Slavery By Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II

Slavery By Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II

by Douglas A. Blackmon


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Slavery By Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II by Douglas A. Blackmon

A Pulitzer Prize-winning account of the “Age of Neoslavery,” the American period following the Emancipation Proclamation in which convicts, mostly black men, were “leased” through forced labor camps operated by state and federal governments.

In this groundbreaking historical expose, Douglas A. Blackmon brings to light one of the most shameful chapters in American history—an “Age of Neoslavery” that thrived from the aftermath of the Civil War through the dawn of World War II.

Using a vast record of original documents and personal narratives, Douglas A. Blackmon unearths the lost stories of slaves and their descendants who journeyed into freedom after the Emancipation Proclamation and then back into the shadow of involuntary servitude shortly thereafter. By turns moving, sobering, and shocking, this unprecedented account reveals the stories of those who fought unsuccessfully against the re-emergence of human labor trafficking, the companies that profited most from neoslavery, and the insidious legacy of racism that reverberates today.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780385722704
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 01/13/2009
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 496
Sales rank: 39,764
Product dimensions: 7.98(w) x 5.12(h) x 1.03(d)

About the Author

A native of Leland, Mississippi, Doug Blackmon is the Wall Street Journal's Atlanta Bureau Chief. He lives in Atlanta with his wife and their two children.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter I

The Wedding

Fruits of Freedom

Freedom wasn’t yet three years old when the wedding day came. Henry Cottinham and Mary Bishop had been chattel slaves until the momentous final days of the Civil War, as nameless in the eyes of the law as cows in the field. All their lives, they could no more have obtained a marriage license than purchased a horse, a wagon, or a train ticket to freedom in the North. Then a final furious sweep of Union soldiers—in a bewildering blur of liberation and terror unleashed from a distant war—ravaged the Cahaba River valley.

Henry was suddenly a man. Mary was a woman, a slave girl no more. Here they stood, bride and groom, before John Wesley Starr, the coarse old preacher who a blink of an eye before had spent his Sundays teaching white people that slavery was the manifestation of a human order ordained by God, and preaching to black people that theirs was a glorified place among the chickens and the pigs.

To most people along the Cahaba River, January 1868 hardly seemed an auspicious time to marry. It was raw, cold, and hungry. In every direction from the Cottingham Loop, the simple dirt road alongside which lived three generations of former slaves and their former owners, the land and its horizons were muted and bitter. The valley, the undulating hills of Bibb County, even the bridges and fords across the hundred-yard-wide Cahaba sweeping down from the last foothills of the Appalachians and into the flat fertile plains to the south, were still wrecked from the savage cavalry raids of Union Gen. James H. Wilson. Just two springs earlier, in April 1865, his horsemen had descended on Alabama in billowing swarms. The enfeebled southern army defending the state scattered before his advance. Even the great Confederate cavalry genius Nathan Bedford Forrest, his regiments eviscerated by four years of war, was swept aside with impunity. Wilson crushed the last functioning industrial complex of the Confederacy and left Alabama in a state of complete chaos. Not three years later, the valley remained a twisted ruin. Fallow fields. Burned barns. Machinery rusting at the bottoms of wells. Horses and mules dead or lost. The people, black and white, braced for a hard, anxious winter.

From the front porch of Elisha Cottingham’s house, two stories stacked of hand-hewn logs and chinked with red clay dug at the river’s edge, the old man looked out on his portion of that barren vista. The land had long ago lost nearly all resemblance to the massive exuberance of the frontier forest he stumbled upon fifty years earlier. Now, only the boundaries and contours remained of its carefully tended bounty of the last years before the war.

