Sunday, June 29, 2008

Celebrating Juneteenth: The Untold Story of Neo-Slavery in the United States (repost)

This looked rather interesting:

Did you know that the so-called Emancipation Proclamation issued by Commander-in-Chief Abraham Lincoln legally did not free one slave?

Did you know that the 13th amendment to the U.S. Constitution did not totally abolish slavery, but presented a way for it to legally continue?

Did you know that up until the 1980s there were still Blacks being held in the Deep South by private families as slaves?

Did you know that the American Gulag/Prison Industrial Complex is legally considered slavery?

Did you know that the treatment of the unlawful detainees held by the U.S. at Guantanamo Bay is very similar to the treatment of slaves in America?

Well, now you know and knowing is only have the battle. Read on:


A Different Kind Of Slavery: New Atlanta Museum Will Honor Wealthy Citizens Who Used Water Boarding, Whipping, False Imprisonment, Forced Labor & Prisoner Murder To Rebuild The City After The Civil War

"Guards Had Recently Adopted For Punishment Of The Workers The 'Water Cure,' In Which Water Was Poured Into The Nostrils And Lungs Of Prisoners"

"Guards Holding Long Horse Whips Struck Any Worker Who Slowed To A Walk Or Paused"

"If You Ain't Dead, I Will Make You Dead If You Don't Go To Work,"

"Forced Workers In His Coal Mines Could Never Be Whipped Too Much"

March 29, 2008 By DOUGLAS A. BLACKMON, Wall St. Journal

At the center of a massive new real-estate development in Atlanta, an $18 million monument designed to honor 2,000 years of human achievement is nearing completion.

When it opens this summer, a museum inside the Millennium Gate also will pay special tribute to the accomplishments and philanthropy of some of the founding families of modern Atlanta.

Organizers say plans for the exhibit don't include one overlooked aspect of two of the city's post-Civil War leaders: the extensive use of thousands of forced black laborers.

The builders of the 73-foot archway say the museum is too small to convey every aspect of the city's founders and that it's appropriate to focus on the positive aspects of these men.

In this adaptation from his new book, "Slavery by Another Name," Douglas A. Blackmon, Atlanta bureau chief of The Wall Street Journal, chronicles how companies owned by these two men used forced labor to help rebuild Atlanta -- a practice that was widespread through the South.

Millions of bricks used to make the sidewalks and streets of Atlanta's oldest neighborhoods -- many of them still in use today -- came from a factory owned by James W. English, the city's former mayor, and operated almost entirely with black forced laborers.

Many had been convicted of frivolous or manufactured crimes and then leased by the city to Mr. English's company, Chattahoochee Brick Co.

Between the Emancipation Proclamation and the beginning of World War II, millions of African-Americans were compelled into or lived under the shadow of the South's new forms of coerced labor.

Under laws enacted specifically to intimidate blacks, tens of thousands were arbitrarily detained, hit with high fines and charged with the costs of their arrests.

With no means to pay such debts, prisoners were sold into coal mines, lumber camps, brickyards, railroad construction crews and plantations.

Others were simply seized by southern landowners and pressed into years of involuntary servitude.

At the turn of the 20th century, at least 3,464 African-American men and 130 women lived in forced labor camps in Georgia, according to a 1905 report by the federal Commissioner of Labor.

Beginning in July 1908, a commission established by the Georgia Legislature convened a series of hearings into the state's system of leasing prisoners to private contractors. Meeting early every day and late into the night to escape the city's excruciating heat, the panel called more than 120 witnesses over three weeks to give testimony in the state Capitol's regal Room No. 16.

Joel Hurt, who one guard said believed the forced workers in his coal mines could never be whipped too much, was also chairman of Atlanta's Trust Company Bank. Leveraging his interests in real estate and mines worked by prisoners, Mr. Hurt was Atlanta's most energetic deal maker and buyout artist.

Accounts of Brutalities

Witness after witness -- ranging from former guards to legislators to freed slaves -- gave vivid accounts of the system's brutalities.

Wraithlike men infected with tuberculosis were left to die on the floor of a storage shed at a farm near Milledgeville.

Laborers who attempted escape from the Muscogee Brick Co. were welded into ankle shackles with three-inch-long spikes turned inward -- to make it impossibly painful to run again. Guards everywhere were routinely drunk and physically abusive.

Testimony described hellish conditions at Chattahoochee Brick and other operations owned by Mr. English, a luminary of the Atlanta elite and a man hardly anyone in the reviving city would have associated with human cruelty.

But by 1908, Mr. English -- despite having never owned antebellum slaves -- was a man whose great wealth was inextricably tied to the enslavement of thousands of men.

