Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Douglas Blackmon wins Pulitzer Prize

Congratulations to Douglas Blackmon who has won a Pulitzer for his superlative work of historical investigation Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II.

In school, many of us were taught that the Civil War ended slavery. Unfortunately, the truth of the matter is that while one form of enslavement fell with the war's end, another more insidious form rose to take its place. It was called the "convict lease system" and it exploited a loophole in the 13th amendment that allowed for slavery as punishment for a crime. African American men, recently emancipated but also jobless and without resources, were quickly rounded up and convicted on all manner of spurious and incidental charges. They were then leased to businesses and corporations who literally worked them to death building railroads, mining coal, and yes, even farming plantations once again. To call it "slavery by another name" is no exaggeration.
Armies of "free" black men labored without compensation, were repeatedly bought and sold, and were forced through beatings and physical torture to do the bidding of white masters for decades after the official abolition of American slavery.
The convict lease system has been condemned since its inception by many voices, including prominent ones like that of Frederick Douglass. But until recently, many did not know just how extensive (and how brutal) this system really was, not to mention how long such corporate exploitation of ex-slaves lasted (all the way up until WWII).

We owe this new knowledge to Blackmon's painstaking and exhaustive eight year long search through the court records of the time and his eloquent reconstruction of the stories these records revealed. His book is not an easy one to read. The truths he uncovers are dark and terrible ones about our history. But it is an important book, and a necessary one if we are ever to begin grappling with and healing the deep and open wound that we call race in this country. As Blackmon stated in a recent interview:
"What's clear is that the crimes against African American men were much greater than we have cared to acknowledge, and that you can't understand the state of race relations and the harm it has done to African Americans to this day without taking into account the harsh and terrible truth."
It is very gratifying to see such work get the honor and recognition it so rightfully deserves. Congratulations, Douglas Blackmon. You have earned it.

. . . . .

order at our store: Slavery By Another Name
be sure to see: Douglas Blackmon's website
related news: Books That Explore Race in U.S. Lead Arts Pulitzers


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