The Journal does it again! Yesterday I watched the video podcast of the most recent edition of the Bill Moyers Journal. The topic was race in America and the history and legacy of slavery, featuring three parts: Patterson and Loury on Race in America (featuring Orlando Patterson and Glenn C. Loury), Documentary Preview: Traces of the Trade (about an upcoming documentary on Rhode Island’s slave trading heritage), and Douglas Blackmon on Slavery by Another Name (about Blackmon’s new book Slavery by Another Name).
The Slavery By Another Name segment was by far the most impacting of the three segments. Blackmon, in introducing his book, explains how slavery essentially continued in the South long after the Emancipation Proclamation up into the 1940s through forced labor, discriminatory laws and a justice system tailored around African Americans serving the South’s economic dependency on free labor.
What is amazing is how this painfully disturbing history has been hidden away, at least from White memory, so that Americans do not have to confront such a shameful and uncomfortable past. It’s ironic when putting this book into perspective — especially with everything that has been said recently about Jeremiah Wright, so-called “anti-American Black preachers”, and Black victimization — how we still prefer to think of ourselves as an innocent nation and label anger or frustration with the past as being essentially anti-patriotic or subversive. As Blackman says,
Well, there’s no way that anybody can read this book and come away still wondering why there is a sort of fundamental cultural suspicion among African-Americans of the judicial system, for instance. I mean, that suspicion is incredibly well-founded. The judicial system, the law enforcement system of the South became primarily an instrument of coercing people into labor and intimidating blacks away from their civil rights. That was its primary purpose, not the punishment of lawbreakers. And so, yes, these events build an unavoidable and irrefutable case for the kind of anger that still percolates among many, many African-Americans today.