Extra Credit: Slavery By Another Name

The documentary Slavery By Another Name delves into the oppressive and horrid conditions that African Americans endured for over 80 years after the fall of slavery at the Civil Wars end.[1] The topic focused on the exploitative system setup in the South that allowed white men with power on both local and state levels to confine and imprison innocent blacks. After unjustly arresting these Americans, the prisoners could be rented out to companies and individual land owners for dollars a month. The conditions shown in the film are a testament to the pain and suffering inflected on innocent African Americans well after the so called fall of slavery that died with the Old South.

The years following the American Civil War were hard indeed. After the nations bloodiest conflict a period of Reconstruction ensued that was aimed at healing this divided country. Yet blacks who had won their freedom through their own feet, a Union gun, or by patience in the coming Northern victory were in many ways still chained to Southern society. I always knew because of research and reading that African Americans of this time, stretching from 1865 to the Second World War, had a hard up hill battle for not just equality but for basic human rights. But this documentary opened up just how bad conditions really could be for a black person during that time, especially in the “New South”.

Jim Crow laws and share cropping seem to be for ever connected with the South and the place in society that whites tried to put blacks. Yet because debtor prisons were abolished the process of arresting people for unpaid court fines and the like then renting the convict out to a third party, seems to have been for the most part swept under the rug. This modern injustice of white washing history is barely the tip of the ice burg.  The true crime is with the acts themselves.

From the film an African American could be arrested on a made up charge of owing money or not keeping up with a crop quota and so on. Once the person was charged a court fee was given and if the person in question could not pay, a second party could pay the bill and in effectively have the right to rent the arrested person. This form of neo-slavery allowed companies to rent the convicts as well and place them into inhumane conditions where death or serious were likely. After seeing the pictures and hearing the words of those that suffered in these conditions it became clear that this practice was completely based on a system that aimed to subjugate free people.

A link the documentary made between that time in American history and the modern era, was  the number of African Americans arrested then and the stigma of today, where black citizens  are more likely to go to prison. the large number of arrests from those 80 years  manifests today as a social bias toward African Americans and jail time. So effectively a system that spawned from the death of slavery is still at the forefront of American society, just out of sight but close enough to be remembered.

[1]. Slavery By Another Name, DVD, Directed by Sam Pollard, ( 2012; PBS)


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