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June 20, 2008

Many Americans are not familiar with Juneteenth — but now 29 states recognize the 19th of June as a state holiday. Juneteenth commemorates the 1865 day that General Gordon Granger of the Union Army sailed into Galveston, Texas and read General Order #3, announcing that "all slaves are free." It was a full two and a half years after slaves in rebel territories had been freed by The Emancipation Proclamation.

Journalist Douglas Blackmon tells another tale of freedom postponed and denied in SLAVERY BY ANOTHER NAME. Blackmon's book tells the unfamiliar story of "neo-slavery" that reached beyond the de-facto slavery of tenant farming and debt peonage. Blackmon first became intrigued by this episode of U.S. history while researching a story for THE WALL STREET JOURNAL which documented how U.S. Steel Corp. relied on forced black laborers in Alabama coal mines. He discovered:

Under laws enacted specifically to intimidate blacks, tens of thousands of African Americans were arbitrarily arrested, 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. Thousands of other African Americans were simply seized by southern landowners and compelled into years of involuntary servitude.
It was a system that Blackmon found carried on in some areas until the early days of World War II.

Douglas A Blackmon
Photo by Robin Holland
Over the past 20 years, Douglas A. Blackmon has written extensively 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 have explored the interplay of wealth, corporate conduct and racial segregation.

Blackmon's stories or the work of his team have been for Pulitzer Prizes four times, including for coverage of the subprime meltdown, Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Florida hurricanes in 2004 and for his 2001 examination of slave labor in the 20th century. His article on U.S. Steel was included in the 2003 edition of Best Business Stories. The WALL STREET JOURNAL's coverage of Hurricane Katrina received a special National Headliner award in 2006.

In 2000, the National Association of Black Journalists recognized Blackmon's stories revealing the secret role of J.P. Morgan & Co. during the 1960s in funneling funds between a wealthy northern white supremacist and segregationists fighting the Civil Rights Movement in the South.

Blackmon joined the THE WALL STREET JOURNAL in October 1995 as a reporter in Atlanta. Prior to joining the Journal, Blackmon was a reporter for the ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION, where he covered race and politics, and special assignments including the fall of the Berlin Wall and the civil war in the former Yugoslavia. Previously, he was a reporter for the ARKANSAS DEMOCRAT, managing editor of the DAILY RECORD in Little Rock, Arkansas, and a writer for weekly newspapers.

Published on June 20, 2008.

Guest photo by Robin Holland

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References and Reading:
Also This Week:

BILL MOYERS JOURNAL examines racial inequality in America through the prisms of the legacy of slavery and the current socio-economic landscape with perspective from historical and cultural sociologist Orlando Patterson and Glenn C. Loury, an economist and expert on race and social division.

Bill Moyers interviews Douglas Blackmon, the Atlanta bureau chief of the WALL STREET JOURNAL, about his latest book, SLAVERY BY ANOTHER NAME, which looks at an "age of neoslavery" that thrived from the aftermath of the Civil War through the dawn of World War II.

Katrina Browne tells the story of her forefathers, the largest slave-trading family in U.S. history. Premiering next week on POV on PBS.

A Bill Moyers essay.

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