I clicked on Leonard Pitts's column in the Miami Herald because of the title: "You think slavery ended in 1865?" I was thinking that it might be a discussion of modern-day slavery--the mistreatment of migrant workers, for example.
It wasn't. It was an article about what sounds like an interesting book by Douglas Blackmon titled Slavery By Another Name, which explores the "convict leasing" system in Alabama that basically re-enslaved African-Americans until the mid 1950s.
I didn't know, for example, about the so-called ''convict leasing system'' of the South, wherein poor black men were routinely snatched up and tried on false, petty or nonexistent charges by compliant courts, assessed some fine they could not afford and then "sold" for the cost of that fine to some mine, turpentine farm or plantation, the money going back to the judges and sheriffs.I didn't know about it either. Let's be straightforward here--the stories of poor people and minorities don't get a lot of play in the standard high school American History class. Hell, where I went to school, the discussion of post-Civil War life for slaves wasn't even a topic. My experience was more like the one the poet Natasha Trethewey describes in her poem "Southern History."
we still had ReconstructionWe didn't actually watch Gone With the Wind, but I did hear the Civil War referred to as "the War of Northern Aggression" more than once.
to cover before the test, and--luckily--
three hours of watching Gone With the Wind.
History, the teacher said, of the old South--
a true account of how things were back then.
So I'm glad that Pitts is using his platform to point out that slavery didn't really end in 1865, since that date is often thrown out by white supremacists as a way of arguing that since slavery ended long ago, so did the effects of racism. (Don't ask me to make sense of the argument--you can't explain stupid.)
But there's still a problem. We're still seeing slavery today, locally. Most of us benefit from it--we're ignorant of the fact that it's happening, but we're still benefiting from it, and that's a story that also needs to be told, because we won't change that situation as long as we're unaware of it.