What a shocker! Though I shouldn’t be surprised. Like most Americans, I daydreamed my way through the classes that used to be called Civics. History of the US, its laws and the structure of its government. There’s no excuse for my ignorance except childish boredom and adult laziness.
There’s an upsurge lately in articles about slavery, thanks to two movies: Django Unchained, and Lincoln. The article on this morning’s Alternet grabbed me and I forgot everything else. The South’s Shocking Hidden History: Thousands of Blacks Forced Into Slavery Until WW2
“This is not an easy story for Americans to receive, much less accept. The idea that not just civil rights but basic freedom itself was denied to an enormous population of African Americans until the middle of the twentieth century fits nowhere in the triumphalist, steady-progress, greatest-generations accounts we prefer for our national narrative. That the thrilling events depicted in Steven Spielberg’s recent film Lincoln—the heroic, frenzied campaign by Abraham Lincoln leading to passage of the Thirteenth Amendment abolishing slavery—were in fact later trumped not just by discrimination and segregation but by the resurrection of a full-blown derivative of slavery itself.
“This story of re-enslavement is irrefutably true, however. Indeed, even as Spielberg’s film conveys the euphoria felt by African Americans and all opposed to slavery upon passage of the amendment in 1865, it also unintentionally foreshadows the demise of that brighter future. On the night of the amendment’s passage in the film, the African American housekeeper and, as presented in the film, secret lover of the abolitionist Congressman Thaddeus Stevens, played by the actress S. Epatha Merkerson, reads the amendment aloud. First, the sweeping banishment of slavery. And then, an often overlooked but powerful prepositional phrase: ‘except as a punishment for crime.’”
What does all this have to do with writing? Well, aside from my growing dedication to revealing the evils of slavery, it affects my still-unfinished novel, The Warden. The major premise of the book is that slavery has been instituted on an experimental basis, in just one state, as punishment for criminals who are three-time losers. I explain that a law had to be passed in order for this to happen. Now I know that such a law has always existed.
The potential for legal slavery has always existed in the United States. What circumstances might bring it back from the underground where it now exists? We are moving toward a chaotic future in which our ideas of freedom are already being overturned by government actions. What’s next?