(female narrator) After the Civil War black Southerners were no longer slaves but they were not yet free.
(woman) The sheriff could sell free black people to corporations and coal mines.
(narrator) For 80 years, thousands of blacks were forced to labor against their will.
He said if I don't go to work, he'll put me in the river down there.
(narrator) One of America's most shameful chapters "Slavery by Another Name," coming up next.
[orchestra plays softly] (woman) Mr. President, I have a brother about 14 years old.
A man hired him from me and I heard of him no more.
He went and sold him to McGrehan they've been workin' him in prison for 12 months.
I asked him to let me have him, but he won't let him go.
(male narrator) For a period of nearly 80 years, between the Civil War and World War II, black Southerners were no longer slaves, but they were not yet free.
In one of the most shameful and little-known chapters of American history, generations of black Southerners were forced to labor against their will.
(woman) From almost the first moment, white Southerners were responding to try to put African Americans back into a position as close to slavery as they possibly could.
(man) The Old South, and what was quickly becoming the New South, could not proceed without the work of African Americans.
But if you had something for free in the past, you don't necessarily want to pay for it now.
It was a straight, simple, exploitative system.
There was only power, there was only force, and there was only brutality.
What happened in that period of time, was so much more terrible than anything most Americans recognize or understand today.
The depth of poverty, the inability of African Americans to access any of the mechanisms of wealth achievement and growth.
They're all rooted in this terroristic kind of regime that existed in so many places.
Their ability to have what we call the American Dream, that is what has been stolen from black folks all through the South.
And that legacy has to be understood so that people will be able to speak to it and give our ancestors voice.
My name is Sharon Malone and my family is originally from Wilcox County, Alabama My father was born in 1893.
As a child, I never knew why Dad didn't share many of the stories growing up in the rural South.
There was so little that I actually knew about the generations beyond my parents, and I realized, I said, "Why don't I know these stories, and why don't I know "who those people are?"
African Americans are innately wired to want to know who we are.
It's almost like being an adopted child.
We have no understanding of not only what we have endured, but what we have survived.
(woman) ♪ Oh freedom ♪ ♪ Oh freedom ♪ (narrator) Freedom must have felt glorious to those who'd never known it.
With the end of the Civil War and the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment, four million former slaves could embark on new lives with no one in charge but themselves.
(woman) ♪ And go home to my Lord ♪ ♪ And be free ♪ (woman) And what they desired more than anything was independence.
They wanted independence from white owners, they wanted their own churches, they wanted their own schools, they wanted freedom to move.
(men and women) ♪ Oh freedom ♪ (man) African Americans after emancipation, are looking at the potential, not only to enjoy and receive freedom, but to live it.
They're deeply committed to reaffirming marriage vows, they're deeply committed to reconstituting families.
♪ To my Lord ♪ ♪ And be free ♪ (narrator) Ezekiel Archey, born into slavery, was six when freedom came.
His mother moved the family, Zeke, his two brothers and a sister from Georgia to Alabama, away from the old plantation and toward a new future.
(man) African Americans were willing to work very hard and exploit themselves in the same way that immigrants who have come to this country have exploited themselves and their families with long workdays.
They were willing to do that, but they wanted to own their own land, they wanted to control those hours, they wanted to be the ones to decide.
(narrator) John Davis was born a dozen years after the war.
He grew up in freedom, working hard on an Alabama farm rented by his parents.
(man) There was a tremendous motivation and desire to integrate into American life.
(narrator) Green Cottenham, born in 1885, was also the son of an Alabama farmer.
He came of age in a nation that was increasingly urban, industrial and modern.
(woman) This is a photo of George Cottenham, he's my great grandfather.
He was actually Green Cottenham's first cousin.
How hopeful my Cottenham ancestors must have been about bright futures for their family.
These were hardworking, honest people.
(narrator) But freedom had come at a tremendous cost.
The war devastated the Southern economy, which had supported one of the wealthiest aristocracies in the world.
(Douglas A. Blackmon) The cotton economy was in complete shambles.
The fields had been burned and the cotton gins had been destroyed.
Equipment that was necessary for the production of cotton didn't exist anymore.
But also, the primary engine of the cotton economy, that being the labor of slaves, was lost.
(James Grossman) In the five major cotton states of the deep South, nearly half of all capital, nearly half of all investment was in human beings.
So when those human beings were confiscated, when the investment was transferred in essence from slaveholders to the people themselves that meant a huge loss of capital to Southern slaveholders, to the people who controlled the economy of the South.
(narrator) A tiny, slaveholding elite had owned the majority of the region's four million slaves.
Among them was Lucinda Comer, a widow.
After the war, she and her sons oversaw the family's enterprises in cotton, lumber, and corn.
The great-great- granddaughter of B.B.
Comer, who was the governor of Alabama, and the great-great niece of J. W. Comer.
The things that I heard about the Comer men, especially B.B.
Comer, were about their entrepreneurial spirit and being self-made men, there was never a fool or a coward it was said in the Comer family.
(narrator) Emancipation turned the former slaveholding world upside down (Khalil Muhammad) The simple reality of people that they had once owned, now were entitled to the same fruits of their labor, the same ability to look a white person in the eye, a man or a woman, and to demand equal respect, to be called by one's first and last names, challenged everything to the bitter core of white people's souls.
(James Grossman) You have a group of people who are accustomed to have people serve them.
Now, suddenly, these people are free, they own guns-- you'd be as worried as hell, because what you're worried is that people are going to take revenge.
You also are worried that people aren't going to do any work anymore.
(narrator) Most of the South's 8 million whites had not owned slaves.
Poverty was widespread, and about a third of whites were illiterate.
(man) Those individuals see blacks moving around, trying to get land, trying to improve themselves, as competitors.
They see a zero sum gain, in which they're going to lose the more that blacks gain.
(narrator) These whites aligned with leaders of the former Confederacy, aided by President Andrew Johnson, Lincoln's successor.
They formed vigilante groups to attack and intimidate blacks.
The violence grew widespread.
In the spring of 1866, Congress intervened.
