Slavery by Another Name

Listen to this 'Talk of the Nation' topic

I've always had a murky sense of what went on between Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation in 1862 and the desegregation ruling of Brown v. Board in 1954. The question I would ask myself — and forgive the naivete — is, Why didn't the civil rights movement happen earlier, like, say, during the 20s and 30s? What took so long? Turns out, slavery wasn't really over when Lincoln said it was over. A new book by Douglas Blackmon called Slavery by Another Name argues that slavery persisted in different forms long after 1862. Black men arrested for petty or non-existent crimes that couldn't make bail were leased to white cotton farmers or sold to coal mining companies to pay it off. To me, it sounds like a form of indentured servitude, and Blackmon says this extension of slavery helps explain why black Americans made so little economic progress before the civil rights movement. If you have questions about where, when and how this happened, and what it means for us today, leave them here.



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Do chain gangs and forced work programs today create an environment much like that back in slavery days? is this "legal" slavery?

Sent by Russell | 2:12 PM | 3-25-2008

I have always said that the abomination on our nation's history was not slavery (thought awful, it merits its own discussion in the ongoing struggle of global slavery), but the post-slavery treatment of black americans, federalized cruelty and segregation. This is truly a part of our history for which reparations should be made and the context in which racial discussions should be had.

Sent by Amy in Cambridge | 2:25 PM | 3-25-2008

Sounds like a good book, however I question the conclusion, which seems baseless and overreaching, that this has something to do with the delay in the civil rights movement or the lack of economic progress made by black Americans. To answer that you would have to know how much any minority with or without slavery could have made at this place and point in history - probably not very much or maybe a lot? But your guest certainly has no idea that this was due to the extension of slavery. Culture or just being a minority in an oppressive climate could simply be enough to take eons to overcome.

Most of the world is in poverty - what is the cause of this? Seems a little more complex then what is being alleged.

I also wonder if a comparison was made with Native Americans and what their economic progress was in comparison to black Americans of the same time?

Sent by Scott Millar | 2:25 PM | 3-25-2008

If more white Americans knew the real and whote truth of what blacks have endured under American legal systems both before and after the Civil War, there would be a better understanding of the anger that still is working its way out of the national black psyche. Since most of white America does not know, they do not understand how Obama's pastor could have railed against his own America. I understand it and work in my own community, Rochester, NY, to open dialogue between blacks and whites in a program called Mosaic Partnerships.

Sent by Charlotte Clarke | 2:33 PM | 3-25-2008


I think that this mechanism is what is behind today's illegal immigrants.

This is a *very* important book. It talks about the sources of so much of the issues we face today; including our prisons, and with issues that Barack Obama spoke about in his recent speech.

Sincerely, Neil Blanchard

Sent by Neil Blanchard | 2:33 PM | 3-25-2008

I recall an old Ernie Ford song called Sixteen Tons. One of the lines is "another day older and deeper in debt" and yet another was "owing your soul to the company toll" I believe it went like that. Was this a reference to peonage where the practice included both whites and blacks

Sent by Lyle Parks | 2:33 PM | 3-25-2008

This subject was also explored in great depth by David M. Oshinsky in his excellent 1996 book, "Worse Than Slavery: Parchman Farm and the Ordeal of Jim Crow Justice."

Sent by Laura LaFay | 2:34 PM | 3-25-2008

Toni Morrison's novel PARADISE was about African-American emigres to Oklahoma. Their exceptionally dark skin was described as "eight-rock." The term came from the color of the very hard, very deep coal in the Alabama mines in which some had had to work. Apart from loving the novel, this was instructive to me since I had not thought of the hard south in terms of steel industrialization.

Migrant agricultural labor permitted people to stay farther away from the oppressors, but otherwise conditions like those at the surface of slavery seemed to pervade the work available to black people. This author is entirely right, I am convinced, about the twentieth century. No wonder virtually enslaved people angrily escaped to welfare systems as they became available, and no wonder they feel entitled. Their forefathers and mothers earned it all. They were also excluded from socialization experiences which most people need in order to enter the mainstream.

Sent by davy B | 2:38 PM | 3-25-2008

As a marijuana activist I see direct relations between todays enslaving of the mostly black and latino youth who clean up our communities of mostly rich whites. The history begins in the early 1900's with Mexicans and Blacks (West Indies) coming over the border in Texas and the South who would not obey the Jim Crow laws. There are 900,000 people arrested for marijuana each year. So to me the post-slavery still continues...