He had picked this place for the angle of the land. It unfolded from the house in one long sheet of soil, falling gradually away from his rough-planked front steps. For nearly five hundred yards, the slope descended smoothly toward the deep river, layered when Elisha first arrived with a foot of fertile humus. On the east and south, the great field was hemmed in by a gushing creek, boiling up over turtle-shell shapes of limestone protruding from the banks, growing deeper and wider, falling faster and more furiously—strong enough to spin a small grist mill—before it turned to the west and suddenly plunged into the Cahaba. He named the stream Cottingham Creek. An abounding sense of possibility exuded from the place Elisha had chosen, land on which he intuitively knew a resourceful man could make his own indelible mark.

Yet in the aftermath of the war Elisha Cottingham, like countless other southern whites in 1868, must have felt some dread sense of an atomized future. They knew that the perils of coming times constituted a far greater jeopardy than the war just lost. A society they had engineered from wilderness had been defeated and humiliated; the human livestock on which they had relied for generations now threatened to rule in their place. In the logical spectrum of possibilities for what might yet follow, Elisha had to consider the terrifying—and ultimately realized—possibility that all human effort invested at the confluence of Cottingham Creek and the Cahaba River would be erased. The alacrity that infused their achievement was lost. More than a century later, the last Cottingham would be gone. No trace of the big house, the slave cabins, or a waterwheel would survive. None of the fields hacked from the forest remained at plow. Only the creek and sun-bleached gravestones clustered atop the hill still bore the Cottingham name.

Elisha had arrived at the banks of the Cahaba, barely a man himself, in an Alabama territory that was still untamed. It was 1817, and Elisha and his three brothers faced a dense wilderness governed by the uncertainties of Indian territory and the vagaries of an American nation debating the precepts of eminent domain that would ultimately expand its borders from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean.1 Alabama would not be a state for two more years.

Elisha’s brother Charles soon decamped to the newly founded county seat of Centreville, where in short order shallow-draft riverboats would land and a trading center would be established.2 Another brother, William, moved farther south. But Elisha and his younger sibling, John, stayed in the wilderness on the Cahaba. In the four decades before the Civil War, they staked out land, brought in wives, cleared the lush woodlands, sired bountiful families, and planted season upon season of cotton. The engines of their enterprises were black slaves. In the early years, they imported them to Alabama and later bred more themselves—including Henry—from the African stock they bought at auction or from peripatetic slave peddlers who arrived unbidden in springtime with traces of ragged, shackled black men and women, carrying signs advertising “Negroes for Sale.” Manning farms strung along a looping wagon road, the brothers and their slaves cleared the land, raised cabins, and built the church where they would pray. Harnessing their black labor to the rich black land, the Cottingham brothers became prosperous and comfortable.

Some neighbors called the Cottingham section of the county Pratt’s Ferry, for the man who lived on the other side of the Cahaba and poled a raft across the water for a few pennies a ride. But the Cottinghams, God-fearing people who gathered a congregation of Methodists in the wilderness almost as soon as they had felled the first timber, adopted for their homestead a name marking the work not of man but of the Almighty. Where the clear cold creek gurgled into the Cahaba, a massive bulge of limestone rose from the water, imposing itself over a wide, sweeping curve in the river. To the Cottinghams, this place was Riverbend.

The Cottinghams demanded a harsh life of labor from their bondsmen. Otherwise, what point was there to the tremendous investment required of owning slaves. Yet, especially in contrast to the industrial slavery that would eventually bud nearby, life on the Cottingham plantation reflected the biblical understanding that cruelty to any creature was a sin—that black slaves, even if not quite men, were at least thinly made in the image of God.

Set among more than twenty barns and other farm buildings, Henry and the rest of the slaves lived in crude but warm cabins built of rough-hewn logs chinked with mud. Heat came from rock fireplaces with chimneys made of sticks and mud. Elisha recorded the ownership of thirteen slaves in 1860, including four men in their twenties and thirties and six other male teenagers. A single twenty-year-old female lived among the slaves, along with two young boys and a seven-year-old girl.