Born in 1837 near New Orleans and orphaned as a teenager, he served as a young man in the Confederate army, rising to become a captain in a prominent Georgia brigade. After the South's defeat, he went to Atlanta to establish himself in the business and politics of the bustling new capital of southern commerce. He led a drive to make the city the state capital of Georgia, cementing its foundation as an economic center. In 1880 he was elected mayor.

Presiding from an elegant home, Mr. English, a portly man with a thick shock of white hair and a matching mustache, fostered a collection of enterprises that grew as Atlanta emerged from its Civil War ruin.

Chattahoochee Brick

The base of his wealth, Chattahoochee Brick, relied on forced labor from its inception, in 1878, and by the early 1890s, more than 150 prisoners were employed in the wilting heat of its fires.

By 1897, Mr. English's enterprises controlled 1,206 of Georgia's 2,881 convict laborers, engaged in brick making, cutting crossties, lumbering, railroad construction and making turpentine.

Mr. English parlayed his industrial wealth to become one of the South's most important financiers as well. In 1896, he founded Atlanta's Fourth National Bank and became its first president.

Mr. English strenuously denied to the Georgia committee that any "act of cruelty" had ever been "committed upon a convict" under the control of himself or any member of his family. He insisted that he and his son were essentially absentee owners of the brick factory, having little to do with its daily operations.

"If a warden in charge of those convicts ever committed an act of cruelty to them," Mr. English said, "and it had come to my knowledge, I would have had him indicted and prosecuted."

Yet his testimony affirmed how Chattahoochee Brick -- like so many other Southern enterprises -- forced laborers to their absolute physical limits to extract modern levels of production using archaic manufacturing techniques.

Once dried, the bricks were carried at a double-time pace by two dozen laborers running back and forth -- under almost continual lashing by Mr. English's overseer, Capt. James T. Casey.

Witnesses testified that guards holding long horse whips struck any worker who slowed to a walk or paused.

By the end of the century, the forced laborers churned out 300,000 hot red rectangles of hardened clay every day. Millions were sold to the Atlanta City Council to pave streets and line the sidewalks of Atlanta's flourishing new Victorian neighborhoods, according to company and city records.

The prisoners of the brickyard produced nearly 33 million bricks in the 12 months ending in May 1907, generating sales of $239,402 -- or about $5.2 million today. Of that, the English family pocketed the equivalent of nearly $1.9 million in profit -- an almost-unimaginable sum at the time.

A string of witnesses told the legislative committee that prisoners at the plant were fed rotting and rancid food, housed in barracks rife with insects, driven with whips into the hottest and most-intolerable areas of the plant, and continually required to work at a constant run in the heat of the ovens.

On Sundays, white men came to the Chattahoochee brickyard to buy, sell and trade black men as they had livestock and, a generation earlier, slaves on the block. "They had them stood up in a row and walked around them and judged of them like you would a mule," testified one former guard at the camp.

Another guard told the committee that 200 to 300 floggings were administered each month. "They were whipping all the time. It would be hard to tell how many whippings they did a day," testified Arthur W. Moore, a white former employee.

A rare former convict who was white testified that after a black prisoner named Peter Harris said he couldn't work because of a grossly infected hand, the camp doctor carved off the affected skin tissue with a surgeon's knife and then ordered him back to work.

Instead, Mr. Harris, his hand mangled and bleeding, collapsed after the procedure.

The camp boss ordered him dragged into the brickyard and whipped 25 times. "If you ain't dead, I will make you dead if you don't go to work," shouted a guard. Mr. Harris was carried to a cotton field. He died lying between the rows of cotton.

Similar testimony emerged from camps owned by Joel Hurt, the rich Atlanta real-estate developer and investor most remembered as the visionary behind the city's earliest and most-elegant subdivisions. Mr. Hurt was also the founder of Atlanta's Trust Company Bank -- the city's other pre-eminent financial institution.

The 'Water Cure'

In 1895, Mr. Hurt bought a group of bankrupt forced-labor mines and furnaces on Lookout Mountain, near the Tennessee state line. Guards there had recently adopted for punishment of the workers the "water cure," in which water was poured into the nostrils and lungs of prisoners. (The technique, preferred because it allowed miners to "go to work right away" after punishment, became infamous in the 21st century as "waterboarding.")

An elderly black man named Ephraim Gaither testified during the state's hearings as to the fate of a 16-year-old boy at a lumber camp owned by Mr. Hurt and operated by his son George Hurt.

The teenager was serving three months of hard labor for an unspecified misdemeanor.

"He was around the yard sorter playing and he started walking off," Mr. Gaither recounted.

