Time Travelers or Of Slavery, Then and Now

Ending SlaverYou’re sitting on a plane and, unbeknownst to you, an age-old dilemma is being replayed. There are no chains. There is no auction block, but your seatmate is enslaved. Sound farfetched? It isn’t; slavery persists in the 21st century. It is a global phenomenon and is harder to recognize and, therefore, more difficult to address.

Three books offering perspectives on modern day slavery can begin to expand your awareness. Not for Sale: The Return of the Global Slave Trade and How We Can Fight It by David Batstone, Ending Slavery: How We Free Today’s Slaves by Kevin Bales, and A Crime So Monstrous: Face-to-Face with Modern-Day Slavery by E. Benjamin Skinner would be good places to start.

Slaves in the FamilySlavery has always been complex and, today, its complexity is far-reaching. In addition to abolitionists’ accounts and slave narratives of the past, voices are emerging from descendants of people who were prominent in the slave trade. The breakthrough book by Edward Ball, Slaves in the Family, is one such title. Most recent is Thomas Norman DeWolf’s Inheriting the Trade: A Northern Family Confronts Its Legacy as the Largest Slave-Trading Dynasty in U.S. History. Wolf’s book is a companion text to a family documentary by DeWolf’s cousin, Katrina Brown, called Traces of the Trade in which family members retrace their ancestors’ footsteps through trade routes from Rhode Island to Ghana and Cuba. Traces of the Wind will air on Tuesday, June 24th as part of PBS’s POV series.

The land upon which slavers and the enslaved stood is, also, being re-visited by authors of today. History can be seen through the eyes of contemporary artists and artists of the period in Landscape of Slavery: The Plantation in American Art. An unusual find is Auldbrass: Frank Lloyd Wright’s Southern Plantation by David G. DeLong. Sarah Johnson’s Mount Vernon: The Forgotten History of an American Shrine by Scott E. Casper describes how Martha Washington’s slaves continued to be enslaved even after our first president had freed his own. Rarer still, is the newly published White Cargo: The Forgotten History of Britain’s White Slaves in America by Don Jordan.

If you’re interested in DVDs on the subject of slavery, here are a few to consider. Prince Among Slaves is based on the book of the same title by Terry Alford and relays the story of how Prince Abdul al-Rahman Ibrahima found himself enslaved in Mississippi. The film Manderlay, based in the 1930’s, features a young girl traveling in the south who comes upon a plantation that doesn’t know slavery has been abolished. Lastly, the series Slavery and the Making of America examines the history of slavery and its role in the economic development of the nation.

5 thoughts on “Time Travelers or Of Slavery, Then and Now”

  1. Thanks for this article. I wish there would be a discussion of the difference between slavery, i.e chattel slavery and indentured servitude. Perhaps I’m overly concerned about precision of language but the situation of the majority of today’s “slaves” is more like that of the indentured servants of colonial america. Slavery means that you are property – able to be bought and sold like other property. And, this is clincher for me, your children are born slaves and can expect to be slaves their entire lives. I don’t want to diminish the tragedy and horrible nature of what is happening today but I worry about diluting the absolutely appalling nature of the historic practice of slavery in the U.S.

  2. I want to recommend two very strong fiction titles to expand on this subject: Octavia Butler’s “Kindred” and Nancy Rawles’ “My Jim.”
    Butler’s novel addresses the title of this blog post literally – the principal character, an Afrrican-American woman, travels back in time to the antebellum South, and the reader gets the modern perspective while immersed in the slave culture. Quite chilling. Rawles’ novel spans slavery through abolition time periods in the American South. It is written in Gullah dialect which adds poignancy to the suffering of it’s narrator’s tale of struggle against the immense cruelty of the time.

  3. Another harrowing modern-day mystery with slavery at its core is Simisola, an Inspector Wexford tale by the great Ruth Rendell. This is a book I have never forgotten!

  4. I would sugest two websites
    1. iabolish
    2. Freethe slaves.net

    The movie “Trade” was based on a New York Times article, “The Girls Next Door.” The movie tackles the issue of sexual slavery in the USA and its connection to Europe and Mexico.
    The International Violence Against Women Act (IVAWA) and Amnesty International are supporting the following bill IVAWA – information can be found at http://www.amnestyusaorg/women.
    The Free the Slaves website goes into detail regarding the difference between “Old” and “New” slavery that will address the issue of the “percision of language” and the concept of “indentured servitude.”

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