Over the objections of the president, it launched an era known as Radical Reconstruction.
(Risa Goluboff) At the beginning of Reconstruction, there was a tremendous federal will to both bring the South into submission, but also to protect the African American Civil Rights.
(narrator) Passed in 1866, the Fourteenth Amendment recognized the citizenship of all freed people.
In 1870, the Fifteenth Amendment was passed, which upheld the right of black men to vote.
(Adam Green) Reconstruction was an attempt to create a country in which it would be possible to have a biracial and equal citizenship.
(Khalil Muhammad) Reconstruction gave African Americans, for the first time, across the South, the opportunity to serve on juries, to be witnesses in trial, to serve as judges.
It also made possible an entire generation of black politicians across the South, almost as many as 1500 serving through the end of the 19th century.
(narrator) Reconstruction governments in many parts of the South succeeded in passing new social legislation creating the South's first free public schools.
(narrator) But white resistance to biracial government in the South intensified, and national political support began to wane.
By 1874, voters had shifted the balance of power in Congress, allowing for the South's return to local control.
(Mary Ellen Curtin) There is no sustained federal presence in the South really after 1874.
What they come away with is that a sense that this is a really violent situation and that there's not much we can do about it.
And there's not much perhaps we even should do about it.
(Adam Green) African Americans seeking freedom, could count on less and less help from the federal government, less and less help from sympathetic Northerners, and they could count on more and more and more animosity and attack from Southern whites.
[horse whinnies] (man) Hee-ya!
(Douglas A. Blackmon) I grew up in a black part of Mississippi, and I went to schools that were 60%, 75% black all through my childhood.
That was in the 1970's.
What I learned about the Emancipation Proclamation was the most simplistic version of it, that it brought an end to slavery.
I also was taught, as most Americans were in some way, that the end of slavery unleashed this population of people who were ill equipped for freedom, and that was all offered up in some respect as an explanation for the repressive things that would have been done to African Americans, even the repressive things that I knew about.
What I came to realize, was that that fundamentally didn't happen.
(narrator) With the end of Reconstruction, the nature of both crime and punishment in the South changed dramatically.
In state after state, and county after county, new laws targeted African Americans and effectively criminalized black life.
(Douglas A. Blackmon) It was a crime in the South for a farm worker to walk beside a railroad.
It was a crime in the South to speak loudly in the company of white women.
It was a crime to sell the products of your farm after dark.
Anything from spitting or drinking or being found to be drunk in public or loitering in public spaces could result in confinement.
So there was an over exaggeration of African American criminality during this time period.
It's not to absolve all prisoners from having committed crimes, but there were many trumped-up charges.
One of the most infamous set of laws to come out of this period were the Pig Laws, passed in Mississippi, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, enhancing penalties for what had been previously misdemeanor offenses, to now felony offenses.
(narrator) In Mississippi, theft of a pig worth as little as a dollar could mean five years in prison.
In Tennessee, hard labor might result from stealing an eight-cent fence rail.
But the most powerful, the most damaging of all of these laws were the vagrancy statutes.
In every Southern state, you became a criminal if you could not prove at any given moment that you were employed.
(narrator) Under slavery, most black crime was punished by slaveholders, leaving the courts to discipline whites.
Now, only about ten percent of those arrested were white.
(Mary Ellen Curtin) Now, what does this mean?
Does this mean that white people are not committing crimes in the South?
We know that's not true.
(narrator) Southern states had a history of placing prisoners with industries that would bear the cost of guarding and housing them, in exchange for their labor.
Now states also began to charge fees, renting prisoners to companies by the month.
The highest rates were for the strongest workers and longest sentences.
(Adam Green) When you go to the 13th Amendment, one of the fascinating things about the text of that amendment is that it says that slavery is abolished, except in the case of a punishment for a crime.
And within that wiggle room, what you see in it is that there's still the possibility of extending slavery, as it were, by another name.
[gunshots] (man) ♪ When it's early in the mornin' ♪ ♪ Baby when I rise a-well ah ♪ (narrator) The system was known as convict leasing.
♪ When I rise a-well ah ♪ ♪ When it's early in the mornin' ♪ (Mary Ellen Curtin) It took time for the system of convict leasing to develop.
It took time for the state to realize that prisoners, believe it or not, could be a source of profit.
Once that revenue starts coming in, they're pleasantly surprised.
This is new revenue we never had before.
(narrator) The State of Alabama earned $14,000 in its first year of convict leasing, 1874.
By 1890, revenue was $164,000, roughly $4.1 million today.
(man) ♪ Heard that my woman done leave me ♪ ♪ Well oh well-ah well-ah ♪ (narrator) By then, states throughout the South and hundreds of counties and cities were engaged in some form of leasing convicts to private industry.
(Khalil Muhammad) And it gave tremendous discretionary power for the private owner, either a landowner or a corporation or a coal mine, could be any business concern to do what they wanted with that African American.
(man) We as convicts, is something like a man drowning.
We have been convicted of felonies and because of that, we have lost every friend on earth.
(narrator) In 1884, a series of remarkable letters was sent from the Pratt Coal Mines to Alabama's new inspector of prisons.
Their author was Ezekiel Archey, now a 25-year-old convict.
(man, as Ezekiel) "All these years of how we suffered.
We have looked death in the face, worked hungry, thirsty, half-clothed and sore.
(narrator) Archey was one of hundreds of convicts now being worked in a growing network of mines and factories around Alabama's new industrial center, Birmingham.
Founded in 1871 and fed by intersecting railway lines, Birmingham was poised to exploit Alabama's rich underground deposits of coal, limestone, and iron ore: the ingredients of steel.
This was the new industrial South, envisioned just prior to the Civil War by slaveholder John T. Milner.
(Douglas A. Blackmon) John T. Milner was a brilliant engineer, extraordinary businessman; he was also a supreme racist and a despotic person.
(man) Negro labor can be made exceedingly profitable in manufacturing iron and in rolling mills, provided there is an overseer, a Southern man who knows how to manage Negroes.
(Douglas A. Blackmon) He laid out some of the first railroad lines that would run across Alabama.