"There was a young fellow, one of the bosses, up in a pine tree and he had his gun and shot at the little negro and shot this side of his face off," Mr. Gaither said as he pointed to the left side of his face. The teenager ran into the woods and died.

Days later, a dog appeared in the camp dragging the boy's arm in its mouth, Mr. Gaither said. The homicide was never investigated.

Called to testify before the commission, Mr. Hurt lounged in the witness chair, relaxed and unapologetic for any aspect of the sprawling businesses.

Another witness before the commission, former chief warden Jake Moore, testified that no prison guard could ever "do enough whipping for Mr. Hurt."

"He wanted men whipped for singing and laughing," Mr. Moore told the panel.

In response to the revelations, Gov. Hoke Smith called a special session of the state Legislature, which authorized a public referendum on the fate of the system. In October 1908, Georgia's nearly all-white electorate voted by a 2-to-1 margin to abolish the system as of March 1909. Without prison labor, business collapsed at Chattahoochee Brick. Production fell by nearly 50% in the next year. Total profit dwindled to less than $13,000.

The apparent demise of Georgia's system of leasing prisoners seemed a harbinger of a new day.

But the harsher reality of the South was that the new post-Civil War neoslavery was evolving -- not disappearing.


The World War II Effect:

"On The Eve Of World War II, Across The South, Many African-Americans Were Still Toiling As Coerced Laborers"

"There Still Existed No Federal Statute That Made Holding Slaves A Punishable Crime"

March 29, 2008 By DOUGLAS A. BLACKMON, Wall St. Journal

On the eve of World War II, across the South, many African-Americans were still toiling as coerced laborers.

Though states such as Georgia and Alabama no longer were leasing convicts to corporations, thousands of men still were forced to work for private enterprises.

But now, the practice was mainly carried out through informal arrangements with city and county courts.

Abusive sharecropping arrangements and the peonage system -- which allowed farmers to use bogus debts and the threat of violence to keep workers on their land indefinitely -- hung over millions of African-Americans.

Federal investigations into peonage, also known as debt slavery, were rare and ineffective. Although the antebellum version of slavery had been unconstitutional for decades, there still existed no federal statute that made holding slaves a punishable crime.

On Oct. 13, 1941, a man named Charles E. Bledsoe pleaded guilty in Alabama federal court to peonage. Mr. Bledsoe didn't resist the charge and trusted that officials wouldn't deal harshly with a white. He was correct. His penalty was a fine of $100 and six months of probation.

Less than two months later, Imperial Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. Caught unprepared for war, U.S. officials frantically planned for a massive national mobilization and a crash propaganda effort.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt expressed to advisors his worry that the mistreatment of blacks would be used in propaganda by Japan and Germany to undercut support for the war by African-Americans.

Attorney General Francis Biddle shared the president's concerns with his top assistants. Mr. Biddle was informed that federal policy had long been to cede virtually all allegations of slavery to local jurisdiction -- effectively guaranteeing they would never be prosecuted. Mr. Biddle, who hailed from an elite Northern family in Philadelphia, was shocked.

Mr. Biddle said that in an all-out war, in which millions of African-Americans would be called upon to serve, the U.S. government needed to take a stand: Those who continued to practice any form of slavery, in violation of 1865's Thirteenth Amendment, had to be prosecuted as criminals.

Five days after the Japanese attack, on Dec. 12, 1941, Mr. Biddle issued a directive -- Circular No. 3591 -- to all federal prosecutors acknowledging the history of unwritten federal policy to ignore most reports of involuntary servitude.

He wrote: "It is the purpose of these instructions to direct the attention of the United States Attorneys to the possibilities of successful prosecutions stemming from alleged peonage complaints which have heretofore been considered inadequate to invoke federal prosecution."

The Justice Department recently had formed its Civil Rights Section, created primarily to investigate cases related to anti-organized-labor efforts. It began shifting its focus to discrimination and racial abuse -- issues more commonly associated with the term "civil rights" today.

Mr. Biddle wrote: "In the United States one cannot sell himself as a peon or slave -- the law is fixed and established to protect the weak-minded, the poor, the miserable. ...Any such sale or contract is positively null and void and the procuring and causing of such contract to be made violates [the] statutes."

He ordered all Department of Justice investigators to entirely drop reference to peonage in their written reports. Instead, they were to label every file "Involuntary Servitude and Slavery."

In August 1942, a letter from a 16-year-old black boy arrived at the Department of Justice alleging that Charles Bledsoe -- the Alabama man who had received a $100 fine for peonage -- still was holding members of the teen's family against their will.

