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.
Amazon link to Slavery by Another Name
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.
This has to be the shortest novel that Toni Morrison has ever published at 167 pages. After just completing my first read of it, I’m wondering if the shortness of it had to do more with Morrison rushing it to print for contractual reasons. Let me explain further. Just short of reaching the middle, the writing read more like very well written and sophisticated character sketches. I was feeling a sense of being let down. The feelings of intensity and gripping edge anticipation of the story unfolding or the actions and thoughts of the characters just wasn’t there for me.
A little past midway of the book I begin to see the characters in physical form, performing monologues on a stage. The stage props minimum, their voices slow (except for Mistress) and resounding reaching into the heart of the audience. Could Ms Morrison have experienced some afterglow from Beloved being performed as an opera and this was intended to be a stage performance of which she adpated into novel form?
By the end of the book, I thought what a straight-forward story…that is until the end, the last chapter when the mother (minha mae) of Sorrow speaks. The preceding chapters minha mae only speaks through the remembrance of her daughter, the one who is called Sorrow. Bringing the presence of Spirit as a guiding force, the mother speaks in her own voice and ties the knot with the opening chapter.
It was in the end chapter that I came across the line that made the reading the most integrated and encompassing for me: To be female in this place is to be an open wound that cannot heal. Haunting, isn’t it? At least it is for me. The line that comes after, reads, Even if scars form, the festering is ever below.
Memory. No one uses it better as a literary device than Ms Morrison! That always trying to recall and make sense of our world is where Toni Morrison reaches out to me and keeps me wanting to dig deeper and know what it is I don’t know…what it is she is trying to help me know and ponder further. If only I could make this happen with my quilts?!
Another aspect of the book I really enjoyed is how she made the american landscape more real to me…the american landscape prior to america becoming America…when it was still territoriesand the dominion of overseas governments and the determined as much by the wilderness of what was untamed. It was the first time I read a novel that made that historical period come alive as much as it did for me.
I would recommend reading this book as a companion to the 2 previous books I wrote about in the posts below.