there would be at least 110 POWs available to work on local farms. While guards were available to oversee the prisoners work, each farmer was responsible for his own group's transportation needs.
According to Allen, once the manpower was available, less than 20 percent of the requests for laborers could be filled, and all manpower was reserved within several hours after registration opened. Each prisoner was to be paid “the standard wage for such work — 40 cents per hour per man.”
Once they picked the peanuts, they were to hang them on poles, which were 8 feet long. The workers were paid 23 cents per stack placed by hand and 14 cents per stack if pitchforked. Each laborer was expected to complete seven stacks per day by hand or 12 stacks per day by pitchfork.
According to the Oct. 19 edition of the Bulloch Herald, some 57,000 stacks of peanuts were erected by 2,125 men in 38 days, with each stack weighing between 75 and 100 pounds. According to Allen, it is likely that without the help of the POWs, much, if not all, of Georgia's peanut crop might have gone unpicked and left to rot.
Roger Allen is a local lover of history. He provides a brief look at the area's historical past. Email Roger at firstname.lastname@example.org.