Despite Mr. Biddle's strong directive, FBI director J. Edgar Hoover initially saw no need to pursue the matter. The U.S. attorney in Mobile, Ala., Francis H. Inge, was similarly uninterested.

"No active investigation will be instituted," Mr. Hoover wrote to Assistant Attorney General Wendell Berge.

But seven months into World War II, with the nation anxious to mobilize every possible soldier and counter every thrust of Japan's and Germany's propaganda machines, Mr. Berge directed Mr. Hoover to look further.

"In accordance with the request of the Attorney General that we expedite cases related to Negro victims, it will be appreciated if this matter is given preference," Mr. Berge wrote in a terse letter ordering Mr. Inge into action.

"Enemy propagandists have used similar episodes in international broadcasts to the colored race, saying that the democracies are insincere and that the enemy is their friend," Mr. Berge continued. "There have been received from the President an instruction that lynching complaints shall be investigated as soon as possible; that the results of the investigation be made public in all instances, and the persons responsible for such lawless acts vigorously prosecuted. The Attorney General has requested that we expedite other cases related to Negro victims. Accordingly, you are requested to give the matter your immediate attention."

Mr. Biddle's civil-rights lawyers began to reassess the legal breadth of the constitutional amendments ending slavery, the Reconstruction-era statutes passed to enforce them and other largely forgotten laws, such as the antebellum Slave Kidnapping Act. That pre-Civil War measure made it illegal to capture or hold forced laborers in U.S. territory where slavery was prohibited.

As World War II progressed, the Department of Justice vigorously prosecuted U.S. Sugar Co. in Florida for forcing black men into its sugarcane fields. Sheriffs who colluded with the company were brought to trial.

Early in September 1942, a team of FBI agents, highway patrolmen and deputies descended on a remote farm near Beeville, Texas. There they arrested a white farmer, Alex Skrobarcek, and his adult daughter, Susie Skrobarcek.

The two initially were charged in a state court with maiming a mentally retarded black worker named Alfred Irving.

But a month later, lawyers at the Department of Justice drew a federal indictment alleging that the pair had held Mr. Irving in slavery for at least four years. They were accused of repeatedly beating the man with whips, chains and ropes -- so much so that he was physically disfigured from the abuse.

Signaling the significance of the case, a special assistant to Mr. Biddle actively participated in prosecuting the trial. The defendants were found guilty and sentenced to prison. Federal officials made clear that the case was intended to send a message: The U.S. government was finally serious about ending involuntary servitude.

"The Skrobarczyk trial and its conclusion undoubtedly will be have given a decisive setback to the enemy propaganda machine...urging...negroes that their proper place in this conflict is with the yellow race," editorialized the Corpus Christi Times.

Two years later, President Truman's Committee on Civil Rights recommended bolstering the antislavery statute to plainly criminalize involuntary servitude. In 1948, the entire federal criminal code was dramatically rewritten, further clarifying such laws.




June 20, 2008

BILL MOYERS: Welcome to the Journal.

Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice rose to power and influence against odds that must have seemed insurmountable at the time to a young black woman from Birmingham, Alabama. She was only eight years old when, in 1963, four young girls, including Rice's friend Denise McNair, were killed in her hometown by a bomb planted in their church by white supremacists. This week Secretary Rice pronounced herself, "...gratified, but not surprised", by Senator Obama's victory in the Democratic presidential primaries. She said, "As an American, it's a great thing. As a black American, it's a great thing." And she went on to express her belief that America is slowly but surely overcoming what she calls the country's "birth defect" of "racial inequality."

BILL MOYERS: But we're not there yet. Despite the success of Americans like Rice and Obama, we're still coping with the legacy of slavery and segregation. That's the subject of this broadcast, with my guests who think we may be at a defining moment in our history.

We begin with a preview of a moving film that will premiere next week on the public television series P.O.V. Be sure to watch it. You will see a story of how the descendents of one of America's first families discovered their own kin's complicity in the slave trade. "Traces of the Trade" is narrated by its producer and director, Katrina Browne.

KATRINA BROWNE: Every year my family would get together for July Fourth in Bristol, Rhode Island. It was a big deal 'cause Bristol boasts the longest running Fourth of July parade in the country. We'd watch the parade from the lawn of Linden Place. This big white mansion used to belong to my relatives. It's right in the center of town. This is me age two with my mother and grandmother. Here's me age three bossing my brother around.

KATRINA BROWNE: My DeWolf ancestors were known as the "Great Folk" in Bristol. There were professors and writers, artists and architects, and many Episcopal ministers. I was proud to be related to them. It never occurred to me to ask how we got so established.