In many respects, he was the Father of Southern Industrialization, particularly in the deep, deep South.
(narrator) Milner's vision triggered decades of rapid industrial growth.
After emancipation, industrialists replaced slaves with convicts, acquiring thousands from state and county governments (Mary Ellen Curtin) You can't drive free labor the same way that you can force prisoners to mine five tons of coal a day.
And this is why people like Milner wanted prisoners in his coal mines.
He saw them as a great source of profit, and he didn't have to worry about labor disputes.
(man) We would leave the cells around 3:00 a.m., and return at 8:00 p.m., going the distance of 3 miles through rain or snow.
(Mary Ellen Curtin) To describe the conditions in coal mine at this time, and to say that they're primitive is, you can't even imagine it.
(Douglas A. Blackmon) This is a place where for weeks or months at a time, men might never see daylight.
The mine was often filled with standing water around their ankles and their feet.
They had to drink from that water.
Disease ran rampant through these mines.
(Khalil Muhammad) They were incredibly dangerous places to work, being subjected to violent explosions, poisonous gases that were released as coal fell from the walls, In addition to the falling coal itself.
Whippings, keeping people chained up, brutal kinds of physical torture, and mental abuse are the norm.
A lot of the things that kept people in control under slavery, are amplified under this convict system.
Zeke Archey was one of about 500 convicts at the Pratt Mines near Birmingham, nearly half the company's workforce.
They were overseen by J.W.
Comer, the former slaveholder whose enterprises now included convict mining.
That Comer's a hard man.
I've seen him.
I've seen him hit men, 100 and 160 times, with a 10-pronged strap, then say they was not whipped.
(Cristina Comer) When I learned about the brutality of J. W. Comer, I um...well, I just started weeping, and um, I actually didn't leave my house for two days, 'cause I was in such a state of grief and shock.
The stories that I heard about all the Comer men when I was growing up, were about self-made men.
And so to learn about the ways that they weren't really self-made, but were making themselves on the backs and by the blood of other people, specifically the blacks and the convict leasing system, definitely shattered that image for me.
He'd go off after an escaped man, one day, and dig his grave the same day.
(narrator) Exposés of the convict labor system described it as "...worse than slavery."
Slaves had been a significant long-term investment.
A convict could be rented for as little as 9 dollars a month.
(Douglas A. Blackmon) It was never in the economic interest of a slave owner to kill his own slaves or to abuse them so terribly that they couldn't work anymore.
So their economic value protected them in certain ways.
After the Civil War, someone working these kinds of forced laborers, would push them to the very limits of human endurance.
(man) We are the men who do the work.
Look at the white men-- how many are cutting 5 or 4 ton coal per day?
They are few.
(Adam Green) Convict leasing was a source of labor where you could realize the maximum return at a minimum social cost.
The feeding, of course, was next to nothing, health was next to nothing.
(narrator) Convict miners cost as much as 50% to 80% less than free miners, and could be worked 6 days a week.
Their presence allowed companies to depress wages and resist unions.
(Douglas A. Blackmon) When one could obtain black labor at almost no cost, the profits for that form of business were enormous.
(narrator) In Florida, prisoners extracted gum and resin from tall pines and transformed it into turpentine.
In Georgia, they hauled wet clay from riverbanks, molding it into the millions of bricks needed for new buildings and homes.
From Texas to Louisiana, convicts forced their way through acres of virgin forest, harvesting timber and building railroads In all, more than 15,000 prisoners worked in Southern industries in 1886, and that number was rising quickly.
In many labor camps, as many as a third of male convicts were boys younger than 16.
Girls and women were also forced into labor.
Over 90% of convict laborers in Georgia were African American men.
The next highest percentage would obviously be white men, but African American women were also utilized in these various tasks.
In manual labor, black women are working in brickyards, in turpentine camps, in mining camps, farms, in lumberyards.
(Khalil Muhammad) Convict leasing becomes a new form of economic development in the South, and a ubiquitous form of punishment for Southerners as the criminal justice system expanded itself.
And sweeps would take place all through out the South, whether it was for a dice game, whether it was for an altercation, whether it was for being mouthy or uppity.
(Douglas A. Blackmon) The record of thousands upon thousands of people arrested in this way, is everywhere in the South.
In the fall, when it was time to pick cotton, huge numbers of black people are arrested in all of the cotton-growing counties.
There are surges in arrests in counties in Alabama in the days before coincidentally a labor agent from the coal mines in Birmingham is coming to town that day to pick up whichever county convicts are there.
(narrator) Some charges were serious.
But more than two-thirds of all state prisoners at the time of Zeke Archey's arrest, including Archey, were convicted under vague charges of burglary and larceny.
County prisoners too were sent to the mines.
For often trivial offenses, they faced the real possibility of death.
In some Alabama prison camps, convicts died at a rate of 30% to 40% a year.
And this system is one that I think in many ways, needs to be understood as brutal in a social sense, but fiendishly rational in an economic sense.
Because where else could one take a black worker and work them literally to death after slavery?
And when that worker died, one simply had to go and get another convict.
(narrator) The South's state prison population continued to grow, reaching 19,000 people by 1890.
Nearly 90% of those held were African American.
When folded into national statistics, the concentration of black prisoners seemed to reflect an alarming rise in black crime.
(Khlil Muhammad) So as early as 1890, African Americans are almost 3 times overrepresented in the prison population.
The general population is 12%, the nation's prisons' populations of blacks is 30%.
So there are many important implications and long-term consequences for this convict leasing system.
Not only is it so oppressive, but when you have an overwhelmingly black prison population, it cements that relationship between criminality and race in people's minds to the degree that it's seen as something inherent.
(Khlil Muhammad) Southern editorialists, sociologists, politicians, are all saying that the statistics prove that black people are a criminal race and that freedom had been a mistake.
If you were to ask most Southerners, white Southerners, what they thought of African Americans in the 1850's, the 1860's, even into the 1870's, one profile would have been of people who are loyal, dutiful, trustworthy.
Those same people in the 1880's and by the 1890's have been demonized.
They no longer are trustworthy, they no longer have the capacity for citizenship.