Given the traditions of isolated rural farms, Elisha’s grandson Oliver, raised there on the Cottingham farm, would have been a lifelong playmate of the slave boy nearly his same age, named Henry.4 When Elisha Cottingham’s daughter Rebecca married a neighbor, Benjamin Battle, in 1852, Elisha presented to her as a wedding gift the slave girl who likely had been her companion and servant. “In consideration of the natural love and affection which I bear to my daughter,” Elisha wrote, I give her “a certain negro girl named Frances, about 14 years old.”

Those slaves who died on the Cottingham place were buried with neat ceremony in plots marked by rough unlabeled stones just a few feet from where Elisha himself would be laid to rest in 1870—clearly acknowledged as members in some manner of a larger human family recognized by the master. Indeed, Elisha buried his slaves nearer to him by far than he did Rev. Starr, the man who ministered to all of the souls on the Cottingham place. The Starr family plot, with its evangelical inscriptions and sad roster of infant dead, was set down the hill and toward the road, even more vulnerable to the creeping oblivion of time.

Long generations hence, descendants of slaves from the plantation still recounted a vague legend of the generosity of a Cottingham master— giving permission to marry to a favored mulatto named Green. That slave, who would remain at Elisha’s side past emancipation and until the old master’s death, would become the namesake of Henry and Mary’s youngest son.

But even as Elisha had allowed a strain of tenderness to co-reside with the brutally circumscribed lives of his slaves, he never lost sight of their fundamental definition—as cattle. They were creatures bought or bred for the production of wealth. Even as he deeded to daughter Rebecca the slave Frances, Elisha was careful to enumerate in the document the recognition that he was giving up not just one slave girl, but a whole line of future stock who might have brought him cash or labor. Along with Frances, Elisha was careful to specify, his newlywed daughter received all “future increase of the girl.”

The marriage of Henry, now twenty years old, and Mary, one year his junior, in 1868 was the first among Cottingham people, black or white, in two seasons. Another slave, Albert, had wed, and left for good in the middle of the first picking time after the destruction of the war—amid the chaos and uncertainty when no one could be sure slavery had truly ended.7 Albert didn’t wait to find out.

Now, two years later, the coming marriage surely warmed Elisha at some level. But as Henry prepared to take a wife and become a man of this peculiar new era, everything the old white man had forged—everything on which that gift to his daughter twenty years before had been predicated—hung in the fragile limbo of a transformed social order. Whatever satisfaction the filial ties gave the white master at the wedding of his former bondsman would have been tempered by the poverty and grief that had overwhelmed him.

Most of Elisha’s slaves remained nearby. Some still worked his property, for wages or a share of the cotton crop. But the end of the war had left the white Cottinghams at a point of near desolation. The hard winter threatened to bring them to their knees.

As Henry and Mary’s wedding approached in 1868, whites across the South strained to accept the apparently inevitable ignominies descending from the war. The loss of fortunes, the war’s blood and sorrow, the humiliation of Union soldiers encamped in their towns, all these things whites had come to bear. They would bear them a little longer, at least until the instant threats of hunger and military force receded.

But these abominations paled against the specter that former slaves, with their huge mathematical majorities in Louisiana, Mississippi, southern Alabama, south Georgia, and South Carolina, would soon vote and rule governments and perhaps take their masters’ lands. This vision was a horror almost beyond contemplation. It poisoned the air for Elisha and other white landowners with prospects for even greater disaster.

In the last days of fighting, the U.S. Congress had created the Freedmen’s Bureau to aid the South’s emancipated slaves.8 New laws gave the agency the power to divide land confiscated by the federal government and to have “not more than forty acres of such land . . . assigned” to freedmen and black war refugees for a period of three years. Afterward, the law said former slaves would be allowed to purchase the property to hold forever. President Andrew Johnson rescinded the provision a few months later, but emancipated slaves across the South remained convinced that northern soldiers still garrisoned across the region would eventually parcel out to them all or part of the land on which they had long toiled.

The threat that Elisha’s former slaves would come to own his plantation—that he and his family would be landless, stripped of possessions and outnumbered by the very creatures he had bred and raised—was palpable.

