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Slavery by Another Name


Film & Theme

The Power of the Individual: Slavery by Another Name

From the start of the convict leasing system, African Americans and some whites attempted to expose the practice and to organize against it. For decades, white legal officials and businessmen successfully opposed these efforts through disenfranchisement, economic pressure, and violent intimidation. By the 1930s, however, the political and social climate of the nation was changing, as nearly a million African Americans moved out of the South and created new communities and organizations in northern industrial centers. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People joined forces with labor unions to increase pressure on the federal government to enforce what they viewed as the abuse of the Thirteenth Amendment. Black newspapers and magazines rallied readers by printing exposes and editorials. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, first elected in 1932, courted black votes and sought the advice of African American leaders. At the same time, however, Roosevelt was wary of alienating the Southern Democrats who dominated his party.

In this clip, you will see how America’s entrance into World War II strengthened the organized efforts against the convict leasing system. Roosevelt and his advisors understood that injustices against African Americans could undermine the war effort and would provide the Axis Powers with a powerful propaganda weapon. In December 1941, Roosevelt instructed the Attorney General to issue circular #3541, which ordered federal prosecutors to actively investigate and prosecute convict leasing cases. Within months, prosecutors succeeded in achieving the first convictions.   

Slavery by Another Name: 1:11–1:15:48

Questions for class discussion

  • How did the growth of African American communities outside the South strengthen efforts to end convict leasing?
  • Why was Franklin Roosevelt initially reluctant to intervene in the convict leasing system?
  • How did the growing political strength of African Americans influence the federal government to enforce constitutional protections?
  • How did the U.S. entrance into World War II help the cause of African American rights?


For Teachers

Explore Created Equal in the Classroom:

- Equality Under the Law
- The Power of the Individual
- The Strategy of Nonviolence

Community Programs

The NEH Created Equal project uses the power of documentary films to encourage public conversations about the changing meanings of freedom and equality in America.

Changing America Exhibit

Find a "Changing America" exhibit in your community.