Popular Posts

Powered by Blogger.

Search This Blog

Sunday, 9 February 2014
Slavery is topical at the moment with the release of 12 Years as a Slave.

 It was not an area I knew much about, and I assumed the end of the civil war marked the end of slavery. This book highlights that far from being an end to slavery the institutions of the Deep South merely changed to allow a white elite to continue their exploitation of blacks. The principle way this was done was to allow states to implement forced labour as a punishment for various crimes. The crimes were minor; vagrancy, etc and the punishments disproportionately were aimed at blacks.

The victis of these crimes were tried in kangeroo courts without much just of getting a fair trial. Once sentenced they were either forced to pay a fine or be submitted to forced labour. Once this had happened they were then rented out to private companies and individuals. If they tried to escape or got sick the cost of dealing with this was added to their term. The slave owners transformed into people who leased slaves from the state. However as the economy moved from cotton picking to mining the conditions actually grew worse over time. There was little to stop the workers being poorly treated.

The system also offered financial incentives to those who arrested blacks or tried them. The result was the legal system acted as a corrupt way of recruiting labour.

In addition there were various "Jim Crow" laws which segregated education and leisure, as well as disinfranchising black voters. These were became more onerous over time, to prevent black people from gaining political power.

This book analyses some of the failures of whites to address the issues of continued slavery. The Federal government was too weak and was unwilling to get involved in the issue. This was due in part to an unwillingness to get involved in states affairs, but also residual racism among the political classes.

The Civil Rights movement is not covered in this book, the book seems to concentrate mostly on the first generation after the Civil War(ie mostly before and around 1900). The book claims it deals with events up until the Second World War, but in practise this deals only with the second half briefly and it might have been better to have a second volume. There is little to explain why the Civil Right movement emerged beyond the fact the Second World War changed attitudes of blacks and whites. In practise I am sure it was more complex.

It is an interesting and horrific study of how people can treat each other in a country that was supposed to be the most advanced in the world and up until relatively recently. I found it hard to put down and I learnt something at the end of it. I think this is a book that deserved to be read.