Slavery by Another Name

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Students are taught in most schools that slavery ended with President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. However after reading Douglas Blackmon’s Slavery by Another Name I am clearly convinced that slavery continued for many years afterward. It is shown throughout this book that slavery did not end until 1942, this is when the condition of what Blackmon refers to as "neoslavery" began.

Neoslavery was practiced after the Emancipation Proclamation and until the beginning of World War II. 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. This practice was maintained mostly throughout Alabama, Florida, and Georgia. The arbitrary use of ill defined “vagrancy” charges, such as obscene language in front of a female, changing jobs without the permission of a person’s former employer, and having no proof of having a job or work (which at the time was impossible for anyone because there was no use of pay stubs) were used to lock up millions of African-Americans who were compelled into or lived under the shadow of the South's new forms of coerced labor. Under the laws enacted specifically to intimidate blacks, tens of thousands were 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. The book begins by describing a typical family immediately after the Civil War and the first fruits of freedom. Throughout the book, we follow the life of one Green Cottenham as he tries to raise a family in the Deep South during the 1900’s. As the beginning of the 20th century, he is arrested in Columbiana, Alabama, outside the train depot in a completely spurious situation where initially it's claimed that he broke one minor law, and then later it's claimed that he broke a different minor law, and so finally he was brought before the county judge three days later. The judge, to settle the confusion, simply declares him guilty of yet another offense, of vagrancy. He's fined $10 and then on top of that, he's charged a whole series of fees associated with his arrest: a fee to the sheriff, a fee to the deputy who actually arrested him, some of the costs of him being jailed for three days, and fees for the witnesses who testified against him, even though as far as I could tell there were no witnesses. All of these things added up to effectively about a year's wages for an African American farm laborer at the time, and an amount that obviously somebody like Green Cottenham, an impoverished, largely illiterate African American man in 1908, could not have paid.

So in order to pay those fines off as part of the system, he is leased to U.S. Steel Corporation, a company that still exists today, and forced to go to work in a coal mine on the outskirts of Alabama, with about a thousand other Black forced laborers. And those men lived under almost unspeakable conditions. They worked much of the time deep in the mines in standing water, which was the seepage, under the earth. They were forced to stay in that water and consume that water for lack of any other fresh water, even though it was putrid and polluted by their own waste. Any man who failed to extract at least eight tons of coal from the mine every day would be whipped at the end of the day, and if he repeatedly failed to get his quota of coal out, he would be whipped at the beginning of the day as well.

The men entered the mine before daylight and exited the mine after sunset. They lived in an endless period of darkness under these horrifying circumstances. Due to the lack of medical attention, they were subject to waves of dysentery and tuberculosis and other illnesses, and it was ultimately one of those epidemics of disease, which caused Green Cottenham to die five months after...
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