Friday, September 25, 2009

Douglas Blackmon program was great

The presentation by 2009 Pulitzer Prize-winning author Douglas Blackmon at the main branch of the Library last night (Thursday) was well-attended and well-received.

Blackmon is the author of Slavery By Another Name, which addressed the neo-slavery that took place in the South from about 1880 to 1940. I had a chance to talk with him before the talk and found him to be an interesting and insightful man. He was introduced by his father, who now lives in Rensselaer County, NY.

In his talk, Douglas addressed the curiosity and compulsion about the injustices of growing up in the Deep South in the 1960s and 1970s that made him locally notorious and that ultimately led to this book.

From the Publishers Weekly review of the hardcover book:
Wall Street Journal bureau chief Blackmon gives a groundbreaking and disturbing account of a sordid chapter in American history—the lease (essentially the sale) of convicts to commercial interests between the end of the 19th century and well into the 20th. Usually, the criminal offense was loosely defined vagrancy or even changing employers without permission. The initial sentence was brutal enough; the actual penalty, reserved almost exclusively for black men, was a form of slavery in one of hundreds of forced labor camps operated by state and county governments, large corporations, small time entrepreneurs and provincial farmers. Into this history, Blackmon weaves the story of Green Cottenham, who was charged with riding a freight train without a ticket, in 1908 and was sentenced to three months of hard labor for Tennessee Coal, Iron & Railroad, a subsidiary of U.S. Steel. Cottenham's sentence was extended an additional three months and six days because he was unable to pay fines then leveraged on criminals. Blackmon's book reveals in devastating detail the legal and commercial forces that created this neoslavery along with deeply moving and totally appalling personal testimonies of survivors. Every incident in this book is true, he writes; one wishes it were not so.

The Book House sold a number of copies last evening, which the author graciously signed. I just started reading it, but based on that and the talk, I am highly recommending it.

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