This is how John Davis became a slave:
He was walking one evening from the train depot in Goodwater, Ala., when a white man appeared in the road. "Nigger," he demanded, "have you got any money?"
The white man, Robert Franklin, was a constable. He claimed Davis owed him. This was news to Davis.
"I don't owe you anything," he said.
But what Davis said did not matter. He was arrested that night and summarily convicted. A wealthy landowner, John Pace, paid the alleged $40 debt and a $35 fine in exchange for Davis' mark—Davis was illiterate—on a contract binding him to work 10 months at any task Pace demanded. For all intents and purposes, the one man now owned the other. For all intents and purposes, John Davis was John Pace's slave.
This was September 1901, 36 years after the end of the Civil War
It would be appalling if it happened once. Douglas Blackmon says it happened hundreds of thousands of times in Alabama alone. Blackmon, Atlanta bureau chief for The Wall Street Journal, is the author of a compelling new book, "Slavery by Another Name." Yours truly flatters himself that he is well-versed in black history, but this book introduced me to a chapter of that history I did not know.
Read the rest of this fascinating piece by Leonard Pitts