The last desperate rallying calls of the Confederacy had been exhortations that a Union victory meant the political and economic subjugation of whites to their black slaves. In one of the final acts of the Confederate Congress, rebel legislators asserted that defeat would result in “the confiscation of the estates, which would be given to their former bondsmen.”

Already, forty thousand former slaves had been given title by Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman to 400,000 acres of rich plantation land in South Carolina early in 1865. It was unclear whether blacks would be able to retain any of the property, but rumor flared anew among blacks across the South the next year at Christmastime—the end of the annual crop  season—that plantation land everywhere would soon be distributed among them. The U.S. Congress debated such a plan openly in 1867, as it drew up the statutes to govern Reconstruction in the southern states. And again as harvest time ended that year, word whipped through the countryside that blacks would soon have land. At one point the following year, in 1868, during a period of intense speculation among freed slaves that land was soon to be provided to them, many blacks purchased boundary markers to be prepared for the marking off of their forty-acre tracts.

Forty miles to the west of the Cottingham farm, in Greene County, hundreds of former slaves filed suit against white landowners in 1868 demanding that the former slave masters be compelled to pay wages earned during the prior season’s work. Whites responded by burning down the courthouse, and with it all 1,800 lawsuits filed by the freedmen.

Despite Bibb County’s remote location, far from any of the most famous military campaigns, the Civil War had not been a distant event. In the early months of fighting, Alabama industrialists realized that the market for iron sufficient for armaments would become lucrative in the South. In 1860 only Tredegar Iron Works, a vast industrial enterprise in Richmond, Virginia, driven by more than 450 slaves and nearly as many free laborers, could produce battle-ready cannon for the South. The Confederate government, almost from the moment of its creation, set out to spur additional capacity to make arms, particularly in Alabama, where a nascent iron and coal industry was already emerging and little fighting was likely to occur. During the war, a dozen or more new iron furnaces were put into blast in Alabama;12 by 1864, the state was pumping out four times more iron than any other southern state.

Table of Contents

A Note on Language xi

Introduction: The Bricks We Stand On 1

Part 1 The Slow Poison

I The Wedding: Fruits of Freedom 13

II An Industrial Slavery: "Niggers is cheap." 39

III Slavery's Increase: "Day after day we looked Death in the face & was afraid to speak." 58

IV Green Cottenham's World: "The negro dies faster." 84

Part 2 Harvest of an Unfinished War

V The Slave Farm Of John Pace: "I don't owe you anything." 117

VI Slavery Is Not A Crime: "We shall have to kill a thousand... to get them back to their places." 155

VII The Indictments: "I was whipped nearly every day." 181

VIII A Summer Of Trials, 1903: "The master treated the slave unmercifully." 217

IX A Rived Of Anger: The South Is "an armed camp." 233

X The Disapprobation Of God: "It is a very rare thing that a negro escapes." 246

XI Slvery Affirmed: "Cheap cotton depends on cheap niggers." 270

XII New South Rising: "This great corporation." 278

Part 3 The Final Chapter Of American Slavery

XIII The Arrest Of Green Cottenham: A War of Atrocities 299

XIV Anatomy Of A Slave Mine: "Degraded to a plane lower than the brutes." 310

XV Everywhere Was Death: "Negro Quietly Swung Up by an Armed Mob ... All is quiet." 324

XVI Atlanta, The South's Finest City: "I will murder you if you don't do that work." 338

