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SANDUSKY, OH – Op Ed: Modern Day Abolitionists | Black History Month

February 8, 2010

Over 50 years ago, the world acknowledged the rights of an individual when the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in December of 1948. Article Four states:

No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.

Slavery is not limited to underdeveloped nations with corrupt governments. While our own Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution has been in place for almost 150 years, in the U.S. Country Report on the American Anti-Slavery Group website, over 100,000 people are enslaved in the U.S. today, according to the CIA. These victims, almost all immigrants, are trafficked to locations across the country to work as service, apparel, sex and agricultural slaves. This number has been said to be grossly underestimated if the number is to include the abuse of immigrant workers in the agricultural sector of our economy.

In the Wiki article about contemporary abolitionism, it states that

Since 1997, the United States Department of Justice has, through work with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, prosecuted six individuals in Florida on charges of slavery in the agricultural industry. These prosecutions have led to freedom for over 1000 enslaved workers in the tomato and orange fields of South Florida. This is only one example of the contemporary fight against slavery worldwide.

The London-based Anti-Slavery International (ASI), the world’s oldest human-rights organization, claims there are at least 27 million people in bondage around the world.

Using the power and influence of MTV’s brand and broadcasting network, the MTV EXIT campaign was launched by the company’s European-based foundation. This multimedia initiative was meant to raise awareness and prevent human trafficking. It has produced an array of programming since 2004 in multiple formats including documentaries, short fictional films, live event programs and public service announcements. Below is Radiohead’s “All I Need” video, which illustrates the parallels between the lives of an affluent youngster and a sweat-shop child.

February is Black History Month, and this week, the consumerism that surrounds Valentine’s Day supports an ironic undermining to the advances the world has made on behalf of social justice. One of the biggest violators of modern day slavery is the Cocoa Industry.

On Valentine’s Day 2008, Democracy Now! covered the controversial cocoa trade, which involves forced child labor in the Ivory Coast of Africa. Listen to that broadcast here.

As our world’s leaders try to make sense over the unprecedented challenges our coming generations will face, a conscious effort needs to be made on our part to combat these social development crimes. As multinational corporations are being given rights that aren’t even granted to the exploited poorest of the poor, we have to vote with our dollars. If you are making purchases that support lucrative trade commodities, get educated on Fair Trade Certification and Equal Exchange products in order to avoid supporting slavery. For Valentine’s Day, visit the Unchain Your Heart Campaign on the Organic Consumers Association’s Website to find alternatives for chocolate, flowers and more.

Sandusky and The Underground Railroad

The Path to Freedom monument stands in our downtown, as “a remembrance of Sandusky’s involvement in the history of the Underground Railroad.”

The designer and artist was Susan Schultz, the project was led by the LEADS class of 2005 and the entire monument was dedicated on October 9, 2007. Starting with a description of the monument by Schultz, the following is a collection of the text that is engraved on the stones surrounding the statue.

The sculpture represents a black family crossing an invisible plane to freedom. By depicting a man who is not starving, is clean shaven, and has a  hair cut of today, my hope is for people to ask themselves: “Has the black family truly crossed that plane today?” and if not.. “Am I helping or hindering the transition?”

Before 1840, most of Sandusky’s Underground Railroad conductors were black men, including the Reverend Thomas Boston and Grant Ritchie, a barber.  In 1849 four women and three men, all of whom were former slaves or freeborn blacks, founded what is now Second Baptist Church [located at 315 Decatur Street], an active station for sheltering freedom-bound slaves. The Underground Railroad was a secret network of safe houses, including the Sloane House [located at 403 East Adams Street]. For many slaves, escaping meant traveling alone on foot at night, following the North Star. After the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 was passed, anyone found guilty of harboring or assisting runaways could be fined or imprisioned. Attorneys Francis Parish and Rush Sloane were both fined large sums.  The people of Sandusky, both black and white, made this city a major stop on the long journey to liberty… Christopher Columbus Keech, who owned a hat factory, and Henry Merry, a builder, employed fugitives while they were waiting for the opportunity to escape to Canada. Sympathetic captains helped slaves escape from Sandusky docks to Canada on sailing ships and steamboats, including the wooden sidewheel steamboat ARROW, built in 1848. In his autobiography, fugitive and conductor Josiah Henson wrote: “We were welcomed on board with three hearty cheers; for the crew were as much pleased as the captain, with the help they were giving us to escape.”

While our community played an active role during the trying times of the Underground Railroad, there are still businesses in our area guilty of human rights violations through their complicit support of sweat-shop labor. See the big box retailer scorecard from Green America Today for a list of corporations found on Route 250 who are guilty of supporting slavery and slave-like conditions in the U.S. and other countries. Is it a surprise that Walmart is at the top of the list?

Black History Month

To pay our respects to African American leaders of the Civil Rights Movement who were targeted by our government and murdered during the peak of their influence on social justice reform, we encourage our readers to watch Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech as well as the documentary about Fred Hampton, titled “The Murder of Fred Hampton”.

Dr. Martin Luther King was the youngest person to receive the Nobel Peace Prize for his work to end racial segregation and racial discrimination through civil disobedience and other non-violent means. By the time of his death in 1968, he had refocused his efforts on ending poverty and opposing the Vietnam War, both from a religious perspective. King was assassinated on April 4, 1968, in Memphis, Tennessee.

Fred Hampton was an activist and deputy chairman of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party (BPP). At 21 years of age, Hampton was killed on December 4, 1969, as he lay in bed in his apartment by a tactical unit of the Cook County, Illinois State’s Attorney’s Office (SAO), in conjunction with the Chicago Police Department (CPD) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

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