I had the privilege of sitting next to Doug Blackmon a few weeks ago at a dinner at the Blank Family Foundation and today listened to his talk at Atlanta Rotary. Doug’s Pulitzer Prize winning book, Slavery by Another Name: The Re-enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War until WWII, has been turned into a film which premiers tonight (Monday, February 13) at nine p.m. on GPB. That’s channel 8 I believe.Doug showed a two and one-half minute clip from the film at lunch and it made me cancel all plans for this evening.
I encourage everyone to buy the book and watch the movie. At least check out the website. http://www.slaverybyanothername.com There are some amazing photos and a clip of the movie there (and if I was better at this, I could embed here).
The details of the story are excruciatingly painful and real. After a brief post-Civil War period when blacks gained some measure of freedom and civil rights in the South, slavery returned with a vengeance and lasted some three-quarters of a century. While it took a different form than the pre-war institution, it was still slavery pure and simple. Blacks were forced to work against their will and without pay; black men were bought and sold into slavery just as they had been before the war. The primary method of post-war slavery involved the use or, better said, abuse of the justice system. Black men were arrested by the thousands for violating vagrancy laws or laws which made illegal the simple act of looking for work without getting the permission of one’s current employer. The penalties? Years of hard and unpaid labor at a work farm, work camp, mine, lumber mill, or factory. The South’s attempt to regain economic prosperity after the war was through what had been a tried and true system before the war – through the re-enslavement of Black Americans.
At Rotary, Doug made the not-too-comfortable point of acknowledging that there were people in the room whose companies and families had likely benefited from these practices. I congratulate Rotary for inviting Doug to speak. He also made the point that while it’s common place today to believe that slavery and its effects couldn’t possibly have lasted until 2011, 150 years after the Civil War ended, the truth of the matter is that slavery in the South persisted far after the Civil War ended, up until the middle of the 20th century when people my age were born. Slavery is unfortunately not ancient history in America. And its effects remain every much in evidence today.
I hope you will join me in watching tonight.