published Thursday, April 7th, 2011

Cleaveland: Why the Civil War didn’t end slavery

April 12 marks the 150th anniversary of the shelling of Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor. This launched our Civil War, which would kill more than 600,000 on the two sides. More than half the deaths resulted from disease. The death rate was higher in the Confederate States due to more primitive medical care. The war devastated the economy of the South for decades. Political and emotional wounds from the conflict continue to fester.

As this grim anniversary approaches, some commemorations have been launched that portray the Civil War as solely about states’ rights. Last year, secession balls were held in some Southern states to celebrate the splitting of the union. The Civil War was about slavery, the greatest moral blot on our nation’s history.

Tragically, slavery did not end with the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 nor with the end of the War in 1865. During the period of Reconstruction, when federal law protected the rights of freed slaves, racial violence was constrained. Upon the withdrawal of Federal troops after 1876, however, many white Southerners blamed former slaves for the harsh economic conditions in the region.

From 1877 until well after World War II, Southern states did little to protect blacks from forms of re-enslavement. Full rights for blacks would await passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Douglas Blackmon, an investigative reporter for the Wall Street Journal, won a 2009 Pulitzer Prize for “Slavery By Another Name: the Re-Enslavement of Black Americans From the Civil War to World War II.” In a meticulously researched and powerfully presented narrative Blackmon illuminates a history of which most of us are unaware.

In states of the Deep South young black men and women were rounded up for a variety of minor charges — gambling, vagrancy, relocating without permission — and sentenced to county jails. Sheriffs and other officials then sold or leased the prisoners to white owners of mines, saw-mills, farms and factories. Prisoners were transferred from jails to wretched quarters which were the American equivalent of Nazi concentration camps.

The inmates worked in dangerous circumstances during the day. Fed meager rations, they were chained in bunk-houses at night. Short sentences would be extended by tacking on days to pay for room and board. Minor infractions led to extended sentences, sometimes for years, if a prisoner could survive horrendous conditions. Beatings, torture, and even execution occurred at the hands of sadistic white guards. Victims had no legal redress. When they died, their bodies were tossed into unmarked graves. They simply disappeared.

Courts seldom intervened. White juries routinely acquitted mill and mine owners accused of mistreating their forced laborers. In Alabama, where many of the worst atrocities occurred, a U.S. Attorney, Warren Reece, fought to bring abusers to justice in 1903. Politicians toured the state to whip up racial hatred. Witnesses for the prosecution were intimidated into silence. Judges either dismissed cases or handed down trivial sentences, which were often reversed on appeal. Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and his successors did little to end this revised version of slavery.

Forced labor created fortunes for some white business owners in Birmingham, Atlanta and other Southern cities. Cotton plantations flourished and national corporations such as U.S. Steel benefited from cheap, slave labor.

Slowly, pressure from labor unions, exposes in Northern newspapers, and humanitarian organizations brought an end to post-Civil War slavery. Chain gangs and tenant farm systems would continue for decades to exploit descendants of slaves.

This is a heart-breaking but necessary account for all Americans, particularly residents of Southern states to read and to ponder. Author Douglas Blackmon sets a painful history straight.

Email Clif Cleaveland at

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jer168 said...

There were many reasons for this tragic war. Slavery was only part of the fabric. 300,000 white men from the South died in this war. Only 8% owned slaves. To think that 92% of the men were fighting & dying so that the 8% could keep slaves is ludicrous. Robert E Lee freed his slaves before the war began, believing slavery was wrong. Though Mr Cleaveland mentions the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863, he fails to mention that Lincoln had this apply only to slaves in the Southern states he was fighting, It did not apply to slaves in the states that were part of the union.

April 7, 2011 at 7:56 a.m.
librul said...

Mr. Cleaveland and many others are either oblivious to or are deliberately suppressing the fact that many thousands of southern slaves willingly fought on the side of the Confederacy alongside their masters. In reality, the fierce debate about southern slavery was fueled more by the "free soil" movement which would deny slaveholders the right to take their slaves into the western territories, newly opened by virtue of the American holocaust against the Native Americans of the plains.

