Saturday, June 21, 2008

Slavery by Another Name

I borrowed this photo from Mr. Blackmon's website. If you click on it it will take you to his site.

I watched 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


Geraldine said...

A very tarnished part of US history. As with wars, lest we never forget, to insure that this never happens again.

Powerful post Raven.

San said...

Raven, I just saw a film from Netflix last night you might enjoy--The Great Debaters--if you haven't seen it. Very much in keeping with this post.

Raven said...

Thanks geraldine - I still have to finish writing and post my OSI this morning and then I'll come by and visit.

san - actually I watched the Great Debaters last night too (also from Netflix)... and I couldn't help but think of this as the timeline of the movie was just as these "laws" were setting in. I thought it was a really fine movie.

SandyCarlson said...

Thanks for lifting up the Bill Moyers program. He is a jewel.

Your post reminds me of Ralph Ellison's The Invisible Man. That's a tough book to read because it address all that from the inside out. The Jim Crowe era is a cause of great shame.

Robert said...

I think it's encouraging to see how far we have come from those days. Sure, there will always be people with twisted ideas, but overall, our country has made such progress. Look at the two front runners in the democratic party: a female and a man of color. I think this goes to show that racism and gender issues are no longer the serious problem they were. And there is always room for more growth. The issues you bring up, and when comparing where we were and where we are now, make me more proud than ever to be in America and living in these days. :)

Raven said...

sandy - I agree about Bill Moyers. He is one of my heroes. You would probably like the movie The Great Debaters which San mentioned in her comment.

Ah Robert, my conservative friend, I agree with you that we have come far in terms of racism and I too am proud of my country. The third segment of the three parts of this program was a conversation about just that. None-the-less, I think there are wounds which still require healing and owning the truth of a history which has gone unacknowledged and unreported is part of that process. I've always been interested in black literature and issues around racism. I'm pretty well read and I didn't know about the history this book talks about. This is different than Jim Crow and the bad stuff we have acknowledged. It is literally a covert form of slavery which existed from the late 1920s until World War II. It is profoundly disturbing that it has gone unrecognized. I believe that the reason it can come to light now and be acknowledged and discussed is because of the very progress you cite. We can't atone for our sins unless we admit to them. The more we know about ourselves and our history, the better. Or that's what I believe.