Brent Aucoin lectured on “Racial Slavery in America After Emancipation” in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
The Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (SEBTS) L. Russ Bush Center for Faith and Culture sponsored the luncheon for Ph.D. students on Jan. 21.
Aucoin reflected upon the African-American experience in America after 1865 with the intention of creating a greater awareness of what injustices African-Americans endured after the Civil War.
Several forms of slavery came after the Civil War yet, “Slavery was not supposed to survive the Civil War,” Aucoin stated. He explored how and why these injustices occurred.
As Republicans successfully fought to free slaves, for a time, African-Americans had unhindered, equal access and were registered voters in the south. While, white, southern Democrats sought to return the South to its former status of white supremacy through election fraud, intimidation and violence.
The 13th Amendment provided some legal protection but practices such as segregation soon became law. Aucoin expounded upon three injustices against African-Americans.
The convict leasing system, where the government rents or leases its prisoners to private individuals or companies. The government would be paid for the prisoner’s labor. “This was arguably worse than slavery,” Aucoin said.
Workers experienced horrible working conditions from draining swamps to turpentine mills. Approximately one out of every four convicts died before their sentence was complete. From 1885 to 1925, about 10,000 individuals died in the South’s convict leasing systems.
Another practice was debt peonage, which ensnared a significant number of African-Americans in a slave-like system because of their debt. Individuals paid their rent by giving the landowner a share of their crop, half of their harvest. Workers were forced to purchase necessities such as seed and clothing on credit. Sharecropping debt required that an individual work on the land until their debt was paid. One-third of all adult African-Americans in the South between the 1880s and 1930s were caught in debt peonage at some point during this period.
Furthermore, forced labor, a system of involuntary servitude, was a form of racial slavery not commonly known. African-Americans were arrested on real or trumped up charges and if they could not pay the fine were sentenced to forced labor or the chain gang.
Landowners would often pay the debt for the person and individuals were often threatened to accept the work option where they are forced to live on the land and are unable to leave. This practice could last for years.
Approximately 100,000 to 200,000 African-Americans were victims to forced labor. Typically, this was present in rural areas of the deep South throughout much of the 20th century.
Aucoin shared the stories of African-American victims and those who attempted to help in the situation. For example, Judge Jones was committed to working towards justice for African-Americans that endured forced labor.
“We must not only remember that the African-American community had to contend with the degrading practice of racial segregation, the powerless of disenfranchisement, the haunting specter of lynching and racial violence but also the fact that some African-Americans emerged from circumstances in which family members were enslaved,” Aucoin said. “Not only were they robbed of their labor and but in many cases of their very lives.”
Compared to the nations of the world, Aucoin believes that the United States stands out in a positive light on an aspect of post-slavery. “Of all the countries to end slavery in world history, none did more than America to help former slaves make transition to freedom and citizenship,” Aucoin said.
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The mission of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary is to glorify the Lord Jesus Christ by equipping students to serve the church and fulfill the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20). Southeastern is an institution of higher learning and a Cooperate Program ministry of the Southern Baptist Convention.