(narrator) By the 1890s, white voters had reversed the civil rights gains made during Reconstruction.
New state constitutions kept blacks out of voting booths and limited funding for black schools.
Racial segregation was mandated by law.
(James Grossman) They do this because it's important to remind black people, day after day after day, minute after minute, that they have a place in this society and that that place is subordinate.
So what that means is that when a black person is walking down the street and a white person walks towards them, they step into the gutter.
My name is Barbara Jean Belisle.
I was born in Birmingham in 1936.
You had to stay in your place.
Now, my daddy was the one who was daring.
He used to be called that uppity nigger by white folks because he believed that we were just as good as anybody else.
He's a smart man; he's one of the first black men in this area to register to vote.
There were a lot of times truckloads of KKK folks would pass by the house, where he had made white folks mad about something.
He wouldn't let my mother work.
She went to clean up a house one time, and he went over to pick her up and she was cleaning the cabinets down on her knees, trying to clean out a cabinet, he told her, "You're not going back, you clean up your own cabinets."
And that's the kind of man he was.
But he's another story though, I'd have to talk about him another time.
(narrator) Segregation was not only mandated by Southern states, it was upheld by the US Supreme Court in an 1896 ruling, Plessy versus Ferguson.
And after that, white Southerners, white legislatures, never had any reservation about imposing the most severe, the most repressive restrictions on black life.
(narrator) Ezekiel Archey was scheduled for release on February 6, 1887, at the age of 28, but he was not free; a new indictment, for reasons unknown, was pending.
(man, as Ezekiel) This letter is not all I could write, but my condition will not permit.
Fate seems to curse the convict, death seems to summon us hence.
(narrator) As the 19th century came to a close, and for many decades to come, the possibility of freedom was overshadowed by the constant threat of forced labor and violence.
Decades after the Civil War, the nation was reunited.
But the place of black Americans within it seemed more uncertain than ever.
[man hums softly] (Adam Green) Many whites in the South are completely indifferent about whether black people live or die.
They want to see them in their place.
They want to see them as an exploitable system of labor.
They want to see them as an affirmation of their racial superiority.
And if they don't fulfill that role, then to hell with them.
(man) ♪ Another man done gone another man done gone ♪ I never will forget this; I'm 9 years old, going from West Palm Beach to Tampa, where my mom's from, to see my Grandmom.
And we had a brand new Oldsmobile, and a cop stopped her in Kissimmee, Florida, and the way he talked to my mom, he gave her a ticket for speeding, and she was not speeding.
It was just because he could do it, you follow me?
The ticket cost a one month's salary.
And my mama had to restrain me 'cause I wanted to get after this white boy like I could not believe, at 9 years old, when you have to just kind of just tuck it in.
Like my mom would say, "Bernard, you've got to just stop.
because me may not get out of here."
And you could see the terror in her eyes, you follow me?
"Cause we in little ol' Kissimmee in the '50's.
[steam whistle blows] (narrator) September 1901-- the dawn of a new century.
♪ ♪ John Davis, now 23 and renting his own Alabama farm, was on his way to Goodwater, about 18 miles away.
His wife was ill, and being cared for there by her parents.
It was harvest time, and Davis would have been careful to avoid trouble, eager to return safely to his own small patch of cotton.
But trouble found him in the form of Robert Franklin, a local merchant and constable.
Bob Franklin said, "Nigger have you got any money?
When are you gonna pay the money you owe me?"
I said, "I don't owe you any money."
(narrator) Convicts were not the only Southerners being forced into hard labor.
Throughout the South, many thousands of African Americans were tied to white employers through various forms of debt.
You get a person in debt, you continually keep him in debt, you never let him work it off, and you control their labor.
Any kind of relationship where you use debt as the fulcrum to extract labor, that's illegal.
You've violated the peonage law.
(narrator) Peonage, or debt servitude, was outlawed by the federal government just after the Civil War.
(Douglas A. Blackmon) Peonage comes from the word peon, of Mexican peons.
It's serfdom, it's peasantry.
Ironically enough, the United States made peonage illegal only as a result of the acquisition of New Mexico.
And the federal government didn't want to introduce Mexican peonage into the American legal system.
And so in 1867, the Congress made peonage illegal.
(narrator) Nearly 40 years later, in 1903, a federal judge in Alabama raised an alarm about allegations of peonage in his jurisdiction.
(man) Witnesses have reported that a systematic scheme of depriving Negroes of their liberty in Alabama has been practiced for some time.
Judge Thomas Goode Jones was a former Confederate officer and two-time governor of Alabama.
Viewed as something of a moderate, he'd been appointed to the federal court by U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt.
(Douglas A. Blackmon) Teddy Roosevelt becomes president in 1901, after the assassination of William McKinley.
He viewed himself as an egalitarian person on the side of both business and the working man.
He believed that exposure of the sins of society and exposure of the sins of commerce industrialism would lead to their eradication.
And he believed that for the factories of the North and he believed that for the racial abuses of the South.
(narrator) The president authorized a federal investigation into peonage in the Alabama counties of Shelby, Coosa, and Tallapoosa.
(Risa Goluboff) Now, they thought that these were exceptional circumstances, they were out of the ordinary.
And I think that the Roosevelt administration and the Roosevelt Justice Department thought that it could-- score points is too easy a word-- but that it could, by making a stand in this way, it could accomplish quite a lot and have a symbolic impact that was pretty large.
(narrator) Federal peonage inquiries were also underway in Georgia and Florida.
In Alabama, witnesses were called to appear before the federal grand jury to determine if there was enough evidence to go to trial.
Prosecuting the case was U.S. Attorney Warren S. Reese, born in Alabama just after the Civil War.
(man, as Reese) Now I have lived in this state my entire life of 37 years, and I have never comprehended until now the extent of this present method of slavery through this peonage system.
Southern progressives were not free of the racism that Southern conservatives had or Northern progressives were not free of that either.
But they did think that there were some things that were just beyond the pale.
And so when stories, horrific, sensationalized stories of African American slavery came to light, they were precisely the kind of thing that we, as a modern, civilized nation, should not engage in.