"The whole nation is interested that the best use shall be made of these territories. We want them to be homes of free white people. This they cannot be, to any considerable extent, if slavery shall be planted within them. Slave states are places for poor white people to remove from, not remove to. New free states are the places for poor people to go to, and better their condition. For this the nation needs these territories." - Abraham Lincoln, abominable racist and tool of the robber barons, from a speech in Peoria, IL in 1860.

"[Until my visit to the South] I had never met men in whom hope, energy, and courage to all outward appearance seemed so utterly extinguished. They are a very different specimen of humanity known as the mean white man, the poor buckra, in the Southern states... the poor, shiftless, lazy, uninstructed, cowed non-slaveholder of the South... because three quarters of the South's white population retire to the outskirts of civilization, where they live a semi- savage life, sinking deeper and more hopelessly into barbarism with every succeeding generation. They are depressed, poor, impoverished, degraded in caste, because labor is disgraceful.... In the slaveholding states, there is no middle class. Great wealth or hopeless poverty is the settled condition." Cincinnati Gazette, 1856.

A lesson to us today since millions are being forced into the same hopeless condition through Republican attempts to destroy the middle class.

April 7, 2011 at 9:03 a.m.
LibDem said...

It is as ludicrous to believe that the "8%" did not use the "92%" to protect their holdings as it is to believe that "...many thousands of southern slaves willingly fought..." to remain slaves. Today, however, the wealthy would NEVER use us to protect their riches...right?

April 7, 2011 at 9:30 a.m.
chet123 said...


April 7, 2011 at 9:45 a.m.
chet123 said... are correct!! the elite still use the poor

April 7, 2011 at 9:47 a.m.
chet123 said...

but they would not place guns in their hands LOL LOL

April 7, 2011 at 9:48 a.m.
rolando said...

librul, those millions are already in a slave-like condition and mentality through the Democrats' successful programs -- starting with LBJ's Great Society -- intended to make our poor hopelessly dependent on government handouts.

Their policies have all but destroyed the American Black Nucleus Family as surely as Lincoln did and are slowly wiping them out -- committing genocide -- through abortion on demand. [Over 50% of all Black babies are killed in the womb. Deliberately.]

April 7, 2011 at 9:48 a.m.
Livn4life said...

Wow interesting to see the same old argument at the end from some people on here. It's all the Republicans' fault. SHOW ME ANYTHING OF SUBSTANCE THE DEMOCRATS ARE DOING TO HELP THE MIDDLE CLASS! But the rhetoric goes on. It urks me that too many think only of slavery in regards to the war between the states. It was about much, much more than that even though slavery was beyond hideous. We are seldom reminded of states up north which benefitted from southern slavery. Might as well not mention that was part of the problem. My family, which arrived in the early 1800s, were part of the 92% who never owned slaves and barely survived themselves. While it is most often we southerners who act as if the Civil War is still going on, it does not help when outsiders chime in often not knowing the whole story or ignoring all but what makes their point.

April 7, 2011 at 9:50 a.m.
chet123 said...

did you know the black soldier won the war...they were the tipping scale...northern soldier morale was low.....about one third union soldier were black...and they kicked butts

April 7, 2011 at 9:50 a.m.
chet123 said...

livn4life...what people like you fail to mention is rep.congress lead by newt ginghch,..push for nafta

April 7, 2011 at 9:53 a.m.
chet123 said...

we sent our jobs over seas...and nothing is said about it...that why i say american people are really stupid

April 7, 2011 at 9:55 a.m.
chet123 said...

guess you will take off running like a rabbit

April 7, 2011 at 9:55 a.m.
chet123 said... labor over seas.....max profits for corporate....american took lol

April 7, 2011 at 9:57 a.m.
Salsa said...