KATRINA BROWNE: What no one in my family realized was that the DeWolfs were the largest slave-trading family in US history. They brought over 10,000 Africans to the Americas in chains. Half a million of their descendants could be alive today.

BILL MOYERS: Katrina Browne asked members of her extended family to meet at Bristol's Episcopal church to begin a journey into the past.

KATRINA BROWNE: The church was pretty much new to me because I grew up in Philadelphia, where I was steeped in America's democratic ideals. In Bristol, it seems like the DeWolfs were the founding fathers. They were everywhere in the church; they even paid for the stained glass.

BILL MOYERS: Some in the family and even the town itself were reluctant for the story to be told.

KATRINA BROWNE: Linden Place was also concerned about our journey. The mansion was built in 1810 by George DeWolf, one of the two most prominent slave traders in the family. Linden Place stayed in family hands until 1989 when it was turned into a museum. Some museum board members were worried about advertising this connection of Linden Place to slavery. They didn't let us film inside. So we just passed by.

KATRINA BROWNE: Down at the harbor is James DeWolf's warehouse. This is where rum went out and sugar and molasses came in. James is the one who really masterminded the family take-over of all aspects of the trade. By the end of his life in 1837 he was supposedly the second richest man in the United States.

KATRINA BROWNE: At the Bristol Historical Society, tucked away in a corner on the second floor, there was a file cabinet, full of DeWolf papers. These eerie records revealed the details of the logical economic model that the DeWolfs developed from 1769 to 1820. Here's how they made it work.

KATRINA BROWNE: First they got the financing together. They recruited fellow townspeople to buy shares in their voyages and eventually started their own bank. They also started an insurance company to cover the risk. Rum was the prime currency of the slave trade, so James acquired a distillery from his father-in-law. The DeWolfs also purchased ships, mostly from builders in Rhode Island and Massachusetts. The ships took rum to the Guinea Coast to trade for Africans. "July 4th, 1795, bought nine prime slaves, one woman and eight men and paid for them tobacco, rum, hats, bread, mackerel." Many of the enslaved Africans were brought to work on plantations that the DeWolfs established in Cuba. These plantations supplied sugar and molasses needed to make the rum back in Bristol. They also served as holding places for Africans while the DeWolfs waited for slave prices to go up at auction. "Havana, Sept. 11, 1806, John DeWolf of Bristol, Sale of 121 Negroes." Total income: 36,300 dollars, which today equals 553,000 dollars.

KATRINA BROWNE: The largest number of slaves were sold in Havana and Charleston. But Rhode Island slavers did business in more than 40 markets in the West Indies, North and South America. Rhode Island became the state most complicit in the American slave trade. Rum, Africans, sugar, rum. The efficient wheels of the Triangle Trade were set in motion again and again.

KATRINA BROWNE: And then there's one more detail. The slave trade was illegal for most of the time the DeWolfs were practicing it. To maneuver around the law, they secured a political favor from none other than President Thomas Jefferson, whose campaign they'd supported. Jefferson appointed their brother-in-law as Bristol's customs official. This man always happened to be looking the other way as DeWolf ships went in and out of harbor.

BILL MOYERS: That was just a portion of the film. When "Traces of the Trade" airs on P.O.V. next week, Katrina Browne and several of her kinfolk follow the path of those ships to the West Coast of Africa, on to Cuba, where the DeWolfs owned a huge slave plantation, and then back again to new England, where an orderly economy run by pious, church-going people prospered from their bargain with the devil. You'll hear those modern DeWolfs struggling to come to terms with what they've learned about their "crazy partnership" with silence between the present and the past. Denial of course was not unique to the DeWolf family. Every time I walked downtown where I grew up in Texas, I passed the statue of Johnny Reb, facing east toward Richmond, the capitol of the Confederacy, reminding us of the bravery of gallant men who fought and died to protect a way of life . Tragically, it was a way of life built around slavery.

BILL MOYERS: At one time there were thousands of slaves in our county. And after Richmond fell to Union troops, my home town became, briefly, the military headquarters of the Confederacy. But in twelve years of public schools I cannot remember one of the teachers I deeply cherished describe slavery for what it was. Nor did they, or anyone I knew, talk about how our town's dark and tortured past in restoring white supremacy after the Civil War, prevented the emancipated slaves from realizing the freedom they had been promised. Across the South, from Texas and Louisiana to the Carolinas, thousands of freed black Americans simply were arrested, often on trumped up charges, and coerced into forced labor. And that persisted right up into the 1940s, when I was still a boy.