(narrator) Among those testifying was John Davis, freed hastily as word of the investigation spread.
(man, as John Davis) Bob Franklin said, "When are you going to pay the money you owe me?"
I said, "I don't owe you any money."
(narrator) Nearly 18 months had passed since he'd been stopped by Franklin, the local constable.
His testimony echoed that of other victims.
Like Davis, they were falsely accused and quickly convicted.
They were sentenced and charged fines and court fees, which they couldn't pay.
They could do nothing as local whites paid the court, and took control of them.
John Davis was bought from the court by Bob Franklin, and then resold, for profit.
(man, as John Davis) He said, "We gonna' carry you over to Mr.
I told him I didn't know anything about it, and he said, "We know."
(Douglas A. Blackmon) John Pace was the baron of Tallapoosa County, Alabama.
He had been the sheriff of the county in the 1880's.
He then amassed a substantial amount of land, the most fertile land along the Tallapoosa River in his part of Alabama.
He was quite a character, 6 foot 2, 230-pound man who had frostbitten toes and was supposed to be very ill. And when he walked the earth shook they said.
(man) I bought the Negro John Davis from Bob Franklin, the constable of Tallapoosa.
I explained to Davis that he would be confined on my farm, just as I confined county convicts.
(man, as John Davis) Mr. Pace asks, "Will you work 10 months with me?"
And I signed a contract.
(narrator) These contracts gave employers the right to whip, confine, and even trade workers, as long as the debt was deemed unpaid.
(Peter Daniel) Peonage varied from a kind of paternalistic peonage to just the most awful conditions you could imagine.
People were put in barracks, they were beaten, and some killed.
People were flogged; they were chased by bloodhounds.
It was pretty horrible at its worst, It was about as bad as it can get.
(man, as Reese) Brutal things have transpired and sometimes death has been the result of the infliction of corporal punishment.
(narrator) Prosecutor Warren Reese's reports to Washington grew more urgent.
Peonage was not isolated in a few counties, but was evident throughout the state, trapping hundreds or even thousands of people.
(man, as Reese) These violations have developed into a miserable business and custom to catch up with Negro men and women upon the flimsiest of charges.
(narrator) Reporting to Washington, Reese would have had to remind himself that this was 1903.
In Detroit, the Ford Motor Company had begun production of the Model A.
On Wall Street, the new Stock Exchange Building had just opened.
In Kitty Hawk, the Wright Brothers were preparing their first flight.
Yet in much of the South, African Americans were still being held in what Reese and the press called, "abject slavery."
(Pete Daniel) What the U.S. attorneys like Reese found was a totally corrupt legal system, where you had the justices of the peace were corrupt, in that the people that came before them may not be guilty, but they would find them guilty.
(narrator) John Pace, Fletcher Turner and William and George Cosby, all of them wealthy farmers, were the ringleaders.
(Douglas A. Blackmon) All of them had their own justice of the peace.
In the case of John Pace, he had a man named James Kennedy.
Mr. J. W. Pace and I are brothers-in-law by marriage.
I went to work for him on the first of June, 1891.
If they wanted a man convicted of any particular thing, then they simply had their own justice of the peace, or the justice of the peace of one of the other families, declare someone to be guilty.
Note in none of these cases that I have spoken about did I receive one cent of costs, nor was I paid in any other way by Mr. Pace or anybody else for trying these cases.
And after I worked that 10 months, my time was out on the 10th day of July, 1902.
I told him, "My time is out this morning."
He said, "Go ahead to work."
I said, "No, I'm going home this morning."
And he locked me up for 3 days, and after that he said, "If I don't go to work, he'll put me in the river down there."
(narrator) As the investigation in Alabama continued, the federal grand jury began issuing indictments John Pace was charged with several counts of peonage If convicted, he faced decades in prison.
The next day, Pace's justice of the peace, James Kennedy, unexpectedly returned to court.
(Douglas A. Blackmon) James Kennedy came to be terrified that he would be convicted at trial once he had been indicted.
He's the guy who fabricated all the documents, he's the one who declared all these people guilty, and so he feels a great sense of jeopardy.
If anybody from the Cosby family wanted a Negro, they would send somebody before me and have an affidavit made.
The Negro would be fined and made to sign a contract and sent to the farm.
This was never reported to the jurors.
(narrator) Kennedy confirmed that at least 80 men and women had fallen victim to the conspiracy.
Many other cases were suspected.
As the grand jury continued to issue indictments, they asked Judge Jones to explain the federal law against peonage.
Judge Jones comes back with a ruling, which asserts that in essentially every case, in which a landowner is holding a laborer to pay back a debt, that unless there has been a conviction of that person in an open court, in a sanctioned way by the government, it's peonage, it's debt slavery.
(man, as Judge Jones) They are guilty of a conspiracy to deprive that person of the free exercise or enjoyment of a right or privilege secured to him by the Constitution of the United States.
And the ruling from Judge Jones unleashes this firestorm of fear and panic, not just in Alabama, but all across the South.
(narrator) Forty years after the Civil War, the United States had emerged as a global economic leader, due in part to Southern industry and agriculture.
Employers throughout the South relied on debt to coerce labor.
The judge's ruling might apply not just to convicts or those trapped by corruption, but also hundreds of thousands of black families tied to white landowners through tenant farming and sharecropping.
(Douglas A. Blackmon) If they lose access to that army of laborers, or they're compelled to deal with them on equitable terms as free citizens, then the entire Southern economy is disrupted, and along with it, the entire U.S. economy is disrupted as well.
What had begun as a principal investigation that was probably going to go nowhere, was turning into a potential political catastrophe for the Roosevelt Administration.
(woman) "Mr. President, I have a brother about 14 years old.
A man hired him from me and I heard of him no more."
Among black Southerners, reports that peonage was being prosecuted sparked a very different outcry: a flood of letters, many of them addressed to the president.
(Douglas A. Blackmon) At the National Archives today, there's more than 30,000 pages of this kind of material that document the arrest, the subjugation, the punishment, the mistreatment, the profit that was made off of the forced labor of armies and armies of people.
