slavery was already being reinstated in all but name
...even as Spielberg’s film conveys the euphoria felt by African Americans and all opposed to slavery upon passage of the amendment in 1865, it also unintentionally foreshadows the demise of that brighter future... the African American housekeeper... reads the amendment aloud. First, the sweeping banishment of slavery. And then, an often overlooked but powerful prepositional phrase: “except as a punishment for crime.”
The very concept of reparations for antebellum slavery, the sort over which the Civil War was putatively fought, is a topic that is the hottest of hot potatoes in the national conversation.
Yet the slavery of which Blackmon wrote, what he called neo-slavery, lasted from the end of Reconstruction until the end of the Second World War -- in other words, until the middle of the 20th Century, which is well within living memory of many alive today. And given that timeline, there are likely living survivors of that slavery.
I would argue that no one alive today has a stronger case for reparations than they, those survivors, and their heirs, and, in fact. all heirs of all so re-enslaved, as Blackmon puts it.
...Waves of disease ripped through the population. In the month before Cottenham arrived at the prison mine, pneumonia and tuberculosis sickened dozens. Within his first four weeks, six died. Before the year was over, almost sixty men forced into Slope 12 were dead of disease, accidents, or homicide.
Most of the broken bodies, along with hundreds of others before and after, were dumped into shallow graves scattered among the refuse of the mine.
Others were incinerated in nearby ovens used to blast millions of tons of coal brought to the surface into coke—the carbon-rich fuel essential to U.S. Steel’s production of iron. ...
Almost a century later, on an overgrown hillside five miles from the bustling downtown of contemporary Birmingham, I found my way to one of the only tangible relics of what Green Cottenham endured. The ground was all but completely obscured by the dense thicket. But beneath the undergrowth of privet, the faint outlines of hundreds upon hundreds of oval depressions still marked the land. Spread in haphazard rows across the forest floor, these were sunken graves of the dead from nearby prison mines once operated by U.S. Steel. Here and there, antediluvian headstones jutted from the foliage. No signs marked the place. No paths led to it.
During this time, some actual criminals were sold into slavery, and a small percentage of them were white. But the vast majority were black men accused of trivial or trumped-up crimes.
I think if anything, it was more likely to fall on uneducated newly freed blacks because they might not be able to read the contract that closely. Being forced to work longer for debt - well, were people forced to incur that debt? No, but it didn't seem a big deal at the time - like easy credit now.
A black worker in 1904 described to a journalist how he arrived at the farm at age ten as a free laborer. A few years later, he attempted to leave to work at another plantation. Before sundown on the day of his departure, one of the McRees and “some kind of law officer” tracked him down. The new employer apologized to the McRees for hiring the young worker, saying he would never have done so if he had known “this nigger was bound out to you.”
“So I was carried back to the Captain’s,” the man said later. “That night he made me strip off my clothing down to my waist, had me tied to a tree in his backyard, ordered his foreman to gave me thirty lashes with a buggy whip across my bare back, and stood by until it was done.”
When his labor contract finally expired after a decade, the man was told he could leave Kinderlou, so long as he could pay his accumulated debt at the plantation commissary—$165, the rough equivalent of two years’ labor for a free farmer. Unable to do so, of course, he was compelled to sign a contract promising to work on the farm until the debt was paid, but now as a convict.
Clayton Townley: In the courts of Mississippi, they have been reminded, that they cannot, by force, turn our communities into replicas of their communities... communities in which negroes run riot, unrestrained and unpunished, as they do this summer in the streets of Harlem, or they do in the streets of Oakland, or they do in the STREETS OF CHICAGO!
Older Lady: They say we've got to eat together and use the same bathroom as the niggers.
And that's awful hard for some Mississippi folks to do.
They're not like us. They don't take baths.
They stink, they... they're nasty...
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