This is a book by Douglas A. Blackmon that aims at revealing that slavery continues despite it being common knowledge that it ended during the civil war.
Blackmon takes closer focus on the Southern US and the lease system for convicts, which still provides black labor despite the outlaw of slavery. He analyses the history of the leasing of convicts, where he shares two extra forms of slavery even after the civil war. These are sharecropping and peonage.
Blackmon starts by sharing a flashback to a time when he used to be a Wall Street journalist. He says that he encounters multiple articles that analyzed how German corporations became wealthy from enslaving the Jews during the time of the Holocaust. He tries to find a link between these and the plight that twentieth-century African Americans were experiencing. He writes a price that exposes some corporations that used forced labor on black people after the war. The piece is received with many reactions, and this encourages him to make a book of his work.
Blackmon’s survey on historical events revolves around Green Cottenham’s life who was a young black man. Although the record of this man’s life is not complete, Blackmon realizes that the narratives had a powerful effect that led to questions being raised on how history is concealed and often constructed. Cottenham was the son of two free slaves. He faced a vagrancy charge, which was very commonly used to have black people imprisoned. Cottenham was sent to the mine to work where he died.
Blackmon uses the fate of Green to discuss slavery on the industrial level. This was used to make convicts slave labor in factories and mines. Even after the 13th amendment that saw all slaves freed, black laws were introduced, and they made it easy for black people to be imprisoned by using hefty fines that the people could not pay leading to them being leased as prisoners to mines as labor.
Some lawyers contested these black codes because they represented bondage through debt. They did not have much support. The system of convict leasing was removed at the start of WW2. Blackmon says she describes this resolution as a ploy to unify people to support their side of the war. In the final part of his book, Blackmon urges the readers to recognize that forced labor is a reality and that slavery can be encoded within the laws without being legalized by it.