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Slavery by Another Name
Breaking rocks, 1930s, unknown location. From the author's website (www.slaverybyanothername.com).

Prisoners at work in a rock quarry, most likely in the early 1940s. Photographer unknown. (Library of Congress; from www.slaverybyanothername.com)

Americans think they know the sorry history of the post-Civil War South. Jim Crow laws hemming in African-Americans. Lynchings. Klansmen riding high.

In fact, the history is much sorrier even than that.

In an explosive work of investigative history that just won the Pulitzer Prize, a white son of Mississippi, Douglas Blackmon, has uncovered incredible virtual slavery that went on for decades after the Civil War. Black men chained, whipped, and bound in forced labor until almost World War II.

This hour, On Point: History denied and revealed — American slavery by another name.

You can join the conversation. Tell us what you think — here on this page, on Twitter, and on Facebook.


Douglas Blackmon joins us from Atlanta, Georgia. He won the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for general non-fiction for his book “Slavery by Another Name: The Re-enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II.” He’s Atlanta bureau chief of The Wall Street Journal, and his articles on race, wealth and other issues have been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize four times. Born in Arkansas in 1964, and raised in Mississippi, he was in the first racially integrated class of children in Mississippi to begin the first grade together, in 1970.

More links:

Blackmon’s book has an impressive companion website. It includes a series of stunning and disturbing photo galleries, with images like the one below (see the full gallery here):

An unnamed prisoner tied around a pickax for punishment in a Georgia labor camp. Photograph by John L. Spivak, during research for his 1932 book, "Georgia Nigger."

An unnamed prisoner tied around a pickax for punishment in a Georgia labor camp. Photograph by John L. Spivak, during research for his 1932 book, "Georgia Nigger." (From "Slavery by Another Name," by Douglas Blackmon)

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  • Ann

    I absolutely ADMIRE Douglas Blackmon for this book and the extraordinary research that he pulls together and makes SO vivid! This book should IMMEDIATELY be REQUIRED READING in EVERY AMERICAN HISTORY CLASS in the NATION!!

    He not only uncovers major political, economic and social FORCES with an historian’s scope, but also portrays the lives of INDIVIDUALS with the compelling skill we associate with novelists! When he spoke about the book on Book-TV, I heard his incredible SENSITIVITY to the reverberations of this HISTORY into our PRESENT day! His COMPASSION underlies the entire book!

    I KNEW the Pulitzer BELONGED to him as I read the book!

  • http://www.creative-lifestyles.com chas

    In this day of out of touch white men calling a brave and compassionate latina woman a racist for acknowledging what they won’t, that her race and gender influence her view of the world, thank you thank you thank you for talking about something the average white man wants to bury up as “yesterdays news”.

    Until we can come to grips with what we have done, and with how badly we have stacked the deck against anyone who doesn’t fit into a thin definition of the social norm, oppression, hatred, and angst will continue to rule the zeitgeist.

    Thanks again for offering up prime time to this very basic information.

  • Rudolf

    Literally unbelievable

  • Mark Scott

    I remember when the WSJ published this story a few years ago. Very powerful work.

    I was struck by where this was published. The deeper story here is not the horror of the system but that American corporations benefited from the system. White families become wealthy and Black families were destroyed. We can even name names. We see the legacy of this system to this day.

    Wide scale reparations are not workable. But the families hurt by this injustice should (and may have) be compensated. And policy solutions to poverty should account for this history.

    In what ways does the criminal justice system’s producing an outcome with 1 in 9 Black men being incarcerated today represent an extension of this system?

  • Rebecca

    Oddly enough, I was already vaguely aware of this practice because there is some discussion of it in the book “Gone With the Wind”. They don’t delve too deeply into the politics side of it but there is a definite negative (and somewhat lengthy) portrayal of the treatment of prisoners in work camps.

  • Carolyn

    Sad to say, I learned from my great-grandmother that mistreatment of African Americans took place in the North during this same time period.

    In the northeastern Pennsylvania coal mining town where she lived, an African American family had moved in at around 1910. Shortly after their arrival, they were stoned and forced to leave. Law enforcement never intervened in this incident. I found that story shocking at the time it was told to me (1960′s). But, it hardly matches the historic content of this book.

    I intend to read Slavery by Another Name. Thank you Douglas Blackmon for setting history straight!