XVII Freedom: "In the United States one cannot sell himself." 371

Epilogue: The Ephemera of Catastrophe 383

Acknowledgments 404

Notes 407

Selected Bibliography 444

Index 460

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Slavery By Another Name 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 29 reviews.
UniversityofArkProf More than 1 year ago
This book is so powerful that I could not put it down. The research was meticulous and absorbing. As one with two degrees in history, I am very impressed with the books organization, originality, and perspective on the continued institution of slavery in the South until WWII. The book does not sugarcoat any of the reality of what it was like to live in the South when African American men and women were declared "free" while the judicial system continued slavery and its many abuses. When millions of African American husbands and fathers were torn away from their families and forced into Southern farms and industrial labor camps that were very similar WWII German prison camps, it is no wonder the families still suffer from the legacies of this judicial torture. The author makes the point time after time that African American's had economic worth as slaves because they could be traded, bred, and exploited for a life time. However, after they became "freeman," there was no need to treat them with any sense of dignity or value. Arrest, imprison, abuse, and kill as many as possible because these men and women no longer had ANY worth except for labor until they died. In many ways the American judicial system continues to enslave thousands of young men through the enforcement of drug laws that make no rational sense in a time of declining state budgets. As the author stated, the South remains addicted to slavery and their are parts of the South in Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, South Carolina, Mississippi, and Georgia continue this proud tradition of having placed African Americans remaining in slavery. This reviewer recommends this book to anyone who is looking for why the African American family is today what it is and why it remain so until far into the future if we as a nation continue to fail to act on poverty in our nation.
Guest More than 1 year ago
First let me say: WOW!!!!! Even though I work fulltime and have a teenage son, I read a new book about every 10 days--typically legal mysteries. But a friend 'an attorney' recommended this book--I finished Sunday nite--about 10 days--and WOW! SO vivid and full of information--'At one point I wrote in the margin: 'Where was God?'. I thought I new a lot about slavery--but not enough about the slavery AFTER emancipation! And I'm Black! I wish I could speak to some of the slave owners--were they mentally ill? Did they REALLY believe Blacks were equal to animals or did they tell themselves that to justify their actions? Why so much abuse of a 'resource' you needed to carry out your work???!! AND HOW DID BLACKS SURVIVE????
EnglishTeacherVT More than 1 year ago
This author does us a favor by opening up something ugly and exposing it to the light through this book. I knew times were hard for our black citizens after the Civl War. I had no idea how bad things were in certain areas of the South. This book should open eyes and engender discussions. As I said in the title, once reading I found it hard to put the book down. But I also found it hard to pick up and continue on. He does not spare us details of the horrors of this era, but, indeed, they need to be told. I am glad the author is a Southerner which lends legitimacy to this incredible story. It is meticulouslyl researched and annotated. It is a book that Americans must read to fully understand America's past. I recommend it highly!
Ole-El-Principal More than 1 year ago
Motivated by the disappearance of Green Cottenham, Blackmon traces the re-enslavement of blacks after the Civil War and in spite of the Emancipation Proclamation. Initially, he contrasts the antebellum forms of slavery and leasing of slaves to other plantation owners or businesses to the post Civil War arrests (on basically trivial charges, at most misdemeanor charges) of blacks, and the payment of their fines and court costs by whites. The whites engage in 'contracts' with the black to pay off the debt incurred by fine or court cost. Often the 'benefactor' would then have the debtor re-arrested on another charge so the debtor could be kept enslaved. In other instances, prisoners arrested by local sheriffs and found guilty by local justices of the peace would then be leased to such businesses as Pratt Mines or Tennessee Iron, Coal and R.R.. The lease payment brought considerable money into the treasuries of Alabama (particularly), Mississippi and Georgia or cost-free labor to the iron and steel industry. Through either form, the black was re-enslaved. This leasing often brought BRUTAL punishment-lengthy whippings, cruel chainings, even murder-when the slave was, for example, slow in producing enough coal or not obedient to the level desired by the white boss. Even after service in World War I, blacks would return to find they were not entitled to the rights and privileges of free men.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
We are taught slavery is something ancient, something we need to get over but after reading this incredibly descriptive and well researched piece of work,  it is difficult to imagine how and why slavery continued in the South and the affect it had and still has on African Americans today. An extraordinary piece of American history that should be a required reading for all.
