by Robert Bell
'SLAVERY BY ANOTHER NAME'
7:30 p.m. Hendrix College. Free.
When it comes to the awful historical truths about our nation, you can’t always count on your high school history book to give it to you straight. Sometimes, you have to turn to comedians. Take Chris Rock and Louis C.K. — for my money, the two finest comic minds in America.
In a bit on Affirmative Action and the lingering effects of slavery, from his 2004 special "Never Scared," Rock said, "When I talk about slavery, I’m just talking about a period of time when black people had no rights. So you talk about the 1600s to about 1964, you know, give or take a year, depending on when your town decided to act right." Back in 2010, Louis C.K. talked to Jay Leno about the general lack of historical perspective when it comes to race relations in America. "I’ve heard educated white people say, 'Slavery was 400 years ago.' No, it very wasn’t. It was 140 years ago," he said. "That’s two 70-year-old ladies, living and dying back-to-back. That’s how recently you could buy a guy. And it’s not like slavery ended and then everything has been amazing."
Of course, there are a handful of good-old-fashioned, capital "J" Journalists who’ll bring to light the unpleasant, often neglected or whitewashed bits of our nation’s history. Hendrix alum Doug Blackmon did just that with his Pulitzer Prize-winning book "Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II." The book concerns those first several decades after slavery — when the owning and forced labor of human beings was illegal on paper, but continued across the south, affecting millions. In an interview on the Georgia Weekly public affairs TV show, Blackmon noted that it was "not until 1941 that the federal government finally takes an absolute position that when whites are holding blacks as slaves in the South, we will investigate and fully prosecute," he said. "That’s not the position of the federal government until 1941."
Blackmon first wrote for the Wall Street Journal in 2001 about black men in Alabama being arrested on bogus charges and then forced to work in coal mines in the early 20th century. He researched the subject for another seven years for his book, which has been made into a documentary that will air on PBS on Feb. 13. When he returns to his alma mater, Blackmon will discuss the book and screen portions of the film.