4

Slavery by Another Name in Florida

^
Keep New Times Free
I Support
  • Local
  • Community
  • Journalism
  • logo

Support the independent voice of South Florida and help keep the future of New Times free.

Last year, when Gov. Rick Scott and his cabinet enacted an archaic ban on the voting rights of ex-felons, supporters called the ban colorblind. They said making nonviolent felons wait five years after completing their sentences to apply for the right to vote again had nothing to do with Florida's ugly history of suppressing African-American voters.

Well, a PBS documentary that aired last night begs to differ. Slavery by Another Name documents with chilling precision the South's history of arresting African-Americans for petty crimes such as vagrancy and then forcing them, without a trial, into years of hard labor. Such convict-leasing programs lasted 80 years after the Civil War, until the 1940s.

In Florida, African-Americans were forced to work in turpentine camps, on railroads, and in lumber yards. In the 1880s, it was illegal for an African-American man to change

employers without permission. White bosses would say their "employees" owed them money, then make them work off the debt indefinitely. This system, called debt peonage, worked hand in hand with convict leasing to keep African-Americans enslaved. Interestingly, it wasn't until a white man, arrested for vagrancy, was whipped to death in a Florida lumber camp that the state finally outlawed convict leasing.

Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning book by Douglas Blackmon, Slavery by Another Name calls into question long-held assumptions about when slavery actually ended in this country. It also illustrates how seemingly colorblind laws, such as Florida's 1868 felon voting ban, were used to restrict the freedom of African-Americans.

Since African-Americans at the time were being arrested by the thousands, sent to work camps, and labeled felons for alleged crimes such as bigamy, the felon ban was very effective in keeping them from voting.

"It was used to target and weaken voting rights for blacks," Lance deHaven-Smith, professor of public administration at Florida State University, told New Times last year. "And that is what they're doing with it today."

Keep New Times Broward-Palm Beach Free... Since we started New Times Broward-Palm Beach, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of South Florida, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering South Florida with no paywalls.

We use cookies to collect and analyze information on site performance and usage, and to enhance and customize content and advertisements. By clicking 'X' or continuing to use the site, you agree to allow cookies to be placed. To find out more, visit our cookies policy and our privacy policy.

 

Join the New Times community and help support independent local journalism in South Florida.

 

Join the New Times community and help support independent local journalism in South Florida.