Saturday, February 15, 2014

Approaching Slavery by Another Name

Tuesday February 18 is our discussion of Slavery by Another Name. This is a difficult book to get through: dense with detail, but also extremely sad.  If you're feeling overwhelmed, here are some suggestions:

Read the introduction, Chapter 2, "Industrial Slavery"; Chapter 7' "The Indictments"; Chapter 14 "Anatomy of a Slave Mine"; and the Epilogue. That will give you a feel for the book and plenty to discuss, in only about 60 pages.

Check out the video interviews Blackmon gave to Eric Holder, Gwen Ifill, Bill Moyers, and Tavis Smiley.

Some questions to consdier: Blackmon maintains that industrial slavey was worse than traditional plantation slavery in part because of the loss of family connections between master and slaves. Would you agree?

For those of you who read The New Jim Crow, how does the prison system of today described by Michelle Alexander compare to that of the late 19th and early 20th?

The question of prison labor remains controversial. Federal prison labor is a $900 million industry, and companies such as Walmart rely on it for cheap labor. And that's just federal. Private prisons run by for-profit companies are responsible for approximately 6% of state prisoners, 16% of federal prisoners, and, according to one report, nearly half of all immigrants detained by the federal government. In 2010, the two largest private prison companies alone received nearly $3 billion dollars in revenue. (See the ACLU report, Banking on Bondage: Private Prisons and Mass Incarceration.)

In the Epilogue, Blackmon suggests that companies such as Wachovia, and U.S. Steel that profited from slave labor, or that acquired or were merged with such companies, should be held accountable for damages. Do you think this is feasible? What would be a fair way to award damages?

Looking forward to seeing everyone this coming Tuesday. February 18th at 7:00 in the Small Meeting room of the main Evanston Public Library!

Monday, February 3, 2014

Prison as a fact of life

There is a moment is August Wilson's play, The Piano Lesson, when several of the male characters spontaneously start singing, "Berta Berta", a familiar folk song. Had it been another  group of men from another place and time, it might have been a school song, a fraternity song, a camp song. But for  these African American men who came of age in the pre-civil rights south, it was a prison song that bound them together, because this was one experience few black men could avoid.

I thought about that when I started reading Slavery by Another Name, Douglas Blackmons's gripping, horrifying explanation of how thousands of African American men were re-enslaved through the prison labor system in the decades after the Civil War. It was no ...coincidence that so many black men found themselves deprived of the very rights they, and so many others had fought so bloodily to achieve.

When we read The New Jim Crow back in  October 2012, we considered how the prison system could be manipulated to rob black men of their vote. Blackmon suggests it robbed them of far more than that.

Join us Tuesday February 18th at 7:00 for our discussion. Call 847-448-8620 to reserve a copy.

We'll be reading and discussing The Piano Lesson on June 16th with legendary director Ron O.J. Parson as part of our 11 Months of African American History. Don't miss it!