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Slavery by What Other Name?
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Unidentified African American undergoing punishment in labor camp in 1932. (photo by John Spivak)

Ask any student of American history what year the enslavement of African Americans ended in the United States and she or he will answer with cheerful confidence, "1865" (although President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, the constitutional amendments that made it a nationally inclusive law were not adopted until later).

Ask that same question of author Douglas A. Blackmon, who recently picked up a very cool 2009 Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction for his book Slavery by Another Name, and he will suggest a different date: "I would put 1942 as the date for the technical end of slavery in the Unite. States," said Blackmon. Why? Because according to Blackmon's research, spun into the compelling narrative of his book, the condition of what he refers to as "neoslavery" did not end until that time.

Neoslavery was the practice of abducting African Americans, and/or imprisoning them based on exaggerated or false criminal charges, and forcing them into servitude long after the days of the Civil War that supposedly put an end to such practices. As the subtitle of his book indicates, the practice basically constituted "The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II." Blackmon maintains that the practice was particularly prominent in the states of Alabama, Florida, and Georgia. Moreover, the "free" labor it provided was utilized by a number of corporations and allowed them to become some of the wealthiest and most powerful in modern U.S. history.

Significantly enough, Blackmon shared his insights and theories with a packed to capacity audience last week (Friday, May 15, 2009) in the brand new annex of the Ralph Mark Gilbert Civil Rights Museum in Savannah, Georgia. Considering that Savannah once-upon-a-time in the 1700s American South was one of the busiest slave port cities in the country, it seems like something more than a coincidence took place when Blackmon was scheduled to give a book signing and lecture in the city only weeks before he won the Pulitzer. That kind of almost magical confluence of events is something authors and booksellers hardly dare to even dream about much less hope for. In this case, the lucky bookseller turned out to be The Book Lady, which temporarily moved its base of operations from 6 East Liberty Street in Savannah to the Civil Rights Museum for the lecture and signing.

Sitting in on Blackmon's lecture, I couldn't help being as moved as anybody else in the very diverse audience by what he had to say: "This is not only a story about what was done to African Americans. It's a story about what was done by White Americans... It isn't black history. It's American history." The emphasis on the words "to" and "by" in the previous sentence are his. They were further underscored by a series of some thirteen canvases, by artist Robert Morris, mounted on easels near the back wall of the annex. Some of Morris' work combined painted images with copies of authentic newspaper articles from the 1700s advertising slave auctions or rewards for runaway slaves. Included among the images are locations only recently identified as places where slave trading or related activities took place in Savannah .      

 So now visitors on their way to the city know where to drop in to pick up an autographed copy of Slavery by Another Name fresh off the Pulitzer lecture circuit. Moreover, art from the Robert Morris exhibit is also currently on display at The Book Lady. AND: it just so happens that you can also pick up a copy of ELEMENTAL The Power of Illuminated Love at that same location. Feel free to reserve a copy of either book by calling (912) 233-3628.

Slavery by Another Name raises some serious issues in relation to some of my own nonfiction works, particularly Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance and The Wisdom of W.E.B.  Du Bois . For that reason, and for others dealing with the book's potential impact on studies of American and African-American history during this era of the United States' first African-American president, I will periodically revisit the subject in this blog.

 

For a related article, please read Authors Weigh in on Neoslavery Debate

 

by Aberjhani

 

Comments
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Aberjhani, unfortunatelly

Aberjhani, unfortunatelly slavery by many other names still exists in the world. Some years ago, landowners from a region in Northern Brazil were arrested for maintaining their farms like concentration camps. In exchange for housing people were lured to the farms and, once they were "hired", they could not leave unless they paid for everything they used, which was impossible, because they didn´t have a salary!Their only option was to work 10, 12 hours a day, otherwise they´d be punished. It´s hard to believe that this could happen in the 21st century. In countries the size of Brazil and the US one can sometimes find out the most terrible things. Talking about them and letting everybody know what goes on is a great step to make sure they don´t happen again.

This page is from Livraria Cultura, in Brazil. They have the Encyclopedia and The Wisdom for import:

http://www.livrariacultura.com.br/scripts/cultura/busca/busca.asp?nautor...

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Thank you Luciana

Appreciate you sharing the page from Livraria Cultura and your comments. As weird as it is to say so, slavery is indeed still among us. It was only a couple of years ago that a wealthy couple in New York City of all places was convicted for the practice. 

The word "humanity" definitely means one thing to certain segments of the human race and quite another to others.  