BILL MOYERS: Look at these pictures. Those photographs are from one of the most stunning new books you'll read this year, Slavery by Another Name. The author is Douglas Blackmon, the Atlanta bureau chief of the Wall Street Journal. His articles on race, wealth and other issues have been nominated for Pulitzer Prizes four times. His reporting on U.S.Steel and the company's use of forced labor was included in the 2003 edition of Best Business Stories, and his contribution to the Journal's coverage of Hurricane Katrina received a Special Headliner Award in 2006. Welcome.
This is truly the most remarkable piece of reporting I have read in a long time. I honestly cannot recommend it highly enough. What you report is that no sooner did the slave owners, businessmen of the South, lose the Civil War, then they turned around, and in complicity with state and local governments and industry, reinvented slavery by another name. And what was the result?

DOUGLAS BLACKMON: Well, the result was that by the time you got to the end of the 19th century, 25 or 30 years after the Civil War, the generation of slaves who'd been freed by the Emancipation Proclamation, and then the constitutional amendments that ended slavery legally this generation of people, who experienced authentic freedom in many respects tough life, difficult hard lives after the Civil War but real freedom, in which they voted, they participated in government.

BILL MOYERS: They farmed?

DOUGLAS BLACKMON: They farmed. They carved out independent lives. But then, this terrible shadow began to fall back across black life in America, that effectively re-enslaved enormous numbers of people. And what that was all about, what that was rooted in, was that the southern economic, and in a way, the American economy, was addicted to slavery, was addicted to forced labor. And the South could not resurrect itself.

And so, there was this incredible economic imperative to bring back coerced labor. And they did, on a huge scale.

BILL MOYERS: You said they did it by criminalizing black life.

DOUGLAS BLACKMON: Well, and that was that was a charade. But the way that happened was that, of course, before the Civil War, there were Slave Codes. There were laws that governed the behavior of slaves. And that was the basis of laws, for instance, that made it where a slave had to have a written pass to leave their plantation and travel on an open road.

Well, immediately after the Civil War, all the southern states adopted a new set of laws that were then called Black Codes. And they essentially attempted to recreate the Slave Codes. Well, those that was such an obvious effort to recreate slavery, that the Union military leadership that was still in the South, overruled all of that. Still, that didn't work. And by the time you get to the end of Reconstruction, all the southern legislatures have gone back and passed laws that aren't called Black Codes, but essentially criminalized a whole array of activities, that it was impossible for a poor black farmer to avoid encountering in some way.


DOUGLAS BLACKMON: Vagrancy. So, vagrancy was a law that essentially, it simply, you were breaking the law if you couldn't prove at any given moment that you were employed. Well, in a world in which there were no pay stubs, it was impossible to prove you were employed. The only way you could prove employment was if some man who owned land would vouch for you and say, he works for me. And of course, none of these laws said it only applies to black people. But overwhelmingly, they were only enforced against black people. And many times, thousands of times I believe, you had young black men who attempted to do that. They ended up being arrested and returned to the original farmer where they worked in chains, not even a free worker, but as a slave.

BILL MOYERS: And the result, as you write, thousands of black men were arrested, charged with whatever, jailed, and then sold to plantations, railroads, mills, lumber camps and factories in the deep South. And this went on, you say, right up to World War II?

DOUGLAS BLACKMON: And it was everywhere in the South. These forced labor camps were all over the place. The records that still survive, buried in courthouses all over the South, make it abundantly clear that thousands and thousands of African-Americans were arrested on completely specious claims, made up stuff, and then, purely because of this economic need and the ability of sheriffs and constables and others to make money off arresting them, and that providing them to these commercial enterprises, and being paid for that.

BILL MOYERS: You have a photograph in here I have literally not been able to get this photograph out of my mind since I saw it the first time several weeks ago, when I first got your book. It's a photograph of an unnamed prisoner tied around a pickaxe for punishment in a Georgia labor camp. It was photographed some time around 1932, which this is hard to believe was two years before I was born.

DOUGLAS BLACKMON: Well, that picture was taken by a journalist named John Spivak, who took an astonishing series of pictures in these forced labor camps in Georgia in the 1930s. He got access to the prison system of Georgia and these forced labor encampments, which were scattered all over the place. Some of them were way out in the deep woods. There were turpentine camps. Some of them were mining camps. All incredibly harsh, brutal work. He got access to these as a journalist, in part, because the officials of Georgia had no particular shame in what was happening.

BILL MOYERS: That's a surprising thing.

DOUGLAS BLACKMON: Well, and but what the picture also demonstrates was the level of violence and brutality, the venality of things that were done. And so, this kind of physical torture went on, on a huge scale. People were whipped, starved. They went without clothing. There were work camps where people reported that they would arrive looking for a lost family member, and they would arrive at a sawmill or a lumber camp where the men were working as slaves naked, chained, you know, whipped. It was it's just astonishing, the level of brutality.

