Last night I had the pleasure of sitting in on a lecture by Pulitzer prize-winning author Douglas Blackmon. He has written a book I will be putting near the top of my reading list: Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II.
He is a self-proclaimed “white guy from Mississippi who is…passionate about writing about black people.” Last night he told one fascinating story after another to DSC faculty and staff in Goodroe Auditorium beginning with his early youth of being the only one of few whites in an all black school. He went on to recount reasons for writing the book, expound historical context and reasons for slavery–hidden and otherwise– during the period from the Civil War to WWII, and expose the little known players in the slave trade. I also learned how vastly lucrative the slave trade was in terms of the number of “employees” it conscripted–voluntarily and involuntarily. There were lots of incidental businesses needed to support the venture. In fact, Mr. Blackmon cautioned those who may believe that their family never had slaves or supported slavery to be careful. The truth just may be the opposite.
The author doesn’t believe in writing and talking about race just to relive the pain and horror of that period but, rather, to realize that our history is a connected and complex history in which all of the pieces must be given their due and their view and to reconcile them with who we are individually and collectively.
That part of our history is an ugly part, but it is a part nonetheless. It doesn’t define us; it just is what it is.