Sent by Paul Thomas Breeden | 2:39 PM | 3-25-2008

I first would liek to say that I am very excited that this issue is starting to be talked about more openly, and more are realizing the continuing effects of this time period. Now, as a person who is classified as a white person, who it is said that most of the black people are holding accountable for the european americans who had owned slaves, I would ask that we not only continue to talk about this issue but also start to talk about all the facts. Such as there are some white "caucasian" people who's nationalities never owned slaves, yet at the same time the white population no matter what nationalitie they are need to acknowledge that these thigns in fact did happen, and to some extenet are still happening, just being over looked or swept under the rug.

Sent by Angel | 2:42 PM | 3-25-2008

This is to Scott.

You can make a direct connection from slavery to the poverty in the African American community today. Wealth in America is, by and large, a product of inheritance and the ownership of property. In the post-Reconstruction era African Americans were not permitted to own property. As African Americans tried to climb out of a system of debt peonage (sharecropping), they found that it was an irreconcilable system which kept African Americans (poor whites and Mexicans too - see White Scourge by Neil Foley) in dire poverty. African American families did not have the opportunity to create wealth until well after the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. In fact, even during the 60s and 70s discriminatory housing practices kept African Americans out of homes and concentrated in poor urban areas.

The truth is every minority in America (Irish immigrants, Asian immigrants, Mexican immigrants, etc) have been discriminated against, but none to the degree of African Americans. Native Americans are a whole other story - they were ethnically cleansed from property vis a vis the ideal of Manifest Destiny. In Native American reservations today you can see poverty reminiscent of a 3rd world rather than a core state like the United States.

Sent by Steve | 2:47 PM | 3-25-2008

Do you think the system of slavery and its extension as peonage as outlined in Blackmon's book has directly devolved from the system of indentured servitude and exploitation of transported prisoners from Europe, which preceded the enslavement of Africans and people of mixed ancesstry? Do you think that the mentality

Sent by Ginny Woolums | 2:47 PM | 3-25-2008

Scott Millar comments that it sounds like a good book. He goes on, without having read it, to believe that its major premise couldn't be true. I wish he would go to the book and look at the detailed facts. Further factual evidence is to be found in many unpublicized sources and in living, but unpublished memory.

I am convinced, by the evidence, that this book's thesis is as close to "true" as a book can be. I wonder why Scott Millar feels compelled to deny it without even having looked at the factual support.

Sent by davy B | 2:48 PM | 3-25-2008

I vividly remember being an 11th grade student at a new school as a result of a mandatory bussing program in Richmond, Virginia in 1970. When the subject of slavery came up for study in social studies, I recall feeling an overwhelming sense of impotent shame. I could barely tolerate sitting in this classroom watching my older, white teacher talk about slavery in a "mixed" setting. I also experienced my parents as feeling so overwhelmingly bound by their feelings of shame, frustration and anger that discussing slavery or visiting the plantations in Jamestown and Williamsburg were out of the question. Despite their discomforts, our home had MANY books about the civil war present in our home but we did noto discuss slavery. Sad to say but I think it is true, we were hardly "unashamedly black." I have subsequently responded to this significant historical event very differently with our children. I am very proud of a multi-family Kwanza celebrtion in 2000 where we parents actually read to and played audio-tapes for the children from Remembering Slavery--African Americans Talk About Their Personal Experiences of Slavery and Emancipation. Our goal was to get the children who ranged from age 6 to 11 to understand the marvelous determination and fortitude of their ancestors. We have many books about slavery in our home and slavery is freely discussed. My feelings of discomfort in discussing slavery have long since vanished. I do wish that your media colleagues on Fox, The View, MSNBC and other media were amenable to reading Slavery by Another Name. I wish they would speak with Douglas Blackmon or you. Oh well, wishes are just that--wishes.

Sent by Kennise M.Herring | 2:52 PM | 3-25-2008

In regard to the interview with Mr. Blackmon on Talk of the Nation today, were not the early years of the 20th century referred to as the "nadir of the black experience"?

Sent by Jane Livingston | 2:56 PM | 3-25-2008

I see from Neil Blanchard's post that I'm not the only one with a thought like this: Isn't something of the same damn game affecting immigrants -- even legal ones, but mostly illegal ones -- in the US and elsewhere? Unable to seek changes in employment or conditions, unable to organize, and usually without effective protection of the law, lest they be kicked out? Has a system evolved to replace the enslavement of black people with some form of captivity for another?

