Slavery by Another Name

My sister asked me to watch the PBS special, Slavery by Another Name. I don’t know about you, but I have really have to psych myself up to watch one of these specials. I find them very, very depressing. The show was fascinating, enlightening and damn depressing. In a nutshell, Whites used various methods from the end of reconstruction to 1940 to re-enslave Blacks. Now, I paid attention in high school and college. I don’t remember one lecture on this stuff. I knew that during reconstruction there were several Blacks who were voted into Congress from the deep south. Many Blacks opened businesses and bought land. Then something happened. It all vanished. Basically, a series of laws and statues were passed that said in essense – if you are Black, you ain’t got nothing. Tons of laws were passed that criminalized things that you and I would not think of as crimes – playing dice, walking on railroad tracks, the inability to prove that you are employed at any given moment. Once you were arrested, fines were thrown at you. If you couldn’t pay the fine, you had go to jail. The city or state would then rent your services to local businesses. You became cheap labor, cheap and expendable labor. The Master didn’t own you like in the past. Now, you could be shot by your boss. You were buried and your former boss would go and get another loaner (slave) from the state. Peonage. What the Hell? I had to go look that up. I have never heard the word peonage (the use of laborers bound in servitude because of debt). Cheap Black labor became the engine that pulled the deep south of poverty. At the end of the Civil War, there were four million poor Blacks and four million poor Whites in the south. By 1940, there were eight million Whites living in the middle class and millions of Black Americans were simply out of luck. They didn’t even get a little taste of prosperity for their hard work. I highly recommend Slavery by Another Name, but you might want to take a little something to help steady your nerves before watching. It is a very powerful program. I’m reading the book now. So, you might note that my mood is a little testy!