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1-Page Summary of Slavery By Another Name
Written by journalist Douglas Blackmon, Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II is a thorough account of how slavery continues in the south despite being outlawed.
In the South, black men were arrested on false charges like vagrancy. They then had to work for white people in order to pay off their debt for being falsely accused of crimes. The prisoners faced abuse and torture from racist guards and fellow workers, and they were effectively re-enslaved for years on end. This system continued until World War II, challenging the usual assumption written in history books that all African Americans were free after the Civil War and showing the full extent of injustice that has been wrought upon former slaves and their descendants.
Even though African Americans were granted citizenship in the 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution, they were still treated as inferior to whites. Even those who wanted blacks to have equal rights with whites saw white people as superior. In addition, leaders of racist organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan openly supported suppressing black political power. The racism was so bad that even sharecroppers (who technically had some freedom) lived under constant oppression in the South. They couldn’t move around freely or demand better compensation for their work because of this oppressive environment that often included violence and threats from racists like members of the KKK.
Blackmon’s book reveals the history of how African-Americans were treated in the US after slavery. He challenges historians who characterize it as an inevitable result of the Civil War by revealing that it was a result of decisions motivated by racist beliefs and greed for financial gain. Whereas other books have focused on just government failure to ensure civil rights, he also targets private business for upholding injustice in the US.
Introduction: “The Bricks We Stand On”
The book, Slavery by Another Name, opens with a story about Green Cottenham who was arrested for vagrancy in 1908. Although he was not guilty of committing any crime, the authorities sentenced him to hard labor and sold him to Tennessee Coal & Iron Company (TCI) as part of US Steel. The company paid off his fine so that he could be forced into the Pratt Mines where he worked long hours extracting coal from the earth every day. At night, Cottenham was chained up in an overcrowded shack which caused disease among those living there. When men died from these diseases or were killed because they tried escaping their terrible conditions at work and home, they were buried in shallow graves or burned in ovens used to blast coal out of rocks underground during mining operations.
The author asserts that these men were slaves, even though they weren’t legally. He visited their graves and found out where Cottenham was likely buried. The article he wrote about it brought more attention to the issue of slavery in America. Some white people disagreed with his point of view, while others agreed with him.
Most white readers found this article about post-Civil War slavery to be sad, but not shocking. Many black readers felt validated by the story because it shows how African Americans were treated a century after the Civil War ended. Historians have overlooked what happened with these men working for US Steel, and many historians frame freed blacks as criminals who could not cope with freedom. The author challenges that idea by citing hundreds of pages of documentation he found while researching the topic.