He has done nothing wrong for them to keep him in chains.
So I write to you to help me get my poor brother.
Please let me hear from you at once, Carrie Kinsey.
My name is Bernard William Kinsey.
Carrie Kinsey is a cousin.
When I held this letter, and it hadn't, I mean, here you holding Carrie's legacy.
When you begin to connect with your family, you can put yourself back into 1900 and how difficult it was for anybody to push up against the system.
(man) "Dear Sir, I have a little girl that has been kidnapped from me.
Some time ago, my attention was called to a condition of affairs in existence there so appalling in its vice and cruelty.
And they just beat sores on me every day.
They started to whip me one day..." These letters are incredibly poignant.
A lot of them, even though they're not written in the language of rights, do refer to the Thirteenth Amendment.
They are aware that they have a right not to be enslaved, and they're calling upon the government to protect them from slavery that they thought was supposed to be over.
There was a tremendous hope, it's absolutely evident through these letters that a huge population of African Americans believed that the president was finally coming to their rescue.
(narrator) But the Alabama peonage trials in the summer of 1903 were over almost as soon as they began.
[banging of a gavel] The federal government was eager to cap the investigation, punish the ringleaders, and move on.
The Cosbys and Fletcher Turner pleaded guilty, and Judge Jones imposed minimum sentences.
Judge Jones really believed that if you convicted these people, some of them got fines, a few of them even served a little jail time, that that would furnish an example so that people who were doing this would no longer do it.
(narrator) Pace also pleaded guilty and was sentenced to prison.
He remained free on appeal as his lawyers prepared an outrageous argument.
They said Pace was not guilty of peonage, because his victims did not owe him money.
And while he may have been guilty of slavery, in 1903 that was not a crime.
(Pete Daniel) It was a grayish area because there was a Thirteenth Amendment that abolished slavery, but there was never a statute passed to make you guilty of slavery, of holding somebody in slavery after the Civil War.
(narrator) Three months after the trial, in September 1903, President Roosevelt granted a pardon to the Cosbys.
Three years later, in 1906, he also pardoned John W. Pace.
Pace never went to prison, and the federal government turned a blind eye to the forced laborers he continued to hold on his farm.
(Risa Goluboff) The federal government really pulls back from doing these cases in a big way.
There was a lack of will to do what would be and proved to be very hard work of actually uprooting the tremendous systems of involuntary servitude that existed in the South.
I don't think the federal government had that political will.
(woman) My uncle was named Henry Malone.
He's my father's older brother.
This story happened somewhere around maybe 1910.
Henry was then just a young man.
Whatever it was that he did, the local sheriff came to my grandfather's place and they were looking for him, and my grandfather got my Uncle Henry to come and turn himself in.
He was sent away and he had to serve a year and a day.
We never got a chance to know the stories of why or what may have happened to him in that year and a day.
For all of my life and knowing my uncle, I don't think I ever saw him smile or be a happy man.
(narrator) In 1908, two years after the pardon of John Pace, another young man would be trapped in the shadow of slavery: 22-year old Green Cottenham.
(Douglas A. Blackmon) The world he entered as a man, just as the 20th century was beginning, was completely different in which already every Southern state had passed rafts of laws designed to circumscribe the lives of African Americans to limit their ability to work freely, to move freely, to make it almost impossible for them to live in true independence of the powerful whites, wherever it was that they lived.
(narrator) Green was arrested with others outside a train station in Columbiana, Alabama.
Within 24 hours, he'd been convicted of vagrancy.
He was sentenced to 3 months hard labor, and $38 in fines.
To pay the fine, the hard labor was extended to 6 months.
Green was sent to the Pratt Mines, which paid the county $12 a month for him.
It's important for us to now go back and re-examine that notion of what being a convict meant at the turn of the century.
Green Cottenham was just picked up, charged with vagrancy, which is a crime of no real import, but then thrown into this prison system.
Just because you put a label on someone as a convict or whatever your label is, that doesn't justify not treating them like human beings.
I'm the daughter of Meddy Cottenham, the oldest daughter of George Cottenham.
I didn't know that people could be just picked up and put in jail.
They could be lost in the system and nobody knew where to find them.
They could be buried at some grave somewhere and the family still looking for them, don't know where they are.
I didn't know that the sheriff department could sell free black people to corporation steel plants and coal mines.
It wasn't in the history books; we didn't know.
(narrator) Thirty years had passed, but except for the electric lights, Ezekiel Archey would have easily recognized the conditions Green Cottenham now faced.
Above ground though, Birmingham was becoming the region's largest industrial center.
The mine that leased Green's labor was now owned by the Northern-based U.S. Steel-- the largest corporation in the world.
[steam whistle blows] And a growing number of African Americans, nearly 2 million between 1910 and 1930, were moving out of the South.
(Pete Daniel) There were plenty of reasons for black people to get the hell out of the South.
Having to put up with the threat of lynching, with being grabbed off the street and put in jail and made to work, and every time you walked down the street, you had to be on your p's and q's so you wouldn't offend anybody.
(narrator) The North was erecting its own barriers to black achievement.
President Woodrow Wilson, elected in 1912, mandated Southern-style segregation throughout the federal government.
There's a kind of gentleman's agreement that's emerging during the Wilson administration that the federal government is not only going to look away at the practices of the South, but it's going to adopt those practices in relation to the ways in which it organizes its own affairs.
(narrator) Nearly 400,000 African Americans fought for democracy in World War One.
They returned to unprecedented racial hostility.
(Bernard Kinsey) It just gives you chills to think that someone could go and fight for their country and come back and have to fight for their very life because of one thing, because they are African American.
(narrator) A new generation of civil rights organizations had emerged.
Among them was the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, founded in 1909 by a group of activists, including W.E.B.
"We claim for ourselves every single right that belongs to a freeborn American, political, civil and social," Du Bois wrote.
"And until we get these rights we will never cease to protest and to assail the ears of America.
This battle we wage is not for ourselves but for all Americans."
