Today is Juneteenth, a commemoration of the day that word finally reached slaves in Galveston, Texas, that they were free. The announcement was made on June 19, 1865. The Emancipation Act had actually been signed on September 22, 1862, but slavery was so vital to the American economy — all American economy, not just the south — that the news was kept from slaves as long as possible. For that same reason of economics, federal and state laws were quickly enacted that continued legalized slavery until World War II.
SLAVERY BY ANOTHER NAME (Jan, 2008 Doubleday/Jan 2009 Anchor paperback) by Wall Street Jounal bureau chief Douglas A. Blackmon lays out the story so cogently that I had to read it in small sections to spare myself the tears, fury, and shame of knowing that my own state and nation conspired to arrest black men for things like walking along a railroad track, speaking loudly in a white person’s presence, not being able to produce proof of employment when stopped on the street, or changing employers without permission. Once arrested and found guilty by a kangaroo court, they were sentenced to hard labor in steel mills, mines, or to labor camps owned by states or the federal government. The awful truth that Blackmon asks us to look at is that until World War II, our country treated black citizens with the same terrible cruelty that Nazi Germany treated Jews.
On this day of celebrating the day when slaves learned they had been free for two years, I highly recommend Blackmon’s book for every American. We will never get past the poison of slavery in our society until we look squarely at it and acknowledge that it hurt every one of us. And still does.