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Posted by on Jul 15, 2008 in At TMV | 1 comment

Douglas A. Blackmon on “Neoslavery” and the “Convict Labor System”

Douglas A. Blackmon, author of Slavery By Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II, is interviewed in Newsweek this week:

Can you explain the concept of “neoslavery” and the “convict labor system”?
Neoslavery is a term to describe a whole range of ways in which all across the Southern United States in the late 19th century and deep into the 20th century millions of African-Americans found themselves in a form of de facto slavery and involuntary servitude. One part of neoslavery, “convict leasing,” was the sentencing of prisoners to hard labor or to fine them outrageously, and [then] they were leased out to commercial interests such as farms, coal mines, turpentine production plants, lumber and railroad camps. This was the means by which the white South forced millions of other African-Americans to go along with de facto slavery that took on the form of sharecropping, abusive farm tenancy, land renting and labor contracts.

What types of “crimes” could African-Americans be charged with?
After the Civil War, all of the Southern states passed a series of laws, which were designed primarily to criminalize black life. For example, vagrancy statutes made it a crime for any person to be unable to prove at any given moment that he was employed. Also, in every Southern state it was against the law for African-Americans to sell their crops after dark. The purpose was specifically to ensure that as a sharecropper you could only sell your crops to the landowner. […]

What is the connection between the end of neoslavery and the beginning of World War II?
The end of neoslavery came as a direct result to the attack on Pearl Harbor. When President Franklin Roosevelt convened his cabinet to discuss retaliation, the main issue was propaganda and the Japanese ability to effectively embarrass America for the treatment of blacks in the South. Immediately President Roosevelt passed a congressional law criminalizing lynching. Four days after Pearl Harbor, the U.S. attorney general ordered a memorandum that instructed all federal prosecutors to aggressively prosecute all cases of involuntary servitude.

More from Blackmon and the book here, here, here, and here.