Sent by RJ Spector | 2:58 PM | 3-25-2008

I appreciate Douglas Blackman's courageous book and his awakening a few blacks to their past. Unfortunately, educated, accomplished *nababs/blacks have tended to ignore their slave roots and all the cruel nuances, and have very little interest in researching and writing about their past. There is also the book; Bond of Iron by Charles Dew that addresses similar issues by Blackman.

Question is; Why does it take concerned white people to dig up black history and very few blacks are doing such? ?

*Nabab means NAtiveBornAmericanBlack> Is the new racial ID adopted by a few of us in an emerging group of blacks who do not relate to the AfriAmer designation.

Sent by bazil gray | 2:58 PM | 3-25-2008

If people who employed slaves could see today's consequences, I'm sure they would have settled for indentured servitude.

Sent by MO | 3:01 PM | 3-25-2008

This is it is good that we know it. But ALWAYS, the question is - WHAT TO DO? And remember, it must be achievable to truely matter.

The "check" is NOT in the mail! We must move on...with a focus on what we can control (inside of all of this).

That has always been and still is ourselves - individually and therefore collectively. It's not fair. SO! Neither is much else in life.

Who can help anybody MORE than they can help themselves?

Nobody is "off the hook" here...but what's the difference...anothers guilt or remorse buys you what at the store??

Sent by mark | 3:01 PM | 3-25-2008


I agree with you that there are similarities between debt peonage of the post-Reconstruction era and some of the plights of immigrant workers today.

I would argue that this is not a product of one system replacing another, rather exploitation is a core tenant of true, free-market, capitalism. The objective of the capital is make a profit - most of the time this is at the expense of labor. You can maximize your profits not by innovation but by limiting the freedom of labor. This is exactly why big business favors immigrant work (especially in the agricultural industry). They can exploit the labor, as you suggest, and if an undocumented worker complains, they can call the police. This practice has historic roots in American society - see the Bracero program.

Sent by steve | 3:08 PM | 3-25-2008

Douglas Blackmon mentioned in the interview how hard it was to find the voice of those who vanished into this pit of despair but the voices are there. They may not be in the form of non-fiction prose accounts but this period is what really gave birth to the Blues. There must be hundreds of blues laments and ballads about the chain gang and jail. All of those songs arose after the emancipation. The important contribution of Mr. Blackmon's book is to bring historical documentation and a sense of scale to the institution.

Sent by Hank Cohen | 3:19 PM | 3-25-2008

It seems like the biggest argument about reparitions is calculating the dollar amount and whether or not money is owed. My position is this: Blacks were barred from purchasing homes in suburban neighborhoods...purchases that would have given them more financial power later on. Instead, they were left behind in urban 'hoods that were deteriorating. The fact that happened is wrong and while we can not put a price tag on the work enslaved ancestors completed, we can admit that many black people would be in better financial situations had they been able to take advantage of the opportunities afforded their white counterparts. There should be programs, incentives, and resources made available to impoverished black and latino people to make up for the inexcusable actions taken against their ancestors that initiated a cycle that, sadly, still exists today.

Sent by Theresa Ebersole | 3:30 PM | 3-25-2008

A careful examination of the era of reconstruction following the Civil War will show that the defeated confederacy soon rallied politically to oppose such things as public education for the freed slaves or land distribution and basically any policy that would benefit the freed slaves at the expense of the representatives of that former power structure. The federal government went along with this as has been widely documented. Complaining constantly of their burden the regrouped planter class formed a new front in effort to dominate once again. Every form of terror and disenfranchisement was used. The modern "conservative" movement has its origins in this "states rights" post bellum south. First through the dixiecrats and then through the Republican party policies have been sought to perpetuate the exploitation and status quo of these slavery expoitive relations - I am grateful to the author of this book for tracing this horror - that it is related intrinsically to policies being carried out today by neo cons and others is clear. I think Ronald Regan - Newt Gingrich et al are the heirs of the policies documented in this book. Documentation can begin to prove this. Unmasking "conservatism" which historically has opposed integration - affirmative action- Labor rights etc. is a task for any number of champions!

Sent by Andy Willis | 3:30 PM | 3-25-2008


Why are Native Americans in such poverty - also? Could there be a cultural factor in this at all? It seems like there could. It seems silly to say that there definitely isn't. Even religion is a factor in wealth, it is statistically factual that in most cases as cultures become less religious they become wealthier - although you could also propose that as they become wealthier they becomes less religious.

