The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

Culture Corner:
The Making of Black Revolutionaries, Film:
Slavery by Another Name

Jan 15, 2024

Book: The Making of Black Revolutionaries by James Forman, 1972

This incredible autobiography encompasses three momentous decades. It starts with Forman’s youth in rural America in the 1940s, the impact of WWII, describes his experience moving to Chicago, and then details his participation in the Civil Rights movement in the 50s and 60s. He does not glamorize his experiences. You hear his excitement as well as his frustration with the efforts to overturn a racist society. Forman talks of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the conflict between young and old in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, SNCC, and the NAACP, the debates about the strategies of non-violence versus the efforts at self-defense, and the life-and-death battles they faced. His descriptions are so vivid that you feel you are living them with him. Even though incredible victories were won, he faces the fact that racism was not defeated. His life’s work points the way to battles for another day.

Film: Slavery by Another Name, a 2012 documentary

This documentary, based on the book by Douglas Blackmon, Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War up to World War II, describes how different forms of slavery continued for nearly 100 years after the Civil War. The director Sam Pollard (who also directed Eyes on the Prize) uses personal narratives to give us a window into the criminalization of black life. As a result of the Civil War, slavery was outlawed. But the Southern ruling class still used the labor of Black people practically for free. Old letters are used in the movie to show how laws were used to arrest men on trumped-up charges. The main victims were Black men. Their labor was then sold by the legal system to mine owners, factory owners, and big farmers, essentially putting them back into slavery.

The movie also uses narratives that expose how peonage or debt was used to keep the “debtor” in bondage for life, whether for court-sanctioned “debts” or with sharecroppers, paying forever on debts they took to keep their farms. Of course, the debt never became smaller.

The film demonstrates how black and white people were kept poor and demonized. Our future must shake off this terrible crippling legacy.