The South's Shocking Hidden History: Thousands of Blacks Forced Int...

I knew the South was racist and unjust, but I had no idea racist corruption was this universal and blatant.

The horrifying, little-known story of how hundreds of thousands of blacks worked in brutal bondage right up to the middle of the 20th century.

... an immense, metastasizing horror that stretched well into the twentieth century.

By the first years after 1900, tens of thousands of African American men and boys, along with a smaller number of women, had been sold by southern state governments. An exponentially larger number, of whom surviving records are painfully incomplete, had been forced into labor through county and local courts, backwoods justices of the peace, and outright kidnapping and trafficking. The total number of those re-enslaved in the seventy-five years between the end of the Civil War and the beginning of World War II can’t be precisely determined, but based on the records that do survive, we can safely say it happened to hundreds of thousands. How many more African Americans circumscribed their lives in dramatic ways, or abandoned all to flee the South entirely, to avoid that fate or mob violence? It is impossible to know. Millions. Generations.

In the first years after the Civil War ... the Southern states began enacting an array of interlocking laws that would make all African Americans criminals, regardless of their conduct, and thereby making it legal to force them into chain gangs, labor camps, and other forms of involuntarily servitude. By the end of 1865, every Southern state except Arkansas and Tennessee had passed laws outlawing vagrancy and defining it so vaguely that virtually any freed slave not under the protection of a white man could be arrested for the crime. An 1865 Mississippi statute required black workers to enter into labor contracts with white farmers by January 1 of every year or risk arrest. Four other states legislated that African Americans could not legally be hired for work without a discharge paper from their previous employer—effectively preventing them from leaving the plantation of the white man they worked for.

In the 1880s, Alabama, North Carolina, and Florida passed laws making it a crime for a black man to change employers without permission. It was a crime for a black man to speak loudly in the company of a white woman ... and a crime to sell the proceeds of his farm to anyone other than the man he rented land from. It was a crime to walk beside a railroad line, a crime to fail to yield a sidewalk to white people, a crime to sit among whites on a train,...

Within a few years of the passage of these laws, tens of thousands of black men and boys, and a smaller number of black women, were being arrested and sold into forced labor camps by state officials, local judges, and sheriffs.

... the vast majority were black men accused of trivial or trumped-up crimes. Compelling evidence indicates that huge numbers had in fact committed no offense whatsoever. As the system grew, countless white farmers and businessmen jostled to “lease” as many black “criminals” as they could. Soon, huge numbers of other African Americans were simply being kidnapped and sold into slavery.

... this new slavery trade generated millions of dollars for state and local governments — for many years it was the single largest source of income for the state of Alabama. [emphasis mine]

Tags: US South, government corruption, illegal slavery, racism

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Replies to This Discussion

Sadly, I actually had people in my family who talked of it and were afraid of talking too loudly or even laughing around white men even though they escaped the South and lived in Chicago. Emitt Till was killed while I was in Chicago. This is not ancient history. They had "laugh barrels" in the South for Negroes to stick their heads in because white men assumed blacks were laughing at them. It is difficult to put that kind of treatment behind you even though you know it is poisonous.

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