I still have no idea why so much of the world is in poverty. Are rich people to blame? Is there something intrinsic to certain cultures that doesn't value riches, are some cultures lazy? You don't have to view these things as a negative or use them to belittle someone. People seem afraid to discuss this, because they get labeled "racist" if they do. But if you propose someone else is to blame for black American poverty then you should have examined all the other poverty and determined who is to blame for that and if there is indeed some external force. I honestly have no idea what I think about the causes of any of this, but it certainly doesn't seem that this all so simple as the guest proposed and I am not willing to jump on the bandwagon yet.

Isn't it also possible that black Americans today are disproportionately in poverty, because poverty and what feeds it have become ingrained in the culture due to the racism and slavery of the past - rather then current racism? What if it isn't current racism? Will the problem ever get resolved if we aren't addressing all the causes? Surely this is equally plausible. But no one discusses it. I can't understand why.

Sent by Scott Millar | 3:32 PM | 3-25-2008

No matter how one would disquise it free labor or illegal workers coming here to work for lower wages it is still the same thing as slavery. The rich once again will always find a way to exploit the poor.

Sent by angela | 3:34 PM | 3-25-2008

Hello from Douglas A. Blackmon. Your discussion is terrific. I also invite you to visit the book's website:
There are dozens of images. public records and other materials there, and I'll be adding more in future days.

Sent by Douglas Blackmon | 3:45 PM | 3-25-2008

@Davy B
Oh gee, what you really wanted to say was I am a racist? Right??? No sorry, I haven't read the book. No sorry, I am not a racist just because I question things and don't immediately endorse every thesis especially when they seem broad.

I may or may not read the book.

Nor did I say for certain I knew the answers or had made up my mind, I just said from the conversation it didn't seem like the conclusion the author was making is so simple. Nor was I sold from the interview.
If you made up your mind - good for you.
I am even willing to say it is a possibility I am not thinking objectively because I am sick of the subjectivity in public discussions regarding race, so maybe I am being unreasonably critical on this topic. Even if this is true - it doesn't seem to change my skepticism, nor does it have too.

Sent by Scott Millar | 3:46 PM | 3-25-2008


To suggest that somehow the Republicans are the only ones who exploit labor is a bit misleading. For full disclosure, I am a registered Democrat and voted for Obama.

That being said exploitation occurs on both sides of the isle, it is not the purview of conservatives alone. Lest we not forget that it was a Democrat who installed NAFTA which disproportionately had negative consequences for, not just American workers, but those workers and poor farmers abroad. Moreover, FDRs New Deal (the bastion of liberal policies) certainly benefited American society. But if you take a closer look, some of the New Deal (Agricultural Adjustment Administration had dire consequences for poor farmers.

Democrats and Republicans are both the same. They will do what is in their best interest (or that of America) regardless of the harm it causes people abroad. One party or the other will claim the moral high ground but the reality much less clear.

So while I agree with most of what you said, I just wanted to through out that caveat.

Sent by steve | 3:48 PM | 3-25-2008

I was wondering: Is there any movement towards or legal possibility of the relatives of these so horribly taken advantage of to get reparations from those responsible for the unlawful detainment and work of these black men?

Also, I feel that this is one of those pieces of history that should be made known and taught in every high school precisely because it is so despicable and so that these tragedies may never be forgotten. Thank you so much for airing this story. Maybe the best justice these men can get now is for their stories to be told, their innocence proclaimed and they and their families given respect for enduring something they should never have had to put up with, but that most of us would simply consider unendurable. Could there should be a monument or a memorial to their suffering? It would be a worthy way to remember them and educate the next generation. Can the records be researched and wrongful arrests be expunged with public explanation why?

Thank you again for this enlightening look at the dark side of history. The whole truth needs to be told.

Sent by Rebekah | 3:49 PM | 3-25-2008

Scott -
I would certainly disagree with you if you are suggesting that a possible explanation of poverty is that other culture's are somehow inherently "lazy" or do not "value riches". That is a preposterous conclusion in my opinion, who does not want to better their situation in life?

I would agree, however, that economic exploitation is not the only answer for poverty in the African American community (or in any other community for that matter). Certainly race, racism, and other institutional barriers have prevented certain groups from excelling as fast as other groups in American society. I DO believe that you cannot attempt to answer the question without considering the prevention of property ownership denied to African Americans post-Reconstruction to the late 1970s. You simply cannot extricate the economic oppression from other issues of race and racism in American society; they are inherently interconnected.

Sent by steve | 4:18 PM | 3-25-2008

RE: Russell: "Do chain gangs and forced work programs today create an environment much like that back in slavery days? is this "legal" slavery?"

