Another Layer of the Veil Lifted: Laurence Fishburne’s PBS Documentary

by H. Lewis Smith

Laurence Fishburne - Narrator

Laurence Fishburne will be the narrator of an upcoming PBS documentary about black workers in the post-slavery South. The film, titled “Slavery by Another Name,” is based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning book by Douglas A. Blackmon. Blackmon’s composition is a powerful account of how America surreptitiously maintained slavery under the guise of peonage and forced labor from 1863 to the 1960s.

The narrative brings to light one of the darkest and most shameful moments in American history, exposing the awful truth about the interminable abuse of power and continued post-slavery exploitation of racial subjugation deep into the 20th century: White America was fraught with the idea of blacks being treated and accepted as whole, equal human beings, so, they continued to treat them as limited 3/5 sub-humans/n**gas. The report will debut February 13, 2012, on public TV stations nationwide.

Blatant and defying scum-of-the-earth criminals exploited legal loopholes and federal policies that discouraged prosecution of whites for continuing to hold black workers against their will. In this post-slavery era, the victimized African Americans were treated with barbarous inhumanity: they were overworked, underfed, wretchedly clad and lodged, and had insufficient sleep. They were often made to wear iron collars armed with prongs around their necks and gags in their mouths for hours or days; drag heavy chains and weights at their feet while working in the coal mines, fields, and work camps; and strip naked only to have their backs and limbs pointlessly cut with knives, bruised and mangled by hundreds of blows with inordinate objects (broom sticks, 2 x 4 wood, whips, etc.).

Blacks were frequently flogged with terrible severity and confined together day and night for weeks into cramped and foul spaces. The runaways were often hunted with blood hounds and shot down like wild beasts or torn into pieces by dogs. African Americans were often suspended by the arms and whipped and beaten until they fainted—only to be revived and beaten again until they fainted yet again, and sometimes, until they died. Their ears were sometimes cut off, eyes knocked from the sockets, and bones broken. Blacks were maimed, mutilated and burned to death over slow fires. All these things, and worse, took place up until as recently as the 1960s.

An unnamed prisoner tied around a pickax for punishment in a Georgia labor camp.

Many people living today were alive during the post-slavery racial subjugation days—those of you who weren’t your parents most certainly were—and had they been in the wrong place at the wrong time, they could have easily been a victim. Just by simply walking down a road, one could have been stopped by a sheriff—or anybody white—arrested on some trumped up charges, convicted of crimes he did not commit, falsely imprisoned, and once again enslaved with no rights. This unfair and unjustifiable imprisonment became the reality for tens of thousands of victimized blacks.

The n-word symbolized (and still does today) fear, intimidation, oppressive action, brutality, slavery, the death of innocent men, and the brutality of segregation and Jim Crowism. The message was clear and shared universally among whites: whatever happens to black men is strictly the result of their own choice: if they choose not to submit quietly and meekly to the emerging new order—in other words, remain in their appointed place of being n**gers/n**gahs and allow themselves to be treated as such, then they have chosen the only other alternative available to them—death.

Because they elected life over death, blacks learned many years ago to tread lightly and stray widely from crossing the path of whites. Although laws were enacted to formerly recognize blacks’ rights after the Civil War, many unspoken and underlying more real and impacting norms still existed. As a result of blacks learning to operate within certain confines, this mentality or survival tactic still exists today yet much of the black community doesn’t realize they’re living their lives in some gated or appointed space—not truly free. They linger only in this realm and continually pass around sickening thought processes and beliefs that continue to contaminate the minds of generations of blacks on an epidemic level.

Everyone’s help is needed in an effort to eradicate a depraved and ongoing 400- year-old mind manipulation or enslavement and racist process. To sit back passively, and not say or do anything as Black African-American users of the n-word shamelessly make a mockery of their ancestors’ humiliating, painful and sometimes deadly experiences is tantamount to condoning all the lascivious acts perpetrated upon them.

Every black person needs to work to expose the awful truths that continue to burden the black community, and change the thinking of Black people—the young and old—and drive them to more positive and noble pursuits. Liberated Blacks must unlock the gates and help cure the mental disease that ails the black community by sharing the serum of healthy self-respect with others most in need of hope.

Mentally-liberated African Americans who care about the state of Black America, and are cognizant about the error in the ways of less fortunate black brothers and sisters, who, to this very day, are still mentally crippled as their uninterrupted embracement of the n-word profoundly indicates, can have tremendous impact and become that agent of change.

The first step to change is to refrain from partaking in—in any way—reckless and destructive behaviors that contribute to the demise of the black community. Stop supporting blacks who publicly use the n-word. There is absolutely nothing funny or dignified about the history behind that word; to embrace the word is to embrace its history. Many readers will be very angry when they learn the contents of Blackmon’s book, but it is with ill-conceived contempt to become furious with the white man and fully blame him for the on-going state of the black community, when Black peoples’ acceptance of the use of the n-word voices SUPPORT for each and every evil deed conducted by those who accursed the race with the word n**ger/n**ga in the first place.

Dr. Benjamin E. Mays once said that, “[It] is not your environment, it is you– the quality of your mind, the integrity of your soul, and the determination of your will that will decide your future and shape your life.”

When Black African-Americans begin to love themselves and others, use of a word that was meant to demoralize and devalue a race of people will be unacceptable. Blacks must be forward looking and discover other words that uplift and have no vile historical baggage attached to them. The black race is far superior to the idea of being labeled as an n-word, and it’s more important than ever that the group respond accordingly by displacing inferior imaginings with nobler reflections.

To this very day, post-slavery subjugation is still being carried out. Dismally, blacks themselves are now the perpetrators of this plight by keeping alive an expression that was and is surely a “worker bee” that only works to feed the destruction within the community. Blacks must realize that they have always been given permission and freedom to refer to one another with the N-word, but they will never be given permission to refrain from using the term. It is the hope that Blacks will realize that freedom is being able to first realize a problem or barrier exists, and then separate self from any destructive environment, habit or behavior—no longer a prisoner or slave to the limiting factor.

As Fishburne’s documentary will open the eyes of all Americans to the harsh race realities that this society faces, perhaps, the film will impact Black Americans in a more profound manner. Perhaps, the documentary will help Blacks realize the injustices that they faced (and still do face today) all in efforts to be kept in their places as n**gas, will become angry at this treacherous plot, and work relentlessly and at all costs to change their mentalities and direction of the black community.

H. Lewis Smith is the founder and president of UVCC, the United Voices for a Common Cause, Inc. (; a writer for the New England Informer Online, Staff Writer for, and author of “Bury that Sucka: A Scandalous Love Affair with the N-Word”. Follow H. Lewis Smith on Twitter:

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