Although the scope at which private citizens and companies enslaved post-war Black Americans is new to me, it’s been well documented for years how much state governments reaped obscene profits from these laws through convict leasing. David Oshinsky notes in his book Worse Than Slavery that in 1918 Mississippi, whose prison population was 90% Black, extracted a profit $825,000 – about half the state’s education budget – from Parchman Prison Farm. Matthew Mancini shockingly notes in his convict leasing study, One Dies, Get Another that “[i]n 1898 Alabama obtained 73% of its total revenue of $378,120.48 from the hire of its convicts.”
It’s a shame so many Americans aren’t informed enough to acknowledge how radical our post-bellum apartheid was and the extreme degree to which Americans inflicted terrorism on fellow Americans during the first part of the 20th century. The reason for the disparities outlined by Obama are more complex and ugly than his speech acknowledges. The truth about post-bellum slavery needs to be taught in grade school and become as mainstream as Frederick Douglass and Martin Luther King, or else we’re going to be stuck in the same watered-down dialogue race dialogue that we participate here in 2008.
- Listen to an extended conversation with Blackmon on NPR’s Talk of the Nation.
- The New York Times reviewed the book praising it as “relentless and fascinating”.
- “Worse than Slavery” author David Oshinsky delivered a paper at Yale in 2004 on Forced Labor in the 19th Century South.