13th amendment, Section 1: "Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime where of the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction"

Sent by John | 4:27 PM | 3-25-2008

I'm 60, white, never lived in the south, but I have an impression of legal enslavement in the south for profit from such movies as Cool Hand Luke and The Desperate Ones which I saw in the 60s/70s. Descriptions of those movies reference "I Am A Fugitive From A Chain Gang" (1932), based on a true story which is attributed with ending chain gangs.

I felt a silent outrage when I thought about those movies then, but for me, with the civil rights movement, they seemed to be something long past - like before I was born. Of course, it was clear this was a taboo topic.

So, I assumed that blacks were enslaved on trivial charges and rented out by the southern states, but I didn't have the facts to substantiate it, nor did I know the scale. Thanks for providing both.

Sent by michael pettengill | 5:07 PM | 3-25-2008

Thanks Douglas Blackmon for writing this book. When I heard todays totn it was just another reminder,to me, to focus on human nature that is universal.

Every person at times has the choice to pursue their self-interest when they know it is at the expense of someone else. That is the universal part.

Big strong people - or majorities - are more likely to become bullies for at least two reasons, 1. More opportunities. and 2. They are less likely to know what it feels like to be on the other end of things.

People are targeted for exploitation by those who have no scruples. It is a selfish crime of opportunity and insensitivity. Individuals and groups may be targeted because they are weaker, or less well connected. But as we see time and again exploitation of anyone can be institutionalized by some majority - however defined - that gives tacit approval because of some collectively perceived benefit to the "majority".

Because most people are superficial, and selfish, any minority that is collectively seen to be on the bottom is a target for our most selfish impulses. If that minority has a superficial marker i.e., skin color, star on the forehead, etc., there is double trouble.

When self-serving beliefs about race get involved things become even more intractable.

There is a lot to recommend a society where there are no easy targets. However we bring it about, it is a worthy goal.

Sent by David Waln | 5:46 PM | 3-25-2008

I am glad to see this topic discussed on NPR, but let's give credit where credit is due. Documentation of this outrageous system has existed since at least the mid-90s in Matthew Mancini's book "One Dies, Get Another: Convict Leasing in the American South, 1866-1928."

Sent by Tony | 6:02 PM | 3-25-2008

I am glad to see this profound reality coming to light. Convict Leasing--African enslavement-- rebuilt the wealth of the South after the Civil War. This coincides also with a time when every attempt by African people to consolidate wealth and independent communities all over the country were violently attacked and destroyed by white mobs. From Tulsa, OK to Rosewood FL to any number of other towns in every state white terror was used against black people.
The thing is this isn't just in the past. Today Wall Street and white society overall make billions of dollars on the prison economy with primarily black slave labor. Wall Street writes $2 to 3 billion worth of prison bonds every year that are invested in hedge funds, retirement funds and other investments. Today's reality for the black community is still ANOTHER very lucrative form of slavery. The U.S. economy was built on slavery and the genocide of the Indigenous people, and it continues today.

Sent by Penny Hess | 7:29 PM | 3-25-2008

The timing of your discussion about this topic is excellent. It puts the comments of Rev. Wright about some of the evils of this nation in context. Unfortunately, I fear, the people who need to understand why blacks in this country are skeptical and distrustful of the government will never consider the facts you represent. I hope I am wrong. Thank you for writing this book.

Sent by Evelyn | 11:52 PM | 3-25-2008

So here's the current situation -- is it any different? We have experienced a massive increase in drugs (see Gary Webb's documentation of US officials/CIA culpability here), closely followed by the creation and enforcement of draconian drug laws. Now combine both elements with Nafta's removal of jobs, and voila, you end up with 2 million black men in federal prison, a handy source of labor. I'd like to know just what businesses are benefiting from this labor. Where's the book on the current situation? Please Mr. Blackmon, step up.

I agree about the situation with illegal immigrants, too. It's endemic around here - for agricultural purposes. The kids don't get to go to school, no one gets medical treatment, the wages are nearly nothing, and there are no precautions for occupational safety. "One dies, get another," is an apt name for what's happening here, too.

I can't wait to read this book. I'm trying to think of a way to assign it to my students.

