Authors Weigh in on Neoslavery Debate

Pulitzer Prize winner and Encyclopedia of Harlem Renaissance author share insights on new theory regarding ongoing impact of slavery in the United States.
By: Southeast Newswatch
May 21, 2009 - PRLog -- Savannah, Georgia (USA)--More than 200 people gathered May 15, 2009, at the Ralph Mark Gilbert Civil Rights Museum in Savannah, Georgia, for a book signing and presentation on “neoslavery” by Douglas A. Blackmon, who recently won the 2009 Pulitzer Prize Award for general nonfiction for his groundbreaking work, Slavery by Another Name, The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II.
At the core of Blackmon’s presentation, and central to the book, is his contention that slavery in the United States did not end in 1865 as generally reported in history textbooks but that, “technically it ended in 1942.” Up until then, Blackmon argues, thousands of African Americans were routinely kidnapped, falsely imprisoned, and forced to labor without pay for various southern corporations, work camps, and individual farms or plantations where they were often beaten and/or sexually abused at will.

In 1942, however, the United States found itself in danger of losing the loyalty of African American soldiers to enemy propaganda during World War II and took steps to demonstrate its commitment to citizens of every race. Along those lines, FBI agents arrested and convicted members of a family in Beeville, Texas, for practicing slavery. Laws soon followed to clarify that any form of slavery in the United States was not simply a breach of social protocol or disregard for the history established by the Civil War, but a criminal action for which offenders would be prosecuted.

The fact that Joni Saxon-Guisti, proprietor of The Book Lady Bookstore in Savannah, had already scheduled Blackmon for an event before the announcement that he had won a Pulitzer, seemed an extraordinary fluke of both serendipity and history. As tends to happen with Pulitzer Prize winners, Blackmon, who is white and the Atlanta Bureau Chief for the Wall Street Journal, is now in great demand as a speaker and it is unlikely he will be able to accommodate every request that comes his way in 2009. Considering that Savannah is the site of the last importation of slaves into the United States on a ship known as the Wanderer in 1858, and currently has a sixty-plus percent black population, few places would have been more appropriate for him to give one of his first talks after winning the Pulitzer.
Traditionally, the apartheid customs practiced in the United States following the Civil War and lasting until the Civil Rights Movement have been described as “Jim Crow” racism. According to Blackmon, that description is a misnomer:
“It was the Age of Neoslavery,” he writes in Slavery by Another Name. “Only by acknowledging the full extent of slavery’s grip on U.S. society––its intimate connections to present-day wealth and power, the depth of its injury to millions of black Americans, the shocking nearness in time of its true end––can we reconcile the paradoxes of current American life.”
Among the members of Blackmon’s audience at the Civil Rights Museum was Savannah-born author Aberjhani, whose nonfiction books include Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance (Facts on File); The Wisdom of W.E.B. Du Bois (Citadel Press); and  The American Poet Who Went Home Again.
“I can’t think of a better place for Blackmon’s lecture to have taken place than right here in Savannah,” said Aberjhani, “because my home town did play a major role in the history of slavery in our country. But I’m not certain I can agree that the entire period from the end of the Civil War until World War II should be designated ‘the Age of Neoslavery.’ What he’s talking about was very real and actually documented at the time by a number of African Americans like Du Bois and Zora Neale Hurston, but neoslavery was not the dominant experience of African Americans as a whole during that period.”
In addition, he said, “The Harlem Renaissance was just as real during the second half of that same time frame and in many ways it was a huge celebration of black freedom expressed through black culture—literature, music, art, politics, fashion, cooking, theatre, all the things that made us a people and all the things that made us individuals. In a way it was even a celebration of all the possibilities that life in America and around the globe held for those of us who called ourselves, back in those days specifically, American Negroes.”
The author nevertheless conceded that Blackmon’s Slavery by Another Name provides more than enough evidence to justify utilizing the term in classrooms and other settings to discuss the history of slavery in the United States. He added that Blackmon’s detailed documentation of neoslavery––plus Aberjhani’s own acknowledgment in Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance that the murder of African Americans by lynching was not declared unlawful until President Harry S. Truman was elected in 1945 and signed Executive Order 9808–– does force a reassessment of the underlying reasons for the ongoing inequities between black and white communities in America in 2009.  
For his part, Blackmon ended his presentation by pointing out that the election of Barack H. Obama as the United States’ first African-American president has provided Americans overall with a major opportunity for the first time to hold open and honest dialogues about the nature and history of race in the country. “I hope the book helps to facilitate that dialogue,” he added. “It does us a lot of good to understand the reality of how we got to where we are today.”


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Covers culture and events in Southeastern United States with focus on the arts, race relations, education, history, politics, travel, and unfolding historical developments. Strong on coverage of rarely reported literary and museum events.
Source:Southeast Newswatch
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Tags:Pulitzer Prize, Authors, Neoslavery, Travel, Savannah, Georgia, Books, Race Relations, Education
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