Today marks the 150th anniversary of the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation. The proclamation declared "that all persons held as slaves (within the rebellious states) are, and henceforward shall be free."
While there were limitations within the proclamation, it was a turning point, one that shifted the war towards an idea of freedom and started the process towards equality for those enslaved.
Over the next couple years several states abolished slavery, culminating in the passing of the thirteenth amendment on January 31, 1865.
The 13th amendment states that, "neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction."
As the civil rights movement progressed and we struggled to recover and move on as a nation, many believed that the disgrace of slavery had been abolished. But, as we reflect 150 years later, we sadly have to admit that is far from true.
Human slavery is alive today.
Estimates put the number between 12 million and 27 million people who are currently enslaved, around 100,000 or more in the U.S. But because slavery masks itself as other things we don't often recognize or appropriately respond to it. The sad reality is that slavery is becoming more prevalent and accepted.
So what is modern slavery? It can be forced labor, sex trafficking, forced child labor, debt bondage or involuntary servitude. It is the exploitation of one person by another. It is the denial of our shared humanity. It is a twisted system of confusing worth for profit. It is the process of de-humanizing someone into a commodity that can be used, again and again, whether for sexual acts, harvesting food, cleaning hotel rooms, begging for money or mining for minerals. It is diverse and tragic and the only way to miss it is not to look for it.
Irishman Edmund Burke famously said, "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing."
It is a hard reality to face and one that is understandably overwhelming. In this day of crisis and pain bombarded at us 24/7 it might be easy to question why we would need to do anything. Slavery is not our problem. But...it is.
From the clothing we buy, to the coffee we drink, the cell phone we use and what our children watch on the internet, it is our problem. It is our problem because the person on the other side is someone's sister, daughter, son, mother, or brother. They have dreams, goals and hopes for their life that extends far beyond the situation they currently find themselves in.
One estimate says that 750,000 men died in the Civil War. They died in a conflict that, ultimately, became about the freedom of others. 750,000 men fought and did not come home so that slavery would be abolished. Maybe the Civil War was the first step and its up to us now to take the charge and finish the battle.
So, what can you do? The first step is to realize that we in the U.S. (and around the world) have a serious problem with slavery. The second step is to let it sink in that it is happening to our children, in our neighborhood. But then take a deep breath and acknowledge in a loud and powerful voice that we can do something about it!
Join us for 52 days to learn what you can do. We'll be sharing information, tips, stories, how trafficking masks itself in other kinds of abusive situations and how you can utilize what you are already doing to make a tremendous difference.
We would love to have you join us in our quest.
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Emancipation Proclamation via The National Archives
Slavery Timeline via PBS
13th Amendment Resources via Library of Congress
Slavery in the Modern Age - NYTimes