Friday, February 24, 2017



Douglas A. Blackmon

Interview between Tavis Smiley and author Douglas A. Blackmon, who wrote Slavery by Another Name, revealing a form of U.S. neoslavery that thrived after legal abolition.
Tavis: Douglas Blackmon is the Atlanta bureau chief for "The Wall Street Journal" who's written extensively about race and American society. His new book is called "Slavery By Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II." Douglas, nice to have you on the program.

Douglas A. Blackmon: Thanks for having me.

Tavis: Let me start with the obvious question. What do you mean by re-enslavement?
Blackmon: I mean the return of slavery. It wasn't the same thing as - exactly the same thing as what we all learned about in school about antebellum slavery, but the reality of what happened was that after a time of real freedom for Blacks after the Civil War, a new slavery began to come back, engineered by many people whose economic interests had been built on slavery before the Civil War.

And by the time the 20th century started, there were thousands and thousands of African Americans who had been returned to some kind of slavery and millions of others who lived in fear of it.

But the reality is, that's not true. And in the course of writing "Slavery By Another Name," I went back and dug through courthouses after courthouses in Georgia, Alabama, and Florida and found the original arrest records of thousands and thousands of people.

And the truth is that in many places in the South, I would find there were no crimes at all being committed for months and months at a time, and then suddenly there would be 15 or 20 or 30 young Black men rounded up in the span of a few days and then sold under this perversely cynical judicial system that was emerging.

They would then be sold into a form of slavery in coal mines or timber camps or sawmills and turpentining stills, and that happened to thousands and thousands of African American men.

And so all of the Southern states passed laws which essentially made it almost impossible for a Black man to be secure from arrest at any given moment. There were laws passed that made it - it was a crime if you couldn't prove you had a job at any given time. It was a crime to change employers without the permission of the first employer. So if you worked for a White man on his farm and you wanted to get a better deal with a different White man down the road, if you tried to do that without the permission from the first man, you could be arrested.

Blackmon: Well, it was mining and a lot of sort of heavy industrial, sort of crude industrial enterprises, like mining goal, mining iron ore, cutting timber, harvesting the sap from pine trees to make turpentine, which was a huge business at that time.

But what was happening there was that at the end of old slavery, just before the Civil War, there had begun to be capitalists in the South who were experimenting with using slaves in factories and coal mines and industrial settings, and those were the men who, after the Civil War, worked the hardest to recreate this new form of forced labor.

And like in the case of the - I talk a lot about a group of mines on the outskirts of Birmingham, Alabama. They were owned by U.S. Steel Corp by the time these events occurred, and in those mines, the owners of the mines acquired Black men from county jails all across Alabama. They leased thousands of Black men directly from the state of Alabama.

Over the course of 30 or 40 years, there were tens of thousands of African American men held there. They lived under incredibly brutal conditions, malnourished, sick. They were whipped every day. Unspeakable scenes of brutality.
Tavis: You talk, obviously, in the book, as you do in this conversation, about the South's absolute culpability in this enterprise, this illegal, unethical, immoral enterprise, and you also talk in the book about the North's complicity - the South's culpability, the North's complicity, particularly on the part of major American corporations. Talk to me about that.
Blackmon: Well, there's two faces to that. One is simply that there were big companies in the South and in the North, and some companies that survive today, like U.S. Steel Corp, which relied very heavily on this practice and made enormous amounts of money, as did all of the state governments in the South. Millions and millions of dollars were collected and poured into the treasuries of the state governments of the South.

But the more upsetting or perverse aspect of this is the complicity of Whites in the North more generally. It's really not a surprise, in some respects, that Southern Whites conducted themselves in the way that they did, but what was surprising was that by the end of the 19th century, by about 1900, Whites all across America, including in the North, had reached a new consensus that essentially it was too hard.

That the integrating of freed slaves and their children into American society, it had been going on for 35 years, the political process was being undercut by it, it was a tough thing to do, and America was tired of it. White America was tired of it. And about 1900, Whites in the North began in very large numbers to say, "We've had enough of this, let's let the Whites in the South do whatever they want to with Blacks."

And that's when this system began to metastasize on a huge scale.


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