Sent by Kelly Brennan-Jones | 9:27 AM | 3-26-2008

Honestly, this is hardly an "untold story." My 1996 book, TWICE THE WORK OF FREE LABOR explored the exact same phenomenon and made the same argument w/ regard to TCI and Alabama. Excellent books by David Oshinsky, Karin Shapiro, Mary Ellen Curtin, Vivien Miller, Dan Letwin, Brian Kelly, and many others covered this ground as well. All saw the convict lease and chain gang system as an absolutely central part of the postwar South's determination to keep African Americans in bondage. Perhaps Mr. Blackmon cites these works (I hope so). But mostly I am struck by the fact that when academics write these things they fall on deaf ears, are ignored, or dismissed as "politically correct." When a journalist does so 10 years later it is a shocking revelation.

Sent by Alex Lichtenstein | 9:47 AM | 3-26-2008

I am 66 years old and do remember living with my grandparents on a white mans's place a few miles from Garland, Texas. My mother and father had moved us to Arizona to pick cotton in Standfield,Az. We stated in Standfield in deplorable conditions picking cotton. I was 6, my younger brother was 3, my older sister was 7 and my older brother was 8. We all had to pick cotton except my younger brother played more than anything. We were all children. We moved to Phoenix after one year in Standfield and because my father could not find a job and the six of us were living in one room rented from someone whod had a house in South Phoenix my parents decided to take the children back to TX and this is where we lived with our grandparents and we chopped cotton and did other things while we lived there. I just remember being very poor and having to work. We had to go several miles to get buckets of drinking water from another black family's well. I did not know that my grandparents wer sharecroppers at the time but I know now that is what was going on. That and the move to Arizona in a Caravan on Army trucks has left a very large scare on my psyche. If the unfair treatment and privilidged status given to white men and women had stopped then I would not have the feelings about the US that I hold today. "Racism" which is using power, race or color" to discriminate is still very much alive and well. I have a Master's Degree and was forced to retire early because white people in the Mesa school District used their power and their privilidged positions of power to blackball me because I talked about race as it rearded its ugly head and because it made them uncomfortable they targeted me and eventually for my health I retired. Their power was in the fact that the white teachers who targeted me were good friends with the Superintendent,Assist. Superintendents, many of the principals in the District as well as teachers. The few blacks in the District did not want to be associated with me because they were afraid they would loose their jobs or be target as i was. I became a true target when I told a white woman who was suppossedly afriend when some things happened along racial lines "that she and I could never be friends." How dare I tell awhite woman that I did not want to be her friend. That's when the hammer fell.This is just a short synopsis of my experience whith "racism" or privilidge in a system that condons it.Just an aside--my husband of 44 years is white. We married the year after the law against interracial marriages was taken off the books in Az.

Sent by Letha Barrett | 11:38 AM | 3-26-2008

This book should be read in college and high schools

Sent by Elena Swanson | 8:32 PM | 3-26-2008

This book and NPR's interview of the author are very important to highlight how events of a hundred years ago still affect people today. Yes, I'm sure the topic has been covered before in other books and in academia. But apparently, it hasn't been covered very well because people still seem surprised.

I was not surprised by this topic. I have known about it all my life. I grew up (white) in Alabama and it was common knowledge, but not exactly advertised. My grandfather told me about his memories of slave escapes when he was a child. This was about 1928 or so.

White people in the south have never given President Lincoln much credit for "freeing the slaves", and they are correct. The Emancipation Proclamation only freed slaves in the Confederate states. Border states that were still in the Union still had legal slavery. But our own experience was even more important: How could Lincoln have freed the slaves when we still had them 80 years later? The only slaves who were freed were those who freed themselves. Those ex-slaves who left the south during their brief window of freedom in reconstruction were the only ones who had a chance. Things are better today, certainly, but racism is still alive and well.

Sent by John | 9:02 AM | 3-27-2008

I found Mr. Blackmon's subject matter strikingly similar to Mary Ellen Curtin's "Black Prisoners and Their World : Alabama, 1865-1900" published in 2000. I hope Dr. Curtin is aware of Mr. Blackmon's high regard for her work!

Sent by Kathleen Murray | 9:22 AM | 3-28-2008

@Scott & Steve

It sounds like you would both enjoy reading "Guns Germs and Steel" by Jared Diamond. It's Pulitzer Prize winner that explores why civilizations developed at different rates leading to the inequities we see today.