BILL MOYERS: You have a story in here of a young man who a teenager who spilled or poured coffee on the hog of the farmer he was working for. He was stripped, stretched across a barrel, and flogged 69 times with a leather strap. And he died a week later. But that's not a unique story in this book.

DOUGLAS BLACKMON: No, that was incredibly common. And there were on the there were thousands and thousands of people who died under these circumstances over the span of the period that I write about in the book. And over and over again, it was from disease and malnutrition, and from outright homicide and physical abuse.

BILL MOYERS: You give voice to a young man long dead, whose voice would never had been heard, had you not discovered it, resurrected it, and presented it. He's the chief character in this book. Green Cottenham, is that is.

DOUGLAS BLACKMON: Yes, that's right.

BILL MOYERS: Tell me about Green Cottenham.

DOUGLAS BLACKMON: Green Cottenham was a man in the 1880s born to a mother and a father who, both of whom had been slaves, who were emancipated at the end of the Civil War. Imagine, a young man and a young woman who've just been freed from slavery. And now they have the opportunity to break away from the plantations where they'd been held, begin a new life. And so, they do. They marry. They have many children. Green Cottenham is the last of them.

He's born in the 1880s, just as this terrible curtain of hostility and oppression is beginning to really creep across all of black life in the South. And by the time he becomes an adult, in the first years of the 20th century, the worst forces of the efforts to re-enslave black Americans are in full power across the South. And in the North, the allies, the white allies of the freed slaves, have abandoned them. And so, right at the before of the 20th century, whites all across America have essentially reached this new consensus that slavery shouldn't be brought back. But if African-Americans are returned to a state of absolute servility, that's okay.

And Green Cottenham becomes an adult at exactly that moment. And then, in 1908, in the spring of 1908, he's arrested, standing outside a train station in a little town in Alabama. The officer who arrested him couldn't remember what the charge was by the time he brought him in front of the judge. So he's conveniently convicted of a different crime than the one he was originally picked up for. He ends up being sold three days later, with another group of black men, into a coal mine outside of Birmingham. And he survives there several months, and then dies under terrible circumstances.

BILL MOYERS: You write, 45 years after Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, Cottenham was one of thousands of men working like a slave in these coalmines. Slope 12, you call it.

DOUGLAS BLACKMON: Slope number 12.

BILL MOYERS: What was slope number 12?

DOUGLAS BLACKMON: Slope number 12 was a huge mine on the outskirts of Birmingham, part of a maze of mines. Birmingham is the fastest growing city in the country. Huge amounts of wealth and investment are pouring into the place.
But there's this again, this need for forced labor. And the very men, the very entrepreneurs who, just before the Civil War, were experimenting with a kind of industrial slavery, using slaves in factories and foundries, and had begun to realize, hey, this works just as well as slaves out on the farm.

The very same men who were doing that in the 1850s, come back in the 1870s and begin to reinstitute the same form of slavery. And Green Cottenham is one of the men, one of the many thousands of men who were sucked into the process, and then lived under these terribly brutalizing circumstances, this place that was filled with disease and malnutrition. And he dies there under terrible, terrible circumstances.

BILL MOYERS: And you found the sunken graves five miles from downtown Birmingham?

DOUGLAS BLACKMON: It's just miles away. In fact there are just two places there, because all of these mines now are abandoned. Everything is overgrown. There are almost no signs of human activity, except that if you dig deep into the woods, grown over there, you begin to see, if you get the light just right, hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of depressions where these bodies were buried.

BILL MOYERS: You say that Atlanta, where you live now, which used to proclaim itself the finest city in the South, was built on the broken backs of re-enslaved black men.

DOUGLAS BLACKMON: That's right. When I started off writing the book, I began to realize the degree to which this form of enslavement had metastasized across the South, and that Atlanta was one of many places where the economy that created the modern city, was one that relied very significantly on this form of coerced labor. And some of the most prominent families and individuals in the in the creation of the modern Atlanta, their fortunes originated from the use of this practice. And the most dramatic example of that was a brick factory on the outskirts of town that, at the turn of the century, was producing hundreds of thousands of bricks every day.The city of Atlanta bought millions and millions of those bricks. The factory was operated entirely with forced workers. And almost 100 percent black forced workers. There were even times that on Sunday afternoons, a kind of old-fashioned slave auction would happen, where a white man who controlled black workers would go out to Chattahoochee Brick and horse trade with the guards at Chattahoochee Brick, trading one man for another, or two men. And-

BILL MOYERS: And yet, slavery was illegal?