  • Roger Martin

    The 1898 violent overthrow by white supremacists of the local government in Wilmington, North Carolina, together with the federal government’s lack of response, surely helped pave the way for what Mr. Blackmon describes.
    See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wilmington_Insurrection_of_1898

  • Geane

    I am running to the store to purchase the book. I am interested to note that in the interview Mr. Blackmon is not naming names. His story makes clear the need for reparations. W/O the naming of names, it remains unknown what families benefited from these actions and continue to prosper to this day. Who became governor or senator based on these crimes.

    Deadria Farmer-Paellmann made very specific charges in a law suite in 2002 pointing out many of the concerns raised here. The difference she names names and beneficiaries of their actions.

  • martha ramsey

    hope that tom will ask the author how he first got interested in the story and when he first realized how big and important it would be. presumably the historical record was always there to be found–what prompted this one writer to investigate?

    what steps are being taken toward an oral history project that would reach every person who survives or heard accounts from survivors and record all of their testimony? as well as any whites who participated and/or can recall such participation by other whites? this would seem an essential project.

  • Dave

    I missed part of the middle of this program, but I have to wonder what parallels one could or should draw between the specious charges brought against blacks in that period and the painfully disproportionate rate of incarceration of young black males today.

  • Felipe

    The proud & privileged face of future FEMA & detainment camp guards will be that of minorities & poor people. Unwittingly, it will be the ‘special’ slaves that enforce modern slavery so as not to be the lowest rung in the food chain. In the future, you shall either be a slave to the system or imprisoned by the system. Shiny badges will be worn by those who believe that their day has finally come.

  • Ann


  • George

    A work like this can go far in addressing our country’s willful ignorance of our legacy. Trying to get students in a class on social inequality to understand the consequences of how the “default” in our society is white and male seems like an assault, to them. We need a version of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to bring out more of the episodes well-documented in Mr. Blackmon’s book. Then we need to start the discussion about how we, as a whole, need to do to address this immense tragedy.

  • William

    Thank you so much Mr. Blackmon. This kind of unvarnished look at our past is really difficult but obviously long overdue. Let’s not stop here. And let’s remember those who fight against atrocity then and now – and continue the work.

  • http://w3.salemstate.edu/~wcornwell/ William Cornwell

    What a great interview. Many people do not realize that slavery still exists in the United States in the agricultural industry. The Salem Award Committee in Salem, MA (http://www.salemaward.org/), of which I am a member, has an annual program to honor people and groups dedicated to human rights and social justice, and this year’s winner was the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, which has helped federal officials successfully convict slavery rings in Florida. I would encourage everyone to learn more about “hidden” slavery in America in the 19th- 20th-centuries in the South, which was the topic of Tom Ashbrook’s program, and in the fields of Florida today.

  • Mr. C’s Class

    In our class, we are in the middle of a half-year long study on slavery and civil rights. We listened all the way through lunch time to this incredible segment. Here were some of our reactions.

    “My reaction to this is how lucky we are to be alive in this generation and to have an education. We can learn these things and work towards forgiving and changing.”

    “It’s unbelievable how the “labor” camps are similar to the concentration camps, yet we don’t hear much about these camps.”

    “Greed is insane.”

  • Gil Garcia

    Just happened to surf into the program. Although the events may have/did happen, I for one esp. being a Southron am weary of being yet again beaten over the head by this subject. Seems that no matter what has been done from that point to the present and especially as we move forward somebody will say or publish something in order to resurect the past. I suspect we as Southerners will never ever be able to move forward and not be seen as other than evil, backward, racist bigots. Even in story comments written in the Virginia Pilot we are seen as “you people” or as “backward thiking rednecks”. Yet nothing is ever said or even mentioned about the bigotry and prejudice blacks have faced in the enlightened North! I don’t supose we will ever hear about that part of the “black experience”.

  • Mike

    thanks for the hard work and uncovering the full history and events of america not just the thinly veil one always presented.

    watch out foxes news might get cha

  • Ann

    Gil Garcia,

    Here are two great links regarding blacks and the North. There are scores of fantastic scholarly books on the topic as well, so look at the bibliographies on both of these sites. The new scholars write as brilliantly as novelists only they are using primary source materials to inform us about our shared history!!!!

    Here is the link to the Brown University investigation into the Rhode Island slave trade, including information on members of the Brown University founding family. Another RI family was the largest single slave-trading family in US history: their history is included also. This document is a fantastic introduction to the history of the American role in the slave trade, slavery in the north and the debate about reparations from various points of view:


    Here is the link to a fantastic series about slavery and the slave trade in Rhode Island from the Providence Journal newspaper:


    Thanks for your interest!