Du Bois is very clear that the ways in which Jim Crow Laws, violence in the form of lynching, disenfranchisement, and overall discrediting, disrespect of black people's basic humanity, is something that has to be seen as a force that holds black people down.
(David Levering Lewis) This paradigm, the NAACP's was, there can be no negotiation for civil liberties; they must exist totally, fully, and immediately, more than a new narrative and a new voice, it also fielded a degree of litigious activism.
They are saying that there needs to be anti-lynching law.
They are saying that there needs to be reform of the justice system.
They are saying that labor laws and labor arrangements need to be reformed within the South.
And they're becoming increasingly effective in terms of doing that.
(narrator) By 1908, the year Green Cottenham was arrested, the South's use of prison labor was changing.
County governments continued to profit from renting convicts to private industry.
But growing numbers of states, in what was billed as reform, began to use prisoners on state-run enterprises.
Chained together, prisoners on road crews became an icon of the modernizing South.
Perversely, one of the biggest motivating factors behind the creation of the chain gangs were that Southerners all across the region were frustrated that the roads of the South were the most terrible imaginable roads in America.
The economy couldn't grow effectively, crops were lost in the fields, simply because the roads were so terrible.
The conditions for chain gang prisoners were equally horrific as they were for convict leased prisoners.
They were subject to the same modes of brutality, the same beatings, the same standards of meager health care, meager forms of shelter, clothing, food.
(narrator) Chain gangs continued deep into the 20th century, along with other forms of forced labor, including debt peonage and sharecropping.
(Mary Ellen Curtin) A sharecropper will agree to work for a percentage of the proceeds of the sale of the cotton crop.
Sharecroppers had to take out loans in order to survive and in order to bring the crop in during the year.
(Adam Green) 50%, 70%, 90% interest rates were not uncommon all throughout the South in relation to sharecropping finance of the basic necessities that they needed to get through the year.
So that system is going to put African Americans in a position where upward mobility is essentially impossible for most of them.
(narrator) Sharecropping also engulfed growing numbers of whites, including immigrants.
But without legal or political rights, black sharecroppers were especially vulnerable.
Millions of black people in remote parts of the South could not leave the farms they were being held on.
If they did, they were subject to arrest by the sheriff, and if they were arrested, they would then be returned to the very same farms, oftentimes in chains, receiving nothing.
Sharecropping is not slavery, but it did become, for an enormous population of people, forced labor.
(Sharon Malone) Families stayed intact, probably within a two mile radius of where they were born.
Mothers, fathers, cousins, grandparents, everybody stayed.
If you knew by the mere fact of leaving, exposed you to the danger of being caught up in this system, it made you stay.
You knew what would happen if you stepped off.
(woman) I grew up in Monticello, Georgia, which is a small town about 90 miles south of Atlanta.
My paternal grandmother was the daughter of John S. Williams.
He died long before I was born.
But I heard from my uncles, from my father, from people who knew him, that he was a wonderful man.
He was well-respected in the community.
(narrator) In 1921, almost 18 years after the peonage trials, federal investigators visited the Williams farm to follow up on reports that he was holding peons.
There's a group of black men out in the field.
The men are obviously terrified, unwilling to say almost anything.
They're emaciated; they clearly have been terrible abused.
John Williams suddenly appears.
He pleads that he didn't know this was against the law, that he'll do better, his intentions were good, very apologetic to these federal officials, and they leave.
And he doesn't know what they're going to do.
He knows they found evidence that he was holding these people in slavery.
He talks to his foreman, Clyde Manning and says, as the court transcript said, "We've got to do away with these boys."
The family story was that he had worked prisoners on his farm, that they were hardened criminals and they had been put in the penitentiary for a long time.
And one night, a lot of the prisoners tried to escape.
And he, along with other farmers who were working these men, tracked them down and in the process of recapturing them, killed some of them.
Then sometime later, the story came to light for me.
It was, of course, totally different from the story that I had heard.
(narrator) Williams and Manning, the black foreman, systematically hunted and murdered 11 black workers.
Some were bludgeoned; others were weighted down with chains and forced into a nearby river.
Another was made to dig his own grave.
They did it in the most horrific ways that you can imagine, [with much emotion] that I really can't talk about.
I get, I get, I just get um, so emotional when I think about-- not just the fact that these men were murdered, but the cruelty with which it was carried out.
Um, that's what hardest for me to imagine and hardest to accept.
It came to light only because a little boy was fishing down by the creek where they'd thrown some of the bodies, and one of the bodies came up.
(narrator) In the spring of 1921, Williams and Manning each faced an all-white jury, in a Georgia state court.
Both were found guilty and given life sentences.
Within a decade, both had died in prison.
Williams was the first Southern white man since 1877 to be indicted for the first-degree murder of an African American; it would not happen again until 1966.
The following year, an expose of peonage in Florida inflamed readers, because the victim, 22-year-old Martin Tabert, was white.
A traveler from North Dakota, Tabert was picked up in a sweep in rural Florida, charged with vagrancy, and sold to a lumber company.
He died soon after at the hands of a brutal overseer.
(Douglas A. Blackmon) First he whipped him on his bare back, 30 or 40 times.
Tabert then kept lying there, so the boss continued to whip him, another 30 or 40 times with a heavy leather lash.
Tabert crawled to his feet and the guard began pursuing him through the camp, whipping him as they ran.
Finally, after almost 150 lashes, Tabert made it back to the cot that he had in a simple cabin somewhere, collapsed into his bed and never stood up again.
(narrator) The outcry over Tabert's death helped to end state leasing in Florida.
Shortly after, in 1928, a similar case led Alabama to remove its last prisoners from the coal mines.
But these changes had little impact.
As late as 1930, roughly half of all African Americans, or 4.8 million people still lived in the Black Belt region of the South.
The vast majority were almost certainly trapped in some form of exploitative labor arrangement.
For those African Americans who remained in the South through the 1920's, 1930's, 1940's even, the conditions that they're facing are often desperate, and they find themselves more and more vulnerable if they try to rise up and create some sense of protest against the conditions that they face.
(narrator) In the fall of 1932, the United States underwent a profound political change, marked by the election of a new president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, a distant cousin of Theodore.
