Sugar Cane Alley
Alexandra Mitchell Dr. Lamont King GAFST 200 November 30, 2010 Sugar Cane Alley Jose understands at a young age that in order to escape the indentured life of working in a sugar cane plantation like his ancestors before him, he must do something different. In the classroom, Jose is a very bright student as seen through his peers and especially his professor who eventually helped Jose get into a prestigious school because of his academic excellence.
He assures his grandmother who is his sole provider and family that one day she’ll no longer have to work tirelessly in the sugar cane plantation.Jose dreams of taking work in a more profitable and higher field then the plantation his community is chained to all being done by attaining a high education. Through the life of a plantation worker and the ones seen in Van Onselen’s article as a migration worker, slavery may have been abolished, but their freedom is severely limited. At the end of the film, the plantation workers were singing a song and one line of its lyrics clearly summed up what is needed to end the forced monetary economy many of the African Americans are trapped in, “Money and justice are what’s needed to end our suffering. In his article titled, “Social Control in the Compounds,” Van Onselen does a good job portraying the hard lives of the Chibaro people working in a nearby mine plantation. These workers paralleled the lives of the ones working in the sugar cane plantation where they were both trapped and limited in their freedom. They were oppressed under the proletarian labor economy that made it difficult to move up in the labor field and many were financially indentured to their plantation living day-by-day and paycheck-to-paycheck.This system made it extremely hard for the African Americans to move around and find better work somewhere else. There was almost total control over the labor and the whole idea of this widespread control was to lengthen its cycle. There were laws passed, credits to pay off, and the inflation of food prices making it a widely controlled monopoly. One law called for labor contracts detailing what was needed of the workers and many were paid by tokens or coupons that proved useless outside the plantation which in turn lengthened the workers time spent at one location.Many Chibaro workers as cited in his article couldn’t even pay off simple life necessities such as groceries, which forced them to have credit further lengthening their stay at each plantation. Many times the communities only had one grocery store, so for more control, the labor industry would inflate the prices making it nearly impossible for the people to be out of debt and even able to leave their workplace in search of more prominent work availabilities.For example, in the movie, a woman and her family couldn’t afford her groceries so she asked the clerk to put it on their tab which would need to be paid off making their stay permanent until they were free from debt. But this proved impossible to clear debt, because a worker’s paycheck given by the tightly controlled economy never amounted to what a family needed to get by. Mr. Mdeouze acts as a mentor and he opens Jose’s eyes to the corrupt society and how it in some ways mirrors the past.Although they are free from slavery, their freedom is limited by the labor-controlled economy making any further progress beyond the abolishment of slavery nearly impossible, “…we were free but our bellies were empty. ” Mr. Mdeouze does although make one factor clear to Jose and that is the distinct value of education the power it has. The wise old man cited the life of a free African American man working on the sugar cane plantation perfectly when mentoring young Jose, “learning is second key that opens to our freedom. He is traditional in that he doesn’t believe that he’s a free man and reiterates that he won’t return to Africa until he’s dead and buried. Jose learns through Mr. Mdeouze that Africa has yet to return to it’s roots and white power is still perceived to be the dominant race in it’s every attempt to control all aspects of the African American life and still hold their power to utilize them for hard labor. Leopold is a young mulatto living amongst the plantation and is the son of the white landowner of the Sugar Cane plantation.When his father falls ills and is on his deathbed, he refuses to pass down his position to Leopold with the explanation of it being a white man’s job and not one of a Mulatto. Leopold lived in his family’s nice home with his African mother then denying the African roots in him by his family’s societal stance. By not allowing Leopold to inherit the plantation as a legitimate landowner, this then denies also the white man roots in him.Therefore by being rejected by both sides of the race spectrum unsurprisingly lead to the demise of Leopold. He found himself hopeless in terms of his identity and in mounds of trouble as seen at the end of the movie. I believe Leopold’s fate was inevitable because he was rejected and out casted in his own community and no longer had an adequate place in society. The tightly controlled labor economy in the early twentieth century made African American’s freedom severely limited.There were all but few ways to escape this corruptly controlled monetary system, but one way was through attaining a higher education as learned by young Jose. He quickly discovered that education can provide him with more work opportunities and a better life all together. In summary, as seen through the movie and read in the article by Van Onselen, there still seemed to remain obvious elements of slavery in the lives of plantation and mine African American workers even after slavery had been long abolished.