  • Denise Dunbar

    How else are we going to heal from the tragedy of our common history.
    As a descendant of exploited captive Africans it is important that we revisit the omissions our textbooks overlooked. Thank you for the work you do.
    The history of lynching in America is another wound on our national character. Like Blackmons scholarship, Sherrilyn A. Ifill’s timely book
    On the Courthouse Lawn: Confronting the Legacy of Lynching in the Twenty-First Century is a must for any social studies educator vested in social justice teaching.

    Denise H. Dunbar MA- Chittenden County Coordinator Reading to End Racism and
    Graduate Teaching Fellow- UVM

  • Richard Juste

    Just think of the lesson taught to generations of black people: work hard, save, start to pull yourselves up…and a bunch of white guys will come ’round and push you back down again. It’s a very toxic lesson, but who can fault them for learning it, or, when it has been taught so forcefully, having difficulty unlearning it?

  • Bill Mayo

    Excellent show. As a Southern white male I became aware of this subject when I read ‘The Emancipation of Robert Sadler’ twenty five years ago.

    Per your caller’s reference to Jeremiah Wright: Wright’s delivery is the problem much more so than his message. Even compared to Malcolm X (who I admire), Wright’s “show” is entertaining in an inflammatory sort of way but does little to encourage thinking outside the box. Obama got “street cred” in his church and I imagine little else.

  • Sean

    Listening today I thought of recently reported practices used today in parts of Texas. Upon being pulled over
    a driver is at risk of having any cash on hand confiscated by police in the name of fighting the drug trade. There is no need for formal charges or trial.
    Today’s economy needs not your labor, your cash feeds the system just fine. Unbelievable.

  • Bob Burns

    Thank you for this book and for helping me understand things that were hidden from me about my familys relationships with their black “dependents”. We benefited from blacks who attached themselves to us for protection from law officers. It was clearly modeled for me our responsibilities toward “our” blacks – to go down and spring them from jail when they had been “naughty”.

    I am a 57 year old white southerner. My Family is from rural Tennessee, I grew up in Wilmington, NC and have lived 30 years in Birmingham, AL. The people who perpetrated these atrocities did not disappear in 1965 or (in too many cases) change their minds. This is not just about the past but also about a possible future. We have to be vigilant. Books like this are invaluable to those still engaged in the ongoing struggle for freedom and equality.

    I also believe it is important to note that Mr. Blackmon’s is the fifth Pulitzer Prize winning book to be researched at the amazing Birmingham Public Library.

  • Gil Garcia

    Ann, very much appreciate the links. However, that is not the point I am trying to make. There may be many scholarly texts around but how many are seen in high school classroooms or any classroom for that matter? How often is the black condition explained, particularly in schools, in terms other than Southern racism and bigotry with a nod to the minor sins of early Northerners who have been completely absolved of any wrong and viewed as evenhanded saviors? How many people know of the black slaveholder (see http://books.google.com/books?id=8jcUAAAAYAAJ) far and few between they were but true. What about the Klan in Ohio, Indiana, Michigan that is still active? What about white flight in Boston that I watched on the evening news (CBS) in years past? Never or very very rarely touched on. The point is we are “post racial” as long as you are not Southern, or a Southerner that constantly admits their sin of bigotry and on bended knee begging absolution. And if your are white, then you are truely guilty and damned regardless.

  • Kris

    I am reading this book now. I think the important lesson that I’ve learned from this book is not only did slavery continue after the Emancipation Proclamation but continues today in the United States as the human trafficking of people from Mexico, the Phillipines, etc. as nannies, dishwashers, prostitutes, sweatshop workers, etc. Outsourcing corporations using sweatshops also rely on slave labor to increase their fortunes. We have not solved this problem yet.

  • Sidewalker

    This history shows us once again that the rule of law is always a tool of those who seek power. Under capitalism, law is also a tool of the wealthy classes or their thugs, such as small-town sheriffs.

    Today, look at the use of the Patriot Act and private militia, such as Blackwater. Also consider how public funds, as taxes, are being “legally” transferred to elites in corporations.

    This book also raises the question of who are the slaves by another name today that are used to enrich corporations through exploitation of their labor.

  • Chris

    Mr. Garcia- While you have some valid points, I just don’t understand how you can have listened to this program and walked away with the victimization of white southerners as your chief concern.

