Monday, June 30, 2008

Bill Moyers Journal: Slavery by Another Name

From last week’s program, Bill Moyers talks with journalist Douglas Blackmon whose new book Slavery by Another Name tells the unfamiliar story of “neo-slavery” — a system of de facto bondage that carried on long after slaves in the rebel territories had been ostensibly freed by The Emancipation Proclamation.

Blackmon first became intrigued by this episode of U.S. history while researching a story for The Wall Street Journal which documented how U.S. Steel Corp. relied on forced black laborers in Alabama coal mines. He discovered that under laws enacted specifically to intimidate blacks, tens of thousands of African Americans were arbitrarily arrested, hit with outrageous fines, and charged for the costs of their own arrests. With no means to pay these ostensible “debts,” prisoners were sold as forced laborers to coal mines, lumber camps, brickyards, railroads, quarries and farm plantations.

Thousands of other African Americans were simply seized by southern landowners and compelled into years of involuntary servitude. It was a system that Blackmon found persisted in some areas until the early days of World War II.