Just as abolitionists of the 18th and 19th centuries created movements demanding the end to the transatlantic slave trade and the abolishment of chattel slavery in the United States, the persistence of modern forms of slavery around the world today calls for a new, global network of abolitionists.
The need for abolitionists – men and women dedicated to attacking slavery in their time – didn’t end with Frederick Douglass, William Wilberforce, the Grimke sisters, William Lloyd Garrison, Elizabeth Cady Stanton or Harriet Tubman. Abolitionists stand up to demand an end to the enslavement of their fellow humans wherever and whenever they see it.
Slavery is still seen in the world today. It bears the essential hallmarks of enslavement that both preceded and persisted after legal emancipation in the United States. Slavery can be defined as the total physical and/or mental control of a person, for purposes of exploiting that person’s labor and body for the commercial or personal gain of another. Ending this ancient crime once and for all is the cause of the modern abolitionist.
The Emancipation Proclamation and the 13th Amendment were enormous, hard-fought victories for basic human freedom. They ended the legal system of slavery that imprisoned generations of African Americans in absolute bondage, while also providing an inspirational model of how people can come together to bring down these systems, no matter how entrenched and powerful. But they did not signal the end of the fight against all forms of slavery. Wendell Phillips, leading 19th Century abolitionist, said it best in remarking on the passage of the 13th Amendment in 1865:
“We have abolished the slave, but the master remains.”
Today, we hear similar comments from the President of the United States:
It ought to concern every person, because it’s a debasement of our common humanity. It ought to concern every community, because it tears at the social fabric. It ought to concern every business, because it distorts markets. It ought to concern every nation, because it endangers public health and fuels violence and organized crime. I’m talking about the injustice, the outrage, of human trafficking, which must be called by its true name—modern slavery. Our fight against human trafficking is one of the great human rights causes of our time. — President Barack Obama, September 25, 2012
Attacking slavery today requires understanding all its forms and building a movement to demand its end, everywhere.
This is what we do at the Freedom Center. We tell the stories of modern and historic slavery together, so today’s abolitionist can understand how modern slavery relates to the common American experience. But just as importantly, we tell the story of abolitionists then and now, to empower each of us with the knowledge that we can end slavery.
Slavery persists, but so do abolitionists. That is our call. That is our opportunity. Will you join the network?