  • Chris

    Re: slavery in today’s world, well… just in one New England state: People may be aware that this (unnamed) state does not currently have laws on the books outlawing prostitution indoors, only outdoors. Therefore, the police do not have the legal tools to investigate when some of that prostitution is possibly by abducted or conned sex-workers, perhaps including minors, illegally trafficked into the U.S., more often than not, it is believed. Our House of Representatives finally passed their end of a bill to make indoor prostitution illegal just a few weeks ago. The state Senate has to pass the new law next. Modern-day sexual slavery may soon come to an end in this state!

  • Karen

    Thank you Douglas Blackmon and Tom Ashbrook. This is amazing reporting. I thought lynching was about how low people in this country could go. I was wrong. I cried listening to Douglas describe how, during institutionalized slavery at least the slave had value, but during this unofficial slavery, men were literally worked to the limits of human life — to death — and no one protested unless the death rates got to 30% or more. I will read the book.

  • Walter Fox

    As an African American, I thought I generally knew about the treatment of some of my ancestors in the post civil war south. But the treatment of this gentleman, James Cottonham (I believe that was the name) that Mr. Blackmon narrated, was truly shocking. The sharecropping system was bad enough, but what he told about was even worse. I will try to get procure this book. Thank you Mr. Blackmon!

    Walter Fox
    Ferguson, MO

  • Arnold

    In our current post-racial society we must strive to deal with the slavery of low expectations exacted by others and the slavery of envy and materialism we exact on ourselves.

  • Ann

    Gil Garcia,
    Thanks for your link, above, which you kindly sent to REBUT my earlier point. Your link, AMAZINGLY enough, was to the 1911 book, “Ye KIngdome of Accawmacke, Or, The Eastern Shore of Virginia in the Seventeenth Century” by Jennings Cropper Wise! This is TRULY REMARKABLE TO ME because my grandfather’s African-American and possibly Gingaskin Native-American family is from the adjacent county, Northampton County, the southern-most county on Virginia’s Eastern Shore (some of our family may have wandered down from Accommack)!!

    Your J.C. Wise book suggests that Thomas Savage may have been the first permanent white settler on Virginia’s Eastern Shore, after first arriving in Jamestown in 1607. By 1860, our mulatto family in Northampton Co. had living with them a 13-year-old black relative (probably a niece) whose last name is Savage and whose family’s owner’s full name is known to me. Had you not been trying to impress upon me your sense of the “victimization of white Southerners” (thank you Chris, above!), I might not have found this 1911 book to delve into in search of more information, prejudicial or otherwise, about one of our family’s various owner families!!! If YOU want to find out more about the history of the area from an historian who uses primary source materials to explore the lives of the Native Americans, mulattos and blacks of the region, including information about MY family (not because it is MY family, but because it is A family who existed in history), I suggest a book by historian and publisher Frances Bibbins Latimer, “The Journey of a Multiracial Family: Six Generations of the Eastern Shore Francis Family”, available online thru her Hickory House press.

    I am aware of Anthony Johnson, a black slave owner from the Eastern Shore during Colonial times. You should be aware, however, that many blacks who owned slaves actually purchased their OWN relatives to keep them from being SOLD AWAY from their black FAMILY, or from having to LEAVE THE STATE due to laws where, once manumitted, a slave was REQUIRED to leave the state. To prevent this loss, some blacks who had managed to earn money and save it, bought their own relatives.

  • Ann

    I forgot to say how terrific it is to hear from Mr. C’s class! Also, thanks to posters who sent in interesting links; there is LOTS to learn, and as we do, a more comprehensive picture of our past appears! Thanks all!

  • http://www,gusbrett.com Gustavo Brett

    As much as I know about our country’s darkside, this truth is all most too much to consider. The fact that I have never heard of this before is evidence of a country that basically is evil. That is so self centered, and abusive that this not only happened, but that we as a nation don’t know about it or recognize what it means to our us. I am white and I am heartbroken by our past and what we have done, and still do in the name of freedom. We are beyond redemption because we refuse to even acknowledge the basic truth of cultural genocide that we have par taken in since we (white europeans) arrived on this soil. We are beyond shame, beyond cowardice. I can not put into words how completely horrid we are as a culture. If God can bless us than, please do so. I am so very sorry for what we have done.

  • Ebenum Dakey Diospyros

    Now listen once more, carefully to this man’s speech:


    Then listen to the truth from a black man:


    And the u.s. continues to exploit others for cheap labour… witness the shameful practice of forcing hispanics to crawl under the fence to come on over to clean the Big House.

    Oh ya! Leader of the free world!

