Bill Moyer's Journal last night. It was conversations about racism and slavery and it was an awesome program. Each of the three segments was rich in information and profound discussion. The segment that blew me away, though, was a conversation with a writer from the Wall Street Journal named Douglas Blackmon who has written a book called Slavery by Another Name. What he documents is mind boggling and explains much of why this nation has had such difficulty healing the scars of racism.
What he discovered is that although immediately after the Civil War, freed slaves actually did have a fair measure of freedom, that over the course of the next 20 or 30 years, a series of laws were put into effect in the south that effectively forced blacks back into a form of slavery that was simply not acknowledged as what it was. The scale and the shamelessness of it is stunning. And equally stunning is that in a free country we have allowed ourselved to not know.
I don't know why this surprises me really. I remember being shocked by my own willing ignorance before I went to college and took some black lit classes. I had always know that there were lynchings... I wasn't that ignorant - but it wasn't until I was in my 20s that I understood just what lynchings were. My idea of a lynching came from cowboy movies. It was evil and ugly, but it was quick and clean. I had no idea - and I don't think I was alone in this - that lynching in the South often involved torture and castration... and that crowds of onlookers cheered these murderers on. That stunned me. Both that it happened and that in a free country with a free press, we could allow ourselves to remain ignorant of it. This wasn't ancient history, either. These lynchings were happening while I grew up.
Bad as they were, though, I am stunned to learn that laws were used to erroneously arrest black men and women and quite literally sell them into servitude. It wasn't called slavery. But that's what it was. And this began in the 1930s. It explains so much about why black anger is still so raw and fresh.
I couldn't figure out how to imbed the Bill Moyer's clip here, but I can provide a link to it. PLEASE take the time to watch it. I highly recommend the video of the other two segments too. A profound program.
Blackmon has his own website for the book also called Slaverybyanothername.com