Screening of a documentary entitled Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black People in America from the Civil War to World War II
Report by Devindree Pillay
Wednesday, 28 March 2012, 6:00pm
Just when I left the exhibition the day before, eventually feeling encouraged that the TransAtlantic Slave Trade ended and freedom was reclaimed, I was hit by another mind blowing revelation! Julia, my colleague, and I attended a screening of a documentary entitled Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black People in America from the Civil War to World War II. The film was based on the Pulitzer-prize winning book of the same name by Douglas A. Blackmon. It challenged the belief that slavery in the United States really ended with the official abolishment of slavery in 1865 (called the Emancipation Proclamation). Using scripts from actual documents, mostly letters and newspaper articles, as resources, the documentary, in a very real way, revealed the ways in which African-Americans were still being used as “slaves” in the deep South of the US, after the Civil War and into the 20th century (as recent as the 1940’s!). What was done, was that criteria for breaking of the law was tightened so severely that young and old African American men (and to a lesser extent women), were arrested on the grounds of really miserable excuses and unjust cases. An example would be a charge of vagrancy for walking on the road for more than a minute – and other such stringent criteria, which actually rendered members of this community quite helpless and hopeless in the face of the law. Whilst imprisoned, they were then “leased” to industrialists and landowners for cheap labour. It appears that the wealthy actually preferred accessing this pool of cheap labour, in comparison to owning slaves, because they did not have to bear the “burden” of medical costs and accommodation etc. What was really touching were the heartfelt letters written to the President, by the mothers of the ‘leased labourers’, pleading for their sons to be saved from this cruel system. Fortunately the documentary ended on a more positive note, as it showed the journey towards freedom. Yet again a confirmation that the power of human dignity ultimately does prevail.