Over the years I have come to love reading and books. Throughout my life many books have had great impact on the way I think, process and even the way I live. A few books which stand out as great refiners are, The Prodigal Son by Henri Nouwen; Sabbath by Dan Allendar; The Bible; Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Peter Scazzero; Being Consumed by William Cavanaugh; The Critical Journey by Janet Hagberg; Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and The Shallows by Nicholas Carr. Each of these books have played significant roles in my development and over all decision making. However, while reading this past week one writing rose to the surface, this was On the Abolition of Slave Trade by William Wilburforce. For me, the significance of this work returns me to a hill I stood on in Haiti in the late 1990’s. Having lead a small missions trip to Haiti for a period of three weeks, mid trip we decided to give our team a break. During that break we decided to take in The Citadelle Laferriere. The Citadelle Laferriere is one of the largest stone structure forts in the Americas. This massive structure was built by over 20,000 workers between the years of 1805 and 1820 in an attempt to protect the newly formed nation of Haiti from the French incursions. While on the tour that day, our guide began to lay out the history leading up to the creation of the fort. He began with William Wilburforce and his and his writings in 1789. Wilburforce’s greatest obstacle was the French Revolution which was also taking place in 1789. The combination of these two forces at work sparked a slave rebellion in St. Domingue (Haiti) in 1790. During this rebellion liberated slaves turned on their former masters, punishing and executing in many cases. I now stood on the very spot outside the Citadelle where many of these acts took place. It was surreal.
This past week while reading 12 Books That Changed The World: How Words and Wisdom Have Shaped our Lives by Melvyn Bragg I was struck by the significance of how Wilbur Williamforce’s words have shaped my life. More particularly on how his words have shaped my understanding of slavery issues throughout time. During my reading, three key ideas emerged on what I learned about slavery then and how it applies to our global digital society.
Three Emerging Ideas
Alive and Well Today… The effects of slavery are alive and well today. Having lived in South Carolina for four years, I saw the after effects of third generation slavery. Though slavery has been abolished in the United States, certain areas and cultures still feel the after affects in decisions, governmental structures, class values and even corporate opportunity. During my time working in this environment, I realized very quickly that most upper middle class and white collar jobs were only afforded to those who were white. Though some African American individuals were afforded these positions, most simply took lower paying or lower valued work within the organization. Generational position, organizational mindsets and holistic lack of education were all factors, giving the affects of slavery the ability to be alive and well.
Still exists… Though slavery has been abolished in North America, various forms of slavery still exist around the world. Indentured servants, family debts, race related slavery all still exist in various forms around the planet. Where ever the idea exists that one human is superior to another for any reason, slavery has the opportunity to flourish. Behind this abuse of power, one human places themselves in the position of control, devaluing another who is created in the image of God. Regardless of the form or reason, it is less than what God intended.
Comes in other forms… Though the slave trade existing for hundreds of years in the Americas’ has come to an end, many other forms are alive and well. Today, sex trafficking of woman and children has risen in epic proportions. Often, individuals seeking a better life, find themselves being taken advantage of, enslaved and losing their subsequent freedom. These individuals aren’t all in distant lands, but rather in your own neighborhood. A few weeks ago, a large sex trafficking ring was busted here in the Lancaster area. Those arrested consisted of doctors, lawyers, business men and one city official. All to common in many of our home towns. Same issue as the late 1700’s, just a new look.
That day standing at the Citadelle I was captured by the loss of value a slave may have felt. Hopeless, de-valued, shamed… I began to sit with just a small portion of the need to always stand against slavery in any form, regardless of the cost to oneself. What forms of slavery are around you? What books have you read, which shaped your understanding of the oppressed?