DOUGLAS BLACKMON: It had been illegal for 40 years. And this is a really important thing to me. I was stunned when I realized that because the city of Atlanta bought these millions and millions of bricks, well, those are the bricks that paved the downtown streets of Atlanta. And those bricks are still there. And so these are the bricks that we stand on.

BILL MOYERS: Didn't this economic machine that was built upon forced labor, didn't these Black Codes, the way that black life was criminalized, didn't this put African-Americans at a terrific economic disadvantage then and now?

DOUGLAS BLACKMON: Absolutely. The results of those laws and the results of particularly enforcing them with such brutality through this forced labor system, the result of that was that African-Americans thousands and thousands of them worked for years and years of their lives with no compensation whatsoever, no ability to end up buying property and enjoying the mechanisms of accumulating wealth in the way that white Americans did. This was a part of denying black Americans access to education, denying black Americans access to basic infrastructure, like paved roads, the sorts of things that made it possible for white farmers to become successful.

And so, yes, this whole regime of the Black Codes, the way that they were enforced, the physical intimidation and racial violence that went on, all of these were facets of the same coin that made it incredibly less likely that African-Americans would emerge out of poverty in the way that millions of white Americans did at the same time.

BILL MOYERS: How is it, you and I both Southerners, how is it we could grow up right after this era, and be so unaware of what had just happened to our part of the country?

DOUGLAS BLACKMON: Well, I think there are a lot of explanations for that. The biggest one is simply that this is a history that we haven't wanted to know as a country. We've engaged in a in a kind of collective amnesia about this, particularly about the severity of it.

And the official history of this time, the conventional history tended to minimize the severity of the things that were done again and again and again, and to focus instead, on the idea, on a lot of false mythologies. Like, this idea that freed slaves after emancipation became lawless and sort of went wild, and thievery, and all sorts of crimes being committed by African-Americans right after the Civil War and during Reconstruction. But when you go back, as I did, and look at the arrest records from that period of time, there's just no foundation for that. And the reality was there was hardly any crime at all. And huge numbers of people were being arrested on these specious charges, so they could be forced back into labor.

BILL MOYERS: Another reason -- I just think, as you talk -- another reason is that anybody who raised these allegations or charges, or wrote about them when I was growing up, were dismissed as Communists. If it had been from The Wall Street Journal, it might have been a different take.

DOUGLAS BLACKMON: Well, I think there's some truth to that. Anyone who tried to raise these sorts of questions was at risk of complete excoriation among other white Southerners. But that's also what's remarkable about the present moment. And one of the things I've discovered in the course of talking about the book with people is that there's an openness to a conversation about these things that I think didn't exist even ten or 15 years ago.

BILL MOYERS: What has been the response to it? Americans don't like to confront these pictures, these stories.

DOUGLAS BLACKMON: They don't. But over and over and over again I've encountered people who've read the book, who e-mailed me, or they come up to me after I talk about it somewhere, particularly African-Americans, who African-Americans know this story in their hearts. They may not know the facts. They may not know exactly what the scale of things were. But they know in their hearts that this is what happened. And so, people come up to me and say, "Gosh, the story that my grandmother used to tell before she died 20 years ago, I never believed it. Because she would describe that she was still a slave in Georgia after World War II, or just before. And it never made sense to me. And now, it does."

BILL MOYERS: It is amazing that this was happening at a time when many of the African-Americans retiring today, were children.

DOUGLAS BLACKMON: Were children, exactly. Exactly. And so, again, these are events unlike Antebellum slavery. These are things that connect directly to the lives and the shape and pattern and structure of our society today.

BILL MOYERS: Does it explain to you why there might be so much anger in the black community among, let's say, African-Americans who are my age, 73, 74, who were children at the time this was still going on?

DOUGLAS BLACKMON: Well, there's no way that anybody can read this book and come away still wondering why there is a sort of fundamental cultural suspicion among African-Americans of the judicial system, for instance. I mean, that suspicion is incredibly well-founded. The judicial system, the law enforcement system of the South became primarily an instrument of coercing people into labor and intimidating blacks away from their civil rights. That was its primary purpose, not the punishment of lawbreakers. And so, yes, these events build an unavoidable and irrefutable case for the kind of anger that still percolates among many, many African-Americans today.

BILL MOYERS: If people want to know more about not only your book, but about all of this, for research and so forth, where do they go?

DOUGLAS BLACKMON: Go to my website, or the book's website,

BILL MOYERS: Douglas Blackmon, thanks for being with me.

DOUGLAS BLACKMON: Thank you for having me.
Currently reading: Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II
By Douglas A. Blackmon

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