Douglas A. Blackmon on “the age of neo-slavery”
Douglas A. Blackmon, author of Slavery by Another Name – The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II, was interviewed last month by Michael Slate on KPFK, Los Angeles. From the transcript of that interview:
Michael Slate: At the end of your book you say you feel that that period of time between the betrayal of reconstruction, the destruction of reconstruction, and World War 2 and maybe even beyond World War 2 and into the 1950s, you talk about how that should not be called the Jim Crow era, but rather that it should be called “the age of neo-slavery.” Can you explain that?
Douglas Blackmon: Sure. There are two points that I’m really making there. One is in some respects the biggest demonstration that I hope the book makes. And that is that this period of time, beginning at the end of the 19th century and continuing up into World War 2, as a country we have shared in a national instinct to have a sort of collective amnesia, or at a minimum, a minimization of the reality of the things that really happened to African Americans all across the South in that period of time. And one aspect of that minimizing the offenses of this period, has been to call it the Jim Crow era. Now I don’t think that’s what people intended when it began to be known as that, but in hindsight, that’s fairly clear to me. Jim Crow was a character that was played, in the beginning, by a particular actor who would perform in blackface and do comedy routines that were meant to denigrate Black Americans. Before the Civil War that became an incredibly popular form of entertainment.
After the Civil War, Jim Crow came to define the entertainment of that era, and the symbolism of Blacks in the South. I liken that to our calling the 1930s in Germany, if we named that period of time after the most popular anti-Semitic comedian of Germany at that time. I think we would all recognize that that was an offensive way to refer to that period in history. The reality, what Slavery by Another Name demonstrates, I think, is that in truth, since the beginning of the 20th century, a new form of forced labor involving hundreds of thousands of people, and terrorizing hundreds of thousands of other people, had emerged in the South, that amounted to what I call “neo-slavery,” and we should call it what it was, the age of neo-slavery.
Blackmon, the Atlanta Bureau Chief for the Wall Street Journal, has been out talking about his book since March. I’ll be talking about his book. It’s a book that needs to be talked about. A lot.