The Slow Death of American Slavery
December 5, 2003 11:37 PM   Subscribe

Slavery Ended in the 1960s, not the 1860s The Civil War made slavery illegal, but that didn't wipe it out completely. White farmer, John Williams, forced his black overseer to murder 11 slaves in the wake of a 1921 federal investigation. The Dial Brothers were also convicted by the Justice Department for "African slavery" in the 1940s. In another case, a black genealogist found a 104-year-old man who claims he and his family were enslaved until the 1960s. It's not necessary to rehash the entire reparations debate to realize that some of these post-Civil War slavery cases may finally have a day in court.
posted by jonp72 (13 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Same shit, different day.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 11:54 PM on December 5, 2003

Perhaps my memory is way off but didn't Michael Moore do a short piece on slavery on TV Nation? If I remember correctly, he alledged that there were some places in the USA where slavery still isn't illegal. I seem to recall him whipping someone in the streets trying to drum up interest.
posted by dobbs at 1:33 AM on December 6, 2003

Thanks for sharing these stories, jonp73. The second link, about the John Williams case, never manages actually to state that Williams was convicted of murder (only that he was "judged" by his peers, and that a white hadn't been convicted of murdering a black in the previous 40-plus years). But convicted he was. We read here that Williams was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison - the only Southern white to be convicted of killing a black person between Reconstruction and 1966. This according to Pete Daniel, The Shadow of Slavery: Peonage in the South, 1901-1969, Urbana: U of Illinois P, 1972 (as mentioned in the third link), who is also cited on Williams' death: Williams died in prison: "The final ironic twist of the case occurred years later at a Georgia prison farm where John S. Williams had earned a trustee position. He was.killed while attempting to prevent a jailbreak."

You can read a first-person account of peonage: The Life Story of a Negro Peon.
posted by Zurishaddai at 6:32 AM on December 6, 2003

There's a big difference between a few isolated instances of criminality taking the form of labor bondage such as are described on this site, and a whole social and economic based on sadism, lifetime imprisonment and stolen labor, which was the United States before emancipation, just as there is a difference between an individual psycho like Jeffrey Dahmer murdering and hacking people up in his own home, and a whole society, like the Aztecs, based upon human sacrifice and ritual dismemberment. "Slavery" is a loaded term -- look at the whole concept of "white slavery" and prostitution. Or that pimp in Detroit who was recently charged with kidnapping teenage girls off the streets of midwest towns and forcing them to work as prostitutes. To put it simply, legal slavery in the United States ended permanently in the 1860s. Period. Racism, sadism, penal corruption, and the human propensity to derive pleasure from dominating others did not die, nor will it ever die. Of course the crimes linked to in this post were evil and sucked, but they are hardly (as it seems to be implied) proof that the type of slavery that was practiced and tolerated in the U.S. from its founding until shortly after the Civil War, still lingers, or is still countenanced by anyone in power. While huge racial issues still remain to be addressed by American society, we can all sleep soundly in the knowledge that the legal, agricultural enslavement of Africans has been put to bed. Of course, then there's this...
posted by Faze at 6:45 AM on December 6, 2003

dobbs: Mississippi did not ratify the 13th amendment until March 16, 1995, having rejected it originally. Obviously, the 13th amendment was nevertheless in force in Mississippi meanwhile! (I trust the TV show's humorous take on this lamentable delay did not lead to any actual misunderstanding.) The other states had ratified it by 1870 except for Del. (1901) and Ky. (1976).
posted by Zurishaddai at 6:54 AM on December 6, 2003

an individual psycho like Jeffrey Dahmer

I'm sorry, but I find this analogy pretty insulting to the generations of African Americans whose liberties were so crippled throughout the Jim Crow era. The poorly-remembered and seldom-told history of illegal—but all-too-possible—exploitation of this kind is, in fact, an important chapter in the origin of Jim Crow social, political, and economic institutions.

Yes, that's right, Jim Crow was as throroughly institutionalized in society as any legal principle, not the work of erratic psycho criminals. It thrived on the complicity of communities, constables, and courts, and the motive forces behind obedience to positive law look pretty pale next to the vigor with which its violations of constitutional and legal principles were defended.
posted by Zurishaddai at 7:02 AM on December 6, 2003

Whoops - dead link in my first comment. The source for more info on the Williams case (and more on "the economic and social conditions of blacks in rural and small-town Georgia in the early 1920s") is here.
posted by Zurishaddai at 7:06 AM on December 6, 2003

Did slavery ever completely die? - I think it just went underground.
posted by troutfishing at 8:57 AM on December 6, 2003

Thanks Zurishaddal. Hopefully USA'ns have a firmer grasp of the history than us Canucks.
posted by dobbs at 9:06 AM on December 6, 2003

White people suck. I hate myself. Waaah.
posted by keswick at 11:55 AM on December 6, 2003

Slavery continues today. It's not just for white people, or capitalists, or globalizing economies, or the underdeveloped world. The practice of owning people is legally approved in some places.
posted by fuzz at 4:30 PM on December 6, 2003

For nine months, The Palm Beach Post explored the roots of modern-day slavery. Reporters and photographers traveled to destitute Mexican villages, crossed the desert with a smuggler, rode across the U.S. with illegal immigrants, found new claims of slavery, uncovered rampant Social Security fraud, and found that Florida's famous orange juice comes with hidden costs.

Migrants sealed in a trailer tell a clergyman that their labor contractors have 'bought' them.
"They told me that these labor contractors who ran the trailer had 'bought' them from a coyote, and that's why they couldn't go out without permission.
"Can you believe that? Somebody bought them. I told them, 'We don't do that in this country.' "
Cruz, like the church elder, Victor Pecina, 47, would eventually make contact with the contractors. They both found the men surprisingly brazen about the control they exercised over other human beings.
"When I got to the trailer, several of the boys said they wanted to come to church but they couldn't," recalls Pecina about his initial visit. "A man guarding them said they were not allowed to leave the property. I spoke to him through the window. He said they couldn't leave. I told him that if he was afraid they wouldn't come back, he could come with them. He said no."

posted by matteo at 8:43 AM on December 7, 2003

White people suck. I hate myself. Waaah.

Well, keswick sucks--but that's a given.
posted by y2karl at 10:55 AM on December 17, 2003

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