Much as Teddy Roosevelt was seen as something of an advocate for African Americans, Franklin Delano Roosevelt was a hundred times that.
African Americans are becoming an ever-increasingly important part of the democratic political coalition.
More African American's are moving North, they're joining unions, they're joining the NAACP in unprecedented numbers.
(Adam Green) African Americans who are involved in unions, members of churches, and African Americans who are publishing newspapers and magazines are all finding ways to bring their influence to bear on the federal government and saying do your job!
We're talking about constitutional rights here.
We're talking about citizens who are being abused here.
Do your job or don't expect our support.
[airplane engines roar; loud explosions] (narrator) In December 1941, the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor brought the United States into the Second World War.
[loud explosions] (Douglas A. Blackmon) President Roosevelt convened a meeting of the Cabinet at the White House to discuss preparations to fight this war against Japan and Germany.
The president asked what are the things that the Japanese are going to attack us for in the course of the war, that are problematic?
Someone said the treatment of the Negro.
(narrator) Months earlier, the Department of Justice had established a civil rights section, but its focus was on labor issues, not racial equality.
Now, the president asked his attorney general if this unit might be used to demonstrate a commitment to racial change.
And what stands at the intersection of African American rights and labor rights?
Peonage and involuntary servitude.
They can't just attack segregation head on during World War II, because they still need the white Southerners who are part of the democratic coalition.
But they did sincerely believe that these peonage cases were pretty bad and they required a response.
(woman) "Mrs. Roosevelt, I am a colored mother and I need your help."
(narrator) In the decades since the Pace trial, the federal government had paid little attention to the continued complaints of forced labor sent to the White House, the Department of Justice, and the NAACP.
(woman) "My boy answered an advertisement in our Post Paper for a job.
They are being guarded all night by armed guards and not allowed to write home.
Please don't send this letter back, because I'm afraid if they find out I've written to you, they'll kill my boy.
Nearly 80 years had passed since the United States ratified the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Now, in December 1941, President Roosevelt took steps to finally enforce it.
Just five days after Pearl Harbor, Roosevelt's attorney general issued Circular 3591.
It said that federal attorneys were to aggressively prosecute any case of involuntary servitude or slavery, not only those defined as peonage.
(Risa Goluboff) He says, whether they're being held there because of a threat of imprisonment or out of violence, whatever the mechanism is that is holding people in slavery, you should go after it.
And he says this is part of the war effort.
These cases are important because we need to make sure that African Americans feel like their rights are being taken care of.
(Douglas A. Blackmon) And within months, there was a prosecution underway of a man in Texas who had been holding an African American worker as a slave for almost 15 years.
He was convicted by a federal jury in 1942 and went to federal prison.
I mark that as the technical end of slavery in America.
(narrator) The records are incomplete, but it's estimated that in the 80 years following the Civil War, as many as 800,000 people had faced the South's corrupt system of justice.
Huge numbers of those arrested were forced into involuntary servitude.
Some, including Viola Cosley's son, Marion, found freedom.
On January 7, 1943, he enlisted as a private in the U.S. Army, one of more than 2.5 million African Americans who registered for service during the Second World War.
Green Cottenham, arrested in 1908, might have served in the First World War, But by the Second World War, he would have been in his 50s.
But Green never made it out of the Birmingham prison mines.
(Douglas A. Blackmon) We don't know the exact details of the life that he led in the stockade or underground.
But he survived 5 months before becoming ill.
He went to see the doctor on August the second, 1908 and never went back to the mine.
(narrator) Thirteen days later, Green Cottenham died.
He is among more than 9,000 prisoners known to have died while leased to industry by Southern states and counties.
(Tonya Groomes) We want to think of some of these atrocities as things that happened occasionally, but you can imagine the turmoil if at any time your child could be picked up, never to be seen again.
How that would impact a whole segment of people, how they view their opportunities and their future.
(narrator) In all likelihood his body was dumped somewhere in these fields outside the mine, where hundreds of other prisoners also lie buried.
(Tonya Groomes) This was real; these were real people, these were real lives, and they make us who we are.
What's fascinating about Green Cottenham is the fact that he isn't special.
He's not well-known, he's not a historical figure of importance, but that's part of the beauty.
He is representative of all of these nameless, faceless people who disappeared during this time frame, who were deemed to be of no value.
And then you realize that the value isn't in being necessarily important; we all have interesting stories, we all have a life story worth telling.
(Douglas A. Blackmon) At the end of the Civil War, there were 4 million freed slaves who lived in absolute poverty, uneducated, little access to opportunity.
We also know that there were an equal number of white Americans in the South, like members of my family, my ancestors, who were also impoverished, illiterate, no access to opportunity.
Over the next 75 years, American society performed a miracle of sorts.
Those 4 million whites living in those conditions became 40 million middle-class Americans by the beginning of World War II.
That's what made American society the extraordinary superpower that it is today.
All of that though, was done in a way that excluded African Americans, brutalized African Americans at the same time.
(Susan Burnore) When you see how people's lives were truly stolen from them, their freedom was taken away, their fathers or husbands were taken away, you can understand how the difficulties and the disparities would persist for much longer than it seems that they should have.
(Adam Green) Without the appreciation of this history, you descend into fantasies that black people don't deserve equal rights because black people constitutionally, intellectually, morally, are not the equals of whites-- period.
(Khalil Muhammad) We have to recognize that in these awful ghastly tales of the brutalization of black people in this country, the motivation for that was profit, from small landowners to major corporations.
And so at the end of the day, that part of this country's legacy is still with us.
(Tonya Groomes) When I think about Green Cottenham and what he went through, I think about a quote that comes to mind.
It says something like, "The arc of history is long, but it bends towards justice."
And even though Green Cottenham didn't get justice in his day, and that so many thousands of people who were just like Green didn't get their justice, maybe now, through the telling of this reality and this history, these individuals can receive some measure of justice.
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Visit PBS.org for exclusive videos, oral histories, and interactive time- line and map.
"Slavery by Another Name" is available on DVD.
The original book is also available.
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