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‘Slavery by Another Name’ Author To Appear During Black History Month

OSWEGO – Pulitzer-Prize winning author Douglas Blackmon, author of the best-selling book “Slavery by Another Name,” will speak at 7 p.m. Feb. 12, in the Marano Campus Center auditorium at SUNY Oswego.

A featured presentation during the college’s celebration of Black History Month, the event is free and open to the public.

Douglas Blackmon
Douglas Blackmon

“I am very excited that we can do this,” said Jerald Woolfolk, SUNY Oswego vice president of student affairs and enrollment management, who knows Blackmon personally. “This is the result of a wonderful collaboration between our division and so many academic areas.”

Blackmon’s book — its full title is “Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II” — is a searing examination of how institutionalized oppression of African Americans persisted deep into the 20th century. It earned the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for general non-fiction.

Blackmon co-executive produced a PBS documentary of the same name, first broadcast three years ago to around 5 million viewers.

The book, according to its website, “brings to light one of the most shameful chapters in American history — when a cynical new form of slavery was resurrected from the ashes of the Civil War and re-imposed on hundreds of thousands of African-Americans until the dawn of World War II.”

Involuntary servitude

For decades after the abolition of slavery and the Civil War, a neo-slavery system thrived under laws designed to intimidate blacks, Blackmon found.

He said the laws were used to make arbitrary arrests of legions of African Americans, who were “hit with outrageous fines, and charged for the costs of their own arrests. With no means to pay these ostensible ‘debts,’ prisoners were sold as forced laborers to coal mines, lumber camps, brickyards, railroads, quarries and farm plantations.”

Southern landowners also simply seized freed black people and compelled them into years of involuntary servitude, Blackmon wrote after research among a vast record of original documents and personal narratives.

Blackmon, a contributing editor at the Washington Post and host of “American Forum” on PBS, has written extensively over the past 25 years about the American quandary of race, exploring the integration of schools during his childhood in a Mississippi Delta farm town, lost episodes of the Civil Rights movement, and, repeatedly, the dilemma of how a contemporary society should grapple with a troubled past.

Many of his stories in the Wall Street Journal and Washington Post explored the interplay of wealth, corporate conduct, the American judicial system and racial segregation.

International assignments have included the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989; the reunification of East and West Germany; the Civil War in Croatia, Bosnia and Serbia; post-apartheid South Africa; and the international war crimes tribunal in the Hague. Domestically, Blackmon was a finalist for another Pulitzer for the Journal’s coverage of the BP-Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Among Blackmon’s latest projects, he and Oscar-nominated director Sam Pollard are shooting a documentary film titled “The Harvest,” examining the failure of public school integration in so many American communities 50 years after the end of segregation.

Raised in Leland, Mississippi, Blackmon now lives in Atlanta, where he is co-founder of socially and ethnically diverse Atlanta Neighborhood Charter School, and in Charlottesville, Virginia, home of the University of Virginia’s Miller Center and the “American Forum” show where he interviews top minds on a range of pressing national topics.

Those attending Blackmon’s presentation may park in the employee and commuter lots behind Hart and Funnelle residence halls.

In addition, the college will offer a free screen of the “Slavery by Another Name” PBS documentary at 6:30 p.m. on Feb. 11, in the Marano Campus Center auditorium.