Aberjhani
Founder of Creative Thinkers International
 author of The American Poet Who Went Home Again
and Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance (Facts on File)

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Can we put a date to it?

Can we put a date to something like the end of slavery? It may be a legalistic reality, but slavery - economic, social and even psychological - is not as easily done away with.

When Blackmon says, "It isn't black history. It's American history" there is an element of shared responsibility, which is most significant. There is a tendency in most societies to make the subdued sections answerable for their own subjugation.

~F

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I agree with you Farzana

But the forms of slavery you noted at least give individuals some degree of a fighting chance. Physical enslavement and the accompanying torture that makes it virtually impossible to overcome tends to be another matter. It would be a wonderful things if we could make today's date the one that marks an end to slavery across the globe.

Your observation that "There is a tendency in most societies to make the subdued sections answerable for their own subjugation" is one I will have to consider as I continue to write about and discuss this subject. We certainly see it in the oppression of women in too many socieities, don't we? 

Aberjhani
Founder of Creative Thinkers International
author of The American Poet Who Went Home Again
and Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance (Facts on File)

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Thank you

Aberjhani,

Thank you for this blog and discussion. The book sounds interesting.

This isn’t about that book, but a few weeks ago, I read “Coming of age in Mississippi” by Anne Moody. I didn’t know about her and the book. She is a very powerful writer. I was right behind the narrator all the way to the end. The book really satisfied the part of the civil right movement I wanted to know. If you read the book, I wondered what you thought of it.

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That one's a classic Keiko

COMING OF AGE IN MISSISSIPPI is a classic of that genre Keiko and yet I don't believe I've ever read it. On both the high school and college levels, certain other titles along the same lines were required reading--for example Maya Angelou's "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings"--but Moody's was not and I never felt compelled to read it on my own until your recommendation just now :-) 
Thanks.

Aberjhani
Founder of Creative Thinkers International
 author of The American Poet Who Went Home Again
and Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance (Facts on File)

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slavery still exists here in the u.s.

I'd heard about Blackmon's book before, but I'm glad to read your more detailed description of his research here. I will have to get this book. I think it's important for everyone to remember the distinction between *chattel slavery* -- the system under which humans claim to literally *own* other humans as property, to my mind, the most degrading and horrific form of slavery -- and the various other systems of enforced, unpaid labor that have existed for ages and continue to this day. I don't have a link right at hand, but I remember watching part of a documentary about five years ago that spoke of the number of immigrants who are here in the U.S. working as domestics, who are basically held captive by their employers, who paid for their transportation here and insist that their "employee" is not free to leave until those costs are repaid. Debt slavery is what this is, just like the "sharecropping" system that held so many newly emancipated African Americans in the rural South after slavery. Not unrelated to the "company towns" of another period of U.S. history... All of these are entirely unacceptable forms of exploitation, even if they don't involve whips, chains, and auction blocks.

We have our work cut out for us still, at home and around the world.

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How right you are Evie

Truly we do have our work cut out for us and it's much more than the average modern city-dweller might imagine.  

 Aberjhani 
Founder of Creative Thinkers International 
author of The American Poet Who Went Home Again 
and Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance (Facts on File)

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here's a link

This is not to the documentary I remembered, but to an informative website:

http://iabolish.org/slavery_today/usa/states.html

You'll notice that a number of these cases involve sex work, which I failed to mention in my previous response, but is a huge factor.

Thanks again for bringing Blackmon's book to our attention. It helps to address the fallacious arguments, still made by some, that African Americans have had 150 years of unobstructed access to freedom and thus should have no further complaints about racism in this country...

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Truth can be a scary thing

That is a very scary website but I guess what's even more terrifying is the truth of its reports. Thanks for the link Evie.

If we can speak of any such thing as a "bright side" to all of this it would have to be that at least modern slavery is not officially sanctioned by any sector of the government as it was during those decades and centuries prior to the Civil War.

Aberjhani
Founder of Creative Thinkers International
author of The American Poet Who Went Home Again
and Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance (Facts on File)

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Tweeted this because more folks should know

Hi, Aberjhani. I'm up past the ideal bedtime tonight, saw this post and the discussion it's stirred and tweeted it for you. The topic and book deserve more attention.

Nordette Adams
National African-American Books Examiner for Examiner.com

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Ahh the Tweet Factor

Thank you Nordette. I'm still a stranger to the world of Tweet, believe it or not, so appreciate the post.

Aberjhani
Founder of Creative Thinkers International
author of The American Poet Who Went Home Again
and Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance (Facts on File)

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Good Post...

Aberjhani,

Thanks for reminding us that we are all students of history.