Slavery By any Other Name

Posted on 01/28/2014 in misc

Inspired by this Metafilter post I watched a PBS documentary on post 13th Amendment slavery in the South last night. It was a real eye opener. I knew about chain gangs and prison labor, but the extent to which slavery existed in the US right up until WWII was a revelation to me.

The wording of 13th amendment leaves a loophole for slavery to be legal if it's punishment for a crime. That made the solution to white southerners obvious. Just round up all the blacks and convict them of trumped up BS charges, and then rent them to corporations as slave labor. It was a win - win solution. That state got the money from renting people, and the corporations padded their profits with slave labor. It was not a win for black Americans, but who cared about them?

They also expanded peonage, which was essentially debt labor. It was illegal, but that didn't seem to bother anybody (white) in the post Civil War South. Tack on a ridiculous interest rate and you made sure that a black person would be in your debt, and thus your slave, until they were no longer useful to you. Sharecroppers too, were basically slaves by another name. They had no practical freedom to leave the farm.

The justice system was essentially off limits to blacks in the 80 years between the Civil War and WWII. Plantation owner John S Williams was convicted of multiple counts of first degree murder for killing 11 slaves he held in peonage, because the Federal Govt. was looking into him and he was afraid they would rat him out. His first degree conviction in 1921 was the first time a white person in the South had been convicted of murdering a black since 1877. It was that case that started the actual end of slavery in the South. The final peonage case was prosecuted in 1942. That is really when slavery ended in the US.

Not that African Americans had it great after that. But that is a subject for another day.

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