Sent by Joe Waln | 12:07 PM | 3-30-2008

Thank you all for the rich and candid exchanges about my book. To Kathleen Murray and Alex Lichtenstein, I hope you'll read "Slavery by Another Name" and see that it energetically acknowledges many scholars, such as Pete Daniel ("who wrote the seminal work on twentieth-century peonage"), Mary Ellen Curtin ("no work rivals the research" for prior to 1900), Jack Bergstresser, the industrial archeologist who first postulated the identities of those buried in the great unmmarked burial grounds on the edge of Birmingham--each of whom gave me valued advice during the seven years of work on this project.
But the book also expands beyond past research, offers a reinterpretation of events over a much longer period of time and wider geography, and demonstrates how this history directly ties to the present. It is unapologetically a challenge to the views of some conventional historians. It begins with an analysis of how the new slavery was rooted in specific events before the Civil War and follows the chain of events through the end of World War II, a full century of social history, and a period I argue we should call the "Age of Neoslavery." What most distinguishes my book, though, is that it confronts historical realities that few U.S. scholars have been able to reconcile themselves to--that huge numbers of black Americans across the South were re-enslaved through interlocking mechanisms deep into the 20th century and that these were not inevitable or accidental. Southern blacks were not merely abused, politically deprived or inconvenienced, as history has taught most of us. They were enslaved into coerced labor, by fair reckoning of the evidence. Some historians and researchers have inadvertantly minimized this reality, partly by analysis that failed to see the interconnection between forms of neoslavery, partly through a failure to tap untouched evidence in courthouses across the South, partly because this interpretation challenges some pillars of American mythology. Some have also accepted a presumption that it is impossible to re-animate the lives of the impoverished and illiterate millions of African-Americans drawn into neoslavery--or establish the severity of the limits imposed on their lives. My book builds upon the extraordinary past work of many scholars whom I enormously admire. But it rejects any suggestion that because slavery as a legally defined condition no longer existed, we cannot call the resubjugation of these African-American families what it truly was: a new slavery. And it is simply untrue that we cannot reconstruct the lives of those who were crushed by these events--and the vast scale of the injuries they received.
Historians should not be unnerved that this largely unknown past is being shared with a broad audience. Based on the exchanges here and dozens of emails I have received in recent days, few Americans understand these events--whether the interpretation offered by most scholars or mine. This is not a topic about which everything has already been said. The millions of neoslaves abandoned by history deserve many more books yet.

Sent by Douglas A. Blackmon | 12:14 PM | 3-30-2008

No one mention the eloquence of this writer. He seems to have met a theme worthy of his skills. I wanted to name a child after Green, the central if mute figure in the narrative. So that he can live on somehow. But he lives on through this book, and through the actions those inspired by the book take.

The chasm Obama spoke of is still very wide. As an Celtic-American, I challenge all the whitefolks moved by these truths to speak with other whitefolks about how you are moved, and why. Print out pages of Blackmon's book to distribute to friends and family. I challenge you to ask yourself this question and then ask it of others: is not a debt owed for the stolen labor, the stolen lives? Shouldn't we be about paying that debt. A good resource to help you answer that question is an organization of white people for reparations. A small but growing group, affiliated with no political party or program, just yearning to get the debt paid, that our children and grandchildren don't have to pay it. they're site is And another good site for white people motivated to take action in WACAN (the white anti-racist community action network).

Let's buy this book and talk about it. Let's gather in groups and talk about it. Let's bring light and air into the deep bleak mines of our post-slavery slavery history. And let's close the chasm a little when black people testify to the continuance of the very attitudes and practices and denials Blackmon documents. And let's not be frightened off by the residual anger, and not be made hopeless or guilt-paralyzed by the hopelessness. Commit.

And I want to hear the story of the white people across the southern states who resisted these injustices. Even if they were only a few hundred, or a few, or one.

Sent by Elizabeth K. Gordon | 2:12 PM | 3-31-2008

Re: Lyle Parks's query--the Ernie Ford song lyric is "I owe my soul to the company store"--although it sounds more like "the company sto'"--which then can be heard as the company's toll. That is absolutely about peonage, where workers bought everything at inflated prices on credit, charged usurious rates of interest, so that they never got out of debt and could never leave the coal camp.

Sent by Stan Brown | 12:12 PM | 4-3-2008

Douglas Blackmon has been writing and speaking about race issues since he was a child in the Mississippi Delta. When in the 7th grade, Doug spoke to a civic club in our town about a paper he had written in school. The paper dealt with a farm labor issue in the Delta. From the back of the room he was heckled by a white planter (aka farmer) some 50 years his senior. A brief debate followed, and Doug was regarded to have won.

"Slavery by Another Name" is not only a scholarly and important work, it reflects the very soul of the author. I have known Douglas Blackmon for a very long time. I am his father.