  • Thad Mayfield

    GREAT BOOK!! With the revelations th at Doug presents, I was left with three major take-a-ways.

    1) It appears that WWII (and the need for African-American troops), which created conditions that allowed the civil rights movement to be effective, is what effectively freed the slaves.

    2) As African-American baby boomers(ABs) we are in fact, literally the children of the last slaves.

    3) Because of our (ABs) proximity to slavery, we lack the knowledge and mastery of the institutions that govern a free society; so our arsenal to become fully functional and free citizens in has to become more dimesional than the external – protest and enttitlements. Our greatest challenge is to develop the internal competence and capacity a) improve our performance in education, b) develop critical societal expertise – economic and social development, c) understand the institutions that govern our society – legal, financial, governmental, economic, and d) master the ability to leverage these instutions to help make us fully functional. I estimate it will take 4-5 generation to achieve this progression. Yet we are falling miserably behind in the first – education – and have not acquire the collective sense of urgency to move to the next level – develop crtical expertise.

  • Sanford Evans

    When I heard the author interviewed over a year ago, I made a note to buy and read the book. But like many of your listeners, I’m sure, I had a list of books I was already committed to and didn’t get to SLAVERY BY ANOTHER NAME, until two weeks ago.

    As one who reads a great deal of history, I believe it is one of the most important and painful books I have ever read. As an American I believe everyone who cares about our great nation needs to read about this shameful era. As a Jew, I have never before compared anything to the Holocaust. But the post-Civil War period and the nightmare of brutality that African Americans endured at the hands of Southern Whites while Northern Whites stood by was nothing short of a Black Holocaust. And who else can we compare the horrifying racial attitudes of those Southerns to, but the Nazis?

    I hope you will re-broadcast this program. It’s subject matter, in this media cluttered world, is too important for your listeners to miss. And I am confident that those of us who heard it once will have no problem hearing its powerful, painful, and poignant message a second time.

  • peggy rickard

    I knew Robert Sadler. He had a home in the town I was born in(Bucyrus,Ohio) He would show up at the store front church I went to. He also had prayer service in his home that we all went to. He visited my home many times as a child. He showed up in court for my brother. Many of us knew him as well as a person could.

  • peggy rickard

    I am looking to find folk’s who knew Robert Sadler like I did when I lived in Bucyrus Ohio. I would like to know the story of the events of his life when he went to Africa and came home ill to die from a virus . Not sure if that is accurate. he was very envolved with my family and I always knew him as I grew up. I worshipped with him. Anyone else who knew this man please email me. Have wondered many things about him through the years.

  • Sam Glover

    I have been searching to find out what happened to Robert Sadler for hours now with no luck. What can you tell me about his trip to Africa and what happened in any detail. Thanks

  • Sam Glover

    Can anyone tell me what happened to Robert Sadler, the slave born in 1911 and lived in Ohio? Cannot find anything in my search other than he may have died from a virus he contracted while in Africa? Thanks

  • Sam Glover

    Can anyone tell me what happened to Robert Sadler, the slave born in 1911 and lived in Ohio? Cannot find anything in my search other than he may have died from a virus he contracted while in Africa? Thanks

    • Starlightlane

      The bok that was just republished in March 2012 is about him, The Emancipation of Robert Sadler by Robert Sadler and Marie Chapian. An excellent read.

    • Dfruth

      Died July 15, 1976 in Wyandot Memorial Hospital Upper Sandusky Ohio.  Buried in Oakwood Cemetery, Bucyrus OH.  Became ill while engaged in missionary work in Nairobi Kenya Africa, and ret. home for treatment.  He was scheduled to return to Africa, but died before returning.   Per obituary Galion Oh Inquirer Friday July 16 1976.

  • KC

    Hell Sam and Peggy,

    I work for Bethany House, and we are the publishers of Robert Sadler’s biography The Emancipation of Robert Sadler. Robert passed away in 1986, and though now out of print, we are in the process of re-publishing the book. It will be available through Amazon and other retailers in Spring 2012. In the meantime, you may be able to find a used copy on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Emancipation-Robert-Sadler/dp/0871231328/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1302197562&sr=8-1

  • KC

    Meant to say “hello” Sam and Peggy! (My apologies…).

  • Preachergrimes

    i just finished reading the updated version of “The Emancipation of Robert Sadler”. What an inccredible story! Dors anyone know where he and his wife lived in Bucyrus, and where they are buried? I lived in Galion for a number of years, and I know the area fairly well. Thanks for any info.

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