Interesting that the article doesn't mention that slavery continued in quite a few northern states for many years after the slaves there were allegedly freed by law. It is documented that New Jersey had slaveholders until 1865. In the 1860's Fernando Wood, mayor of New York City, wanted the city to secede from the Union and declare status as a "free city" in order to continue making money off of the cotton/slave industry. I guess its true, the winners write the history books.

April 7, 2011 at 9:59 a.m.
chet123 said...

same principle during labor cost...max profit.... except it will be white slaves(indenture servants)

April 7, 2011 at 10:02 a.m.
chet123 said...

SALSA you sound like your attitude is THEY DID IT TOOOO!

April 7, 2011 at 10:04 a.m.
chet123 said...

american people love a liar

April 7, 2011 at 10:06 a.m.
chet123 said...

hope you dont take off running like a scare rabbit....standup and defend your position!!

April 7, 2011 at 10:08 a.m.
chet123 said...

be accurate......and not personal fellows

April 7, 2011 at 10:09 a.m.
chet123 said...

before i came in opinion room...i remain silence...i read all writng...and it was a lot of writing that was subject to poke holes in...waste of ink......but this is only opinion!...i like facts....the slave children were around until late 60's ...some lived passed 100yrs old....i met many....i had in my family ex-slaves which was still alive in the 60's..we got first hand history.....

April 7, 2011 at 10:19 a.m.
chet123 said...

the whole world see these comments......and if we show cowardness that is really bad

April 7, 2011 at 10:21 a.m.
chet123 said...

see rabbits are in chattanooga tennessee

April 7, 2011 at 10:22 a.m.
chet123 said...

this the problem....the people in this conversation...will call in on their favorite talk radio shows and cant stop talking, they go to barber shops and speaks their opinion robustly,they talk like they have all solutions in churches and pulpit....but when face one on one...looking each other in eyes...they runs like scary rabbits...that my experience!!

April 7, 2011 at 10:32 a.m.
chet123 said...

cant deal with the truth

April 7, 2011 at 10:33 a.m.
chet123 said...

its really would be a great script for jay leno.....they just take off and run like rabbits....

April 7, 2011 at 10:36 a.m.
chet123 said...

i will make my statement and stand by it...the issue of slavery was the sole reason(not one of the reason) for the civil war....... and if did had been decided at the ballot we would still have slavery....THANK GOD FOR LINCOLN

April 7, 2011 at 10:44 a.m.
LibDem said...

Salsa, I can sympathize with your argument. It is OK for me to beat my wife as long as there's a guy in New Jersey who does so.

Read South Carolina's "Declaration of the Immediate Causes..." for secession (December 24, 1860). It is a lengthy discussion of ...wait for it...slavery. New Jersey and New York are among the States singled out for their offenses against the slave holding States of the South.

April 7, 2011 at 10:50 a.m.
chet123 said...


April 7, 2011 at 10:59 a.m.
chet123 said...

But your book may be a good book; however, i'ld love to know something about your source,any body can writes lies and reversion

April 7, 2011 at 11:04 a.m.
chet123 said...


April 7, 2011 at 11:12 a.m.
LibDem said...

"In the end, the War for Southern Independence was about state's rights."

I don't think anyone disputes this. It's a State's right to do what that was in question.

April 7, 2011 at 1:35 p.m.
Leaf said...

Does anyone REALLY think the Civil war wasn't about slavery? Come on, now. That's just silly. I know what I was taught in SC schools, and even in the fifth grade it sounded false to me. What, you think people are incapable of lying to cover up their shame? Well then, you are incredibly naive.

April 7, 2011 at 2:26 p.m.
dao1980 said...

Is it not possible that the Civil war was fought for more than one reason?

I had always understood that the issue of slavery was a very, very large straw broke the camel's back.

The debate was made much more heated as we began to settle further west.

Can anyone recall from their history classes the meaning of the phrase "bleeding Kansas"?

That being said, slavery was not the only reason that the north and the south of our country were having so much trouble sorting out their social and economical differences.

To suggest that the Civil war was about one single issue, would be the same as saying that all of World War one was fought ONLY due to the assassination of Franz Ferdinand.