Old_Sage More than 1 year ago
A powerful illustration of a time in U.S. history when the country's collective consciousness was slowly evolving, while Black Americans were being brutalized by a certain segment of White Americans who had no regard for the law or human decency. As I read the book, I kept trying to understand why it was so important to these White Americans that the Black American victims confess to crimes that they did not commit, but then I realized that the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution officially abolished and prohibited slavery and involuntary servitude, "except as punishment for a crime." So, these immoral White Americans devised an unconscionable and diabolical scheme to unlawfully enslave and persecute their fellow citizens for profit. However, it was also White Americans who were defenders of the spirit of the law and championed the end of the tyrannical practice. The book also raises the question, "Is it even possible for America to correct such a horrific past wrong?" A wrong that set Black Americans on a course of constantly having to overcome the remnants of such antebellum and postbellum thinking and practices. The religious may even ask, "Where was God?" John Hill, a brutalized former slave, quoted a former Georgia State Senator, James M. Smith, as saying, "The Lord rule Heaven, but Jim Smith ruled the earth." As the U.S. continues to move towards that more perfect union, it's important to remember what Edmund Burke stated, "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing." I highly recommend this laudable book to "everyone." I thank the author for having the courage to write such an unadulterated manuscript chronicling a most wretched period in U.S. history. It is a true expose'.
ProudAmerican More than 1 year ago
Douglas Blackmon takes America's Nightmare of Enslavement to Slavery and infuses it with even more shocking scenes of degradation, deprivation, and desecration of an entire group of Americans. Blackmon plunges us immediately into a tub of cold water to shock our systems... how could slavery possibly have been taking place in the United States for long years after the Gettysburg Address and the Emancipation Proclamation. Shocking? Yes! Disturbing? Certainly! Disgusting? Absolutely! We're taken on an almost 500 pages roller coaster ride from the heights of joy to the despair of enslavement. Because of duplicitous governments entities throughout the South... and North, freed slaves were subjected once again to the harsh realities of abject slavery. And all for the almighty dollar. They were placed in "work camps," but no semantic difference existed from the plantations they'd come from. Blackmon's exhaustive research recounts through handwritten letters, county birth and property documents, and corporate financial records, the hell that White Americans subjected Negroes to for years into the 20th Century. He shows clearly the benefits received by large companies like US Steel at the expense of poor negroes who had been arrested for trumped up charges of vagrancy and the like. It's another shameful example of American injustice. This book has been difficult to read, but necessary! Painful, yet somehow redemptive! I hope that people of all walks of life dig into it and ask themselves if this blind assent to injustice by the dominant culture could possibly take place in 21st Century America. Millions of Negro slaves probably never thought it could happen to them either. They were wrong!
SpokaneMaggie More than 1 year ago
When I was 12 I came home from school one day and asked my mother, " Where did all the black people go after the Civil War?" My mother wasn't sure but she knew many had stayed in the South and many had moved away. So from the time I was 12 until I turned 66 I really had no idea that there was a Black Holocaust going on in the USA. From 1865 until the beginning of WWII black people, mostly men, were enslaved and worked to death in a variety of Southern businesses. WOW! Read this book. This is so good as soon as I read it I began to re-read it. Like most white people, I had no idea. But now that I know I will use every opportunity I can find to educate people on this issue. This is something none of us should ignore. It happened. Read this book. The truth will make us all free.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a well-researched book about a troubled chapter in American history. It is a book every American should read. Indeed, it is indispensable for anyone wanting to understand black America. I could hardly put it down once I started.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Heart breaking story of the ways in which USA citizens treated non white society, which continues to this day in more subtle ways. I did not think of reparations as being needed until I read this book. This is a well written and researched history of how Jim Crow laws were inacted and accepted and linger in USA society.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I wanted to go out and shake some people but restrained myself. We moved to the south In 1965 and got quite the cold shoulder. Then I realized our ancestors never got to America until the 1880's.. The south is snobbish and unfriendly. I can very easily see these people setting themselves up as mini gods.
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