Monday, February 25, 2013

Lincoln only freed some of the slaves

We congratulate Daniel Day-Lewis for his Academy Award as Best Actor in Lincoln.

We have a teensy problem with the screenplay, though. It would have you think that the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution abolished slavery forever. The Lincoln character, for example, says:
Abolishing slavery by Constitutional provision settles the fate for all coming time. 
Well, no.

He also says:
We must cure ourselves of slavery. This amendment is that cure. 
Not quite.

And this:
The fate of human dignity (is) in our hands. 
If only it were so.

Slavery continued in the Deep South well after the Civil War. Douglas A. Blackmon exposed the re-enslavement of Americans two years ago in his book "Slavery By Another Name." According to Publisher's Weekly,
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. 
There are still millions of slaves in the world. Anti-Slavery International estimates there are 27 million slaves and 200 million people who live in some sort of bondage.

Some are even in the United States. Last year we learned about 40 Mexican guestworkers "employed" by a Wal-Mart supplier, C.J.'s Seafood. They worked as long as 24 hours straight without overtime. They were forced to pay $45 a week to live in vermin-infested trailers with no air conditioning.

There is debt bondage, there's prison labor, there's sex trafficking, there's locking up janitors at night in Target stores.

Sadly, the fate of human dignity was only partially in Old Abe's hands. He did what he could, but there is still much, much more to be done.