Sent by Bob Blackmon | 5:48 PM | 4-11-2008

"it sounds like a form of indentured servitude, and Blackmon says this extension of slavery helps explain why black Americans made so little economic progress before the civil rights movement."
Would you please tell me what progress they(blacks) have made since then?
I suppose you are talking about jessie and sharpie's extortion of fools that think they are guilty of something.
Picking low hanging fruit is not an accomplishment or a talent!

Sent by Ed O | 9:28 AM | 5-16-2008

With no disrespect to the African Americans, why does it seem there
has not been the same concern about the
Native American Indians? They owned this land!!! It was stolen, Indians were butchered! called savages for trying to protect their lands!tribes completely wiped out by disease, LIED TO OVER AND OVER with no concern for keeping any treaty agreements, tried to wipe all culture and traditions from the people. Look how most of them have to live on reservations today... most have no running water or electricity and are in desolate proverty. Look at the Black Hills which were stolen and are still trying to be paid for with blood money but the proud Lakota will have no part of it. SO in conclusion, lets talk a little about their plight instead of always the poor African American.

Thank You.

Sent by john neal | 3:01 AM | 6-15-2008

Bravo Douglas on your venture to further educate the masses (cognitive dissonance). It behooves me how any sane persons would believe that millions of slaves were left free to walk away Scott free anyway. Ignorance is bliss hopefully this enlightens people to a reality we have a long way to go in this country (Obamas) success does not correct or erase one bit of this horrific behavior. I am a 46-year-old African American not privileged to even hear about accounts such as these because my living relatives see this sort of thing as being taboo. I have not read the book but it has moved to the top of my list as a must read. John Neal find a book entitled "lies my teacher told me" it expounds heavily on the Native American experience with the European invaders.

Sent by jus | 3:12 AM | 6-24-2008

Much hasn't changed has it
Humans have always been a greedy exploitive self serving miserable

Sent by Sparkles | 7:22 PM | 7-11-2008


Sent by John | 2:39 PM | 7-14-2008

I am amazed when I confer with colleagues, associates, and sometimes friends that there is a choice to disbelieve, ignore or either find these facts irrelevant. My civic responsibility resonates a concerted disconnect to humanity. My scholarship lead to a work association with genealogist Antoinette Harrell and an acquaintance with Mae Walls Miller. Mae actually lived the life detailed in your book. Ms. Harrell has intricately researched this atrocity for the past ten years. Additionally she has produced a documentary saturated with information obtained by physical research throughout the southern institutions that you speak of in your commentary with Bill Moyers. The Center for African and African American Studies for Southern University at New Orleans hosted Cultural Diversity Day in 2007 highlighting this life struggle experienced by Mae Walls Miller. Mr. Blackmon, your scholarship is outstanding as well as your obvious commitment but be assured African Americans know about this inhumanity..You are getting whites and many blacks to listen to the severity of these painful transgressions.....
With Warmest Regards, I am
Linda Hill,
Center for African and African American Studies
Southern University at New Orleans
6801 Press Drive
New Orleans, Louisiana 70126
504-284-5550 Office
504-782-0757 Cellular
Public trust is a precious commodity. The civic engagement involved with caring for a collection is best rewarded by the appreciation and respect of the community served.

Sent by Linda Hill | 10:25 AM | 7-17-2008


Once again I truly appreciate your book. Slavery By Another Name. My name is Antoinette Harrell, I am a genealogist from Louisiana. For the past ten years I have been researching and documenting the fact that hundreds of thousands of African Americans were held in slavery until the 20th Century. In 2003 I met a woman name Mae Louise Miller who said that she and family were held as slaves in Gillsburg, Mississippi,and didn't escape until 1961. In 2003 Nightline with Ted Koppel(America In Black And White) featured Mae Louise Miller and her sister Annie Miller. Last March, People Magazine published a four page article on this family entitled....The Last Slaves of Mississippi. I am the Executive Producer of a documentary entitled...The Untold Story " Slavery In The 2Oth Century. I have done extensive research on the subject of peonage in the National Archives, local libraries,courthouse attics, and have traveled the lonely back roads talking to former 20th century slaves. Please visit my website at My research reveals that in sixteen states and twenty-two counties in Mississippi, African Americans where held in slavery decades beyond 1863. Thanks Doug for all your hard work. Your research has proven that slavery still exist well into the 20th century.

Sent by Antoinette Harrell | 10:21 PM | 7-27-2008

The two lines above is the link to authors website - it contains many photos and some info not in the book.

Sent by SR Russell | 3:30 PM | 9-20-2008