Earlier this week, PBS presented the documentary, Slavery by Another Name, based on the book of the same name by Douglas A. Blackmon. It shows how powerful economic interests in the U.S. South, between the end of Reconstruction and World War II, abused the convict labor system and flouted federal anti-peonage law, to turn many thousands of African Americans and even some whites, into what in effect were slaves. Indeed, in some localities it was common to arrest black people on flimsy pretexts specifically to enslave them. Convict labor and peonage, in essence, became part of the repressive machinery of Jim Crow. A way to keep African Americans in line, while extorting their labor for the benefit of the powerful.
While Slavery by Another Name gets preachy at times and resorts to questionable devices like trotting out the descendants of whites involved in the abuses of convict leasing and peonage to express guilt over the ancestors, on balance it is powerful television, and makes well a point that Civil War Emancipation has made on several occasions. To wit, that coerced labor did not entirely disappear in the United States after the Civil War and continues to persist in various guises even today.
If you missed the program, PBS has made it available on their website. You can watch it by <clicking here>.