Slavery by Another Name

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Despite what is taught in schools, the Emancipation Proclamation by President Abraham Lincoln did not signify the abolishment of slavery. Upon reading Douglas Blackmon’s book “Slavery by Another Name,” I have been persuaded that slavery continued for several years following that proclamation. Surprisingly, it was not until 1942 when a different type of slavery called “neoslavery” emerged and ultimately terminated this cruel institution.

Neoslavery, which is also referred to as post-Emancipation slavery, was a type of oppression that continued from the time of the Emancipation Proclamation until the start of World War II. It entailed the kidnapping of African Americans and their subsequent confinement through false or exaggerated criminal charges. These individuals were then forced into servitude for an extended period after the end of the Civil War. This reprehensible practice mainly occurred in Alabama, Florida, and Georgia.

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The South implemented new methods of forced labor that led to the arbitrary application of vague “vagrancy” accusations. These accusations encompassed indecent language in the presence of a woman, switching jobs without prior consent from the previous employer, and lacking evidence of employment (which was unattainable at that time since pay stubs were non-existent). Consequently, numerous African-Americans faced incarceration or lived under the influence of this oppressive system.

During a time when oppressive laws targeted African Americans, many people from this community faced arrests and hefty fines as well as the financial burden of being detained. These individuals were unable to settle their debts and thus were compelled to work in various industries like coal mines, lumber camps, brickyards, railroad construction crews, and plantations. The initial chapters of the book portray a family that represents life shortly after the Civil War and their early experiences following emancipation. Following that, the narrative centers around Green Cottenham’s challenges in providing for his family in the Deep South during the 1900s.

In Columbiana, Alabama, at the start of the 20th century near the train depot, he was arrested under false pretenses. Initially, he was charged with breaking a minor law; however, it was later claimed that he had violated a different minor law. After three days elapsed, he eventually appeared before the county judge to explain the circumstances. To resolve the matter, the judge simply deemed him guilty of vagrancy.

He receives a $10 fine and is additionally burdened with various fees linked to his arrest: a fee for the sheriff, a fee for the arresting deputy, expenses related to his three-day incarceration, and fees for the supposedly testifying witnesses, despite the absence of any apparent witnesses. Altogether, these expenses amounted to roughly a year’s worth of wages for an African American farm worker during that period. It goes without saying that Green Cottenham, an impoverished African American man with limited literacy in 1908, did not have the means to afford such an amount.

To meet his fine payment obligations, he is assigned to work for U. S. Steel Corporation, an established company, in an Alabama coal mine on the outskirts. Alongside about one thousand other Black forced laborers, he endures unimaginable living conditions. These men spend majority of their time toiling in the mines, surrounded by standing water that comes from seepage beneath the earth.

Due to the absence of any alternative clean water, they were forced to stay in and consume the foul water that was contaminated by their own waste. Any individual who failed to extract at least eight tons of coal from the mine on a daily basis would be subjected to a whipping both at the end and beginning of each day. The men would enter the mine prior to sunrise and exit after sunset, enduring an endless stretch of darkness while confronting these dreadful circumstances.

Due to the lack of medical attention, Green Cottenham died in August of 1908, five months after arriving at the jail, due to waves of dysentery, tuberculosis, and other illnesses. Alabama had the longest-lasting and most explicit system, involving every county government and leasing a significant number of African American men.

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Alabama engaged in a disturbing practice of forcefully leasing or selling more than 100,000 African American men to various industries such as coal mines, iron ore mines, sawmills, timber harvesting camps, cotton plantations, and turpentine stills. This coercive labor system impacted over 200,000 African Americans in Alabama alone. Historical records confirm the tragic deaths of numerous Black men who endured these dreadful conditions during that period. One poignant account involves Jonathan Davis in 1901. Desperate to see his wife before she succumbed to a fatal illness and receiving care at her parents’ home located about 15 or 20 miles away from his cotton field, he was apprehended by a constable on his journey. Subsequently, he was forcibly sold for $45 to a white farmer.

The book highlights that this was a frequent happening for numerous individuals, particularly African Americans. It is clear that a similar form of abduction took place for many African Americans, both in Alabama and other southern states. Consequently, it is undeniable that hundreds of thousands of African Americans experienced these incidents and millions lived in constant fear for their wellbeing and the safety of their beloved ones.

Located on the outskirts of Atlanta, there was a renowned brick-making company in the late 1800s. James English, who owned this company, was a prominent figure in the city. He had served as a Confederate war veteran and also held the position of mayor of Atlanta during the 1880s. With his considerable political influence, he possessed immense power. As the new century dawned, it is highly probable that he emerged as one of the wealthiest individuals in the Southern United States and one of America’s richest men.

His various business ventures revolved around a brick-making factory. The factory utilized forced laborers who were either obtained from prisons or bought from individuals who had kidnapped black men in the southern region of the United States. This unethical practice became widespread due to the growing need for black workers. The brickyard, known as Chattahoochee, manufactured millions of bricks, many of which were incorporated into Atlanta’s oldest communities that are still inhabited today.

Testimony was given before a legislative committee regarding the deplorable conditions at the facility, where prisoners were subjected to inhumane treatment. The prisoners received deteriorating and foul food, resided in barracks infested with bugs, and toiled under extreme heat while enduring whippings. Additionally, they were deprived of medical care, leading to a significant number of deaths. A former white inmate recounted an alarming event involving Peter Harris, a black prisoner who had his severely infected hand surgically treated by the camp doctor before being ordered to return to work.

Instead of receiving medical attention, Mr. Harris – with a mangled and bleeding hand – collapsed following the procedure. The overseer of the camp then commanded that he be pulled into the brickyard, where he endured a brutal whipping of 25 lashings. A guard aggressively yelled, “If you’re not dead, I’ll ensure you’re dead if you don’t go to work!” Consequently, Mr. Harris was transported to a cotton field. Tragically, he passed away while lying amongst the rows of cotton. On Sundays, white men visited the Chattahoochee brickyard to engage in the buying, selling, and trading of black men as if they were livestock or slaves during previous generations. One former camp guard testified, “They lined them up and paraded around them, examining them like one would evaluate a mule.”

At the onset of World War II, President Roosevelt was rallying the nation for war and discussing potential concerns raised by American enemies to undermine morale. Among these concerns, one topic discussed among the Cabinet in Washington was Japan’s possible claim that America wasn’t genuinely fighting for freedom due to the treatment of African Americans in the Deep South.

In light of the vulnerability inherent in the situation, he took action by advocating for the implementation of legislation to criminalize lynchings on a federal level. In the meantime, Francis Biddle, who served as the attorney general during this period, returned to his own office and presented the same inquiries to his immediate deputies. One of these deputies uncovered an additional issue: individuals in specific Southern regions were still enslaving people despite lynching being a significant problem. Furthermore, their department had chosen not to pursue cases against these individuals. Initially taken aback by this revelation, the attorney general then requested a memo that outlines how to proceed with prosecuting such cases based on existing laws.

On December 11, four days after the initial incident was brought to his attention, an individual distributes a memo to all U.S. attorneys. The memo directs them to begin prosecuting cases related to this issue starting that day. Following this directive, in 1942, a family comprising a man and his adult daughter near Corpus Christi, Texas, is apprehended and charged under the new policy. They face trial and are ultimately convicted that same year. In 1943, they are sentenced to prison for enslaving Alfred Irving for a period exceeding five years.

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Slavery by Another Name. (2018, Jun 26). Retrieved from

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