First, let me acknowledge how difficult this book was for me to read. It was emotionally wrenching and Blackmon painstakingly filled each page with names and scenarios of the most cruelest brutalities…because he delved so deep into the research I found myself wanting to honor the men and women and children he had given name to by absorbing and reflecting as much as I could handle until I completed the book.
Have you ever experienced an understanding so vivid that you have difficulty even breathing? The continuum of Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome (widespread physical and psychic devastion and how it collectively effects the whole group) was laid before me and how the discrepancies and injustices present in our justice system just kept running rampant in my mind. I know we sometimes do not want to acknowledge how oppression has operated in our past and present and we want to isolate occurrences as if they have no history, and even when we do, we speak in generalized speech. Blackmon names names and ties those name to present wealth of today’s companies. He does so by researching legal, prison, and company documents and presenting details in a narrative form.
After making the connections to how many individuals and corporations gained wealth at the expense of unjust prison labor system that randomly subjugated Black men, women and children to enslavement and continued risk of brutal death, Blackmon even reached out to present-day corporations to enlighten them on how their companies were built on the backs and lives of unjust prison slavery that lasted well into the 20th century.
The book begins with the search for the details of the life of one person, Green Cottenham, who was killed in a prison camp while still a young man in his 20s. The search leads the reader through the lives of others on both sides of this horrendous practice with the revelation of how widespread this practice was across the South and how later on it was sustained by industrialists of the North and how the Department of Justice handled (or not) the investigations of the practice. He eventually takes us to his attempts to connect with Cottenham’s living descendants and personalizing his work by connecting it to his interest from when he was a 12 year-old child in Louisiana.
I was going to add The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander to my reading list, but I’m needing some firmer grounding and renewal, so I’m going to concentrate on completing Lion’s Blood and a book I started on jazz and visual arts.