Summary: Approximately 70 years of slavery from the 1870s to the 1940s have largely been unknown or ignored.
Part of what has been important for me to recognize as I read history is earlier examples of current problems. There may not be a direct connection with those similar issues, but we need to acknowledge that there may be connection. For example, one of the issues brought up in this book is local control of school funding. Many small government advocates today advocate local school control, which in itself is not bad. But local control was used to get around rules for disproportionate funding of White and Black schools during Jim Crow era and beyond. And today, local control is the root of school funding and quality disparities.
Another example is different sentencing levels of Whites and Blacks (including higher likelihood of being arrested and charged, more severe charges when charged, and more severe sentences for the same charges when sentenced). And then there is the example of Ferguson, Missouri using fees, largely enforced against Black residents for funding of city services to keep tax rates lower.
It is not that there are direction connections between today and earlier in the three examples above, but when there are similar examples, we should investigate whether the issues that gave rise to those similar examples really are similar.
Slavery By Another Name is primarily about the system of convict leasing. Convict leasing was the practice of leasing convicts to private businesses or individuals as laborers. The local or state government then was relieved of the requirements for housing and feeding convicts, made money from those convicts and was able privately fund much of the salaries of law enforcement and the courts through fees instead of taxes.
Much of the work done by convict leasing was dangerous or excessive work. Records were often poor, but in some cases there was as much as a 30% annual death rate among convicts. Convicts were purchased for $30 to $75, roughly $1000 today, compared to the approximately $1000 purchase cost of slaves a generation earlier (what would be today roughly $30,000). There was little interest in moderating the effects of work or punishment because of the low cost of investment. Working convicts for 20 hours a day 7 days a week with low rations and high rates of punishment with lash or waterboarding or hanging by thumbs was common.
The crimes were often minor, swearing in front of a woman, disrespect, leaving an employer without permission, selling goods at night, etc. It was commonly thought at the time that African Americans would only work with the threat and reality of lash and other beating. (The idea of the lazy Black worker continues today, but is a derivative of this earlier era.) The descriptions of beatings throughout the book is one of the hardest parts of reading/listening to the book.