April 7, 2011 at 2:56 p.m.
goldie said...

INDIAN, I,ve have look at some of your comments with chet123 and mr. mad hot dog and who ever you think is BLACK,your the worst kind of racist, the kind that will say I HAVE A LOT OF BLACK FRIENDS or sit at the break table at work with all the blacks, then go on the carpet and throw all the blacks under the bus,telling people to shut up or he,s a black man that needs attention, the facts are your a racist that can,t stand the truth,and when you hear the truth you will sneak a jab in, you see your the kind of racist that won,t enter into a full debate with two feet,lots of people of color wanted to say what i just said, most people that comment you know their poition on race, get off the fence, i tell you what i will push you on the side you belong,the tea partie side!now i can go back to work knowing i have expose you, so get back on your cheap walmart computer and let the bloggers know the real truth about you, which is???

April 7, 2011 at 3:26 p.m.
chet123 said...

AMEN TO THAT,it sadden me to see the heart of people through computer.....and when they quote some book that was wriiten by some white guy who probably is racist himself and quote it like it the word of if you wont tell the truth now with the deficit, which started under george bush as you were cheering and waving flags,as he cooked the books...and the last week of his presidency he suddenly discover the country was broke...and goes I boo booooo! No money!....Obama have had to be the clean-up man behind bush and chaney (halliburton).....and those tea-party(embaress republican too shame to admit they are republican)...going back to slavery...who dumb enoght to beleive a reversionist

April 7, 2011 at 3:42 p.m.
chet123 said...

every room i go into....commenters run out like a scare rabbit....i'm telling that people are watching your behavior...all over the world....gown men and women behavioring like can the president perform with people behavioring like this...or how can this country be bless with so much hate....i am assuming these are old people im talking to..pitiful...the 50's and slavery times are not that far from us when i see this type of jim crow behavior....i think a section of the south have a spiriual problem....behavior like this is prevalent in the bible belt of the south(what that tell you about the southern church)....not the teaching of christ...just church goer...i would love to have an hour with a southern baptist pastor

April 7, 2011 at 3:54 p.m.
chet123 said...

libdem...dont make youself look foolish STATE RIGHTS...STATE RIGHTS, STATE RIGHTS,STATE RIGHTS TO OWN OTHER HUMAN BEING and work them for your own lazy, greedy, butt while the southern church i.e. southern baptist and other condone burtal act of bondage....and you dress it up as STATE RIGHT(take the term EUPHEMISM to another level)...boy if thats not twisting the truth to make HIMSELF feel better would even be an issue if you state it was wrong...and the south was people are forgiving people...stop celebrating a lie...saying stupid stuff like it our heritage...or way of life...doggun it.. NAZI GERMANY can say the same thing regarding the holoucaust...our heritage,....that dont make it right...can you see that for GOD SAKE!!!...What are these churches teaching you on sunday....they need to stay out of the old testament and revelation....and study the gospel...thats the teaching of Jesus Christ....if they lock in to old testament maybe they need to convert to muslim...or judaism..or better yet atheism....because those religion have moral behavior...and dont just worship man(ron reagan)and money

April 7, 2011 at 4:30 p.m.
asha said...

doa1980, how many names do you really have? i would like to meet you but i know your not my type lol i keep telling people in the office that libdem... is really dao1980 and many more! wow you got them fool, i bet if the probation officer come pick you up for that date line nbc thing, it would not be 5 post all day

April 7, 2011 at 4:48 p.m.
asha said...

you cant flag them all lol game over chet123 knows the truth about dao1980 your i 1 man gang

April 7, 2011 at 4:54 p.m.
asha said...

super dog is coming look up in the sky is that a plane or a bird no thats super dog lol

April 7, 2011 at 4:59 p.m.
asha said...

when i get home will make up 10 name just like you dao1980 ok let me go so i can fight this Atlanta traffic!!

April 7, 2011 at 5:03 p.m.
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