Moved Back Again Toward Slavery

The Transformational Agenda Magazine 26th Edition

400 Years in Seven Movements
The FOURTH Movement

Moved Back Again Toward Slavery

Montgomery’s criminal justice system was used as a tool of racial control and separation, and broad laws prohibiting “vagrancy” and “disorderly conduct” brought black residents into frequent contact with law enforcement. The city’s vagrancy ordinance made it “unlawful for any person to loaf, loiter, or idle upon any street or public place of the City of Montgomery.” The punishment for vagrancy included a fine up to $500 and hard labor for up to twelve months. These laws, as in the other southern states, were enforced almost exclusively against African Americans.

While African Americans ensnared in the criminal justice system initially provided forced inmate labor for the city, over time this system grew into the convict lease system. Under convict leasing, black citizens convicted in local courts were brought under the control of private employers. The brutal convict leasing system continued to evolve over the years, ensnaring thousands of black Alabamians.

In most Southern states, like in Alabama, after a brief period of federally led Reconstruction, local white residents used violent attacks to suppress pro-civil rights votes by terrorizing black voters and their white supporters. As a result, Southern state governments gradually returned to the control of Democratic “Redeemers” intent on restoring racial hierarchy. The last federal troops were withdrawn from the South in April 1877, and with them went the promise of the freedmen’s new civil rights as Confederate veterans and their supporters returned to power in the South. As W.E.B. Du Bois would later write, the potential of emancipation had not been realized: “The slave went free, stood a brief moment in the sun, then moved back again toward slavery.”

The Transformational Agenda Magazine 26th Edition

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