From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. 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. (Mar.)
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“Shocking. . . . Eviscerates one of our schoolchildren's most basic assumptions: that slavery in America ended with the Civil War.”—The New York Times
“An astonishing book. . . . It will challenge and change your understanding of what we were as Americans-and of what we are.”—Chicago Tribune
“The genius of Blackmon's book is that it illuminates both the real human tragedy and the profoundly corrupting nature of the Old South slavery as it transformed to establish a New South social order.”—The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
“A formidably researched, powerfully written, wrenchingly detailed narrative.”—St. Louis Post-Dispatch