Early March includes two key dates that remind us of the importance of women in the struggle for human rights.
Today, March 8th is International Women’s Day, a global observance of the contributions made by women who are working to improve the political, social and economic status of women throughout the world.
Sunday, March 10th is the day that an inspiring American woman died, one of the bravest, selfless heroes of the anti-slavery movement: Harriet Tubman. This year is the 100th anniversary of her passing.
School kids learn the name Harriet Tubman in high school history class. She was born into a family of slaves in Maryland around 1820. At age 6, she was “rented out” as a house servant to neighbors. She suffered many years of abuse at the hands of slaveholders.
Tubman could not read or write, but she knew what she wanted — freedom. In 1849, she escaped to the free state of Pennsylvania.
Tubman could have spent the rest of her life in safety. Instead, she went on a daring quest to rescue other slaves, utilizing the network of secret routes and safe houses known as the Underground Railroad. Tubman returned to slave states in the South again and again, helping her own family and many others escape to the North. With each treacherous trip, she risked being captured or killed. She became one of the Railroad’s best “conductors.”
“No transit system ever devised could possibly surpass the ‘Underground Railroad’ for sheer nobility of purpose,” says historian Ron Soodalter, co-author with FTS Co-founder Kevin Bales of The Slave Next Door: Human Trafficking and Slavery in America Today. “And no ‘conductor’ demonstrated greater courage and commitment to freedom than did Harriet Tubman,” Soodalter says.
As Tubman herself said, “I never ran my train off the track and I never lost a passenger.” She’s credited with guiding over 300 slaves to freedom.
Today, Tubman’s legacy continues to inspire. It’s more than a chapter in American history. It lives on in the work of slavery survivors throughout the world who are now guiding others to freedom. You can see some of them on the FTS website — recipients of the Free the Slaves Harriet Tubman Freedom Award.
This is an important year of historic anniversaries. We’ve already been commemorating the 150th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. This month, we note that the work of Harriet Tubman is part of the historical record of anti-slavery accomplishments that should never be forgotten.
These days, we’re used to the image of Abraham Lincoln sitting in a marble chair – at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington. But another Lincoln chair is about to capture the public’s attention.
It’s the bentwood Hickory chair that Lincoln was sitting in when he learned that he was nominated to run for president. It’s being auctioned on eBay, along with a dozen documents handwritten and/or signed by Lincoln, and other documents signed by Frederick Douglass, William T. Sherman and Ulysses S. Grant.
Bidding for “The Ultimate Lincoln Collection” begins at $1 million – and Free the Slaves has been chosen to receive 10 percent of the final sale price. See the official press release here from History You Can Own.
“We’re offering a unique opportunity for collectors with a passion for history,” says Seth Kaller, a leading expert in rare historic documents, “beginning with the chair in which Lincoln was sitting when he received the telegram that he had won the 1860 Republican presidential nomination.” This was his favorite seat at the Illinois State Journal, where Lincoln often went to watch the news come in via the newspaper’s telegraph wire, Kaller says.
A detailed description of the collection can be seen on Kaller’s website. It’s one of the most comprehensive collections of Lincolniana in recent memory. It includes a first edition of the Lincoln-Douglas Debates, and his 1858 letter opposing the Dred Scott decision, in which a slave sued for his freedom but lost in one of the most infamous cases in U.S. Supreme Court history.
“This collection has several items of great historic and personal importance,” says Dr. James Cornelius, curator at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library & Museum.
The timing of the auction is tied to the 85th Academy Awards. The film Lincoln is nominated in several categories, including best movie, director and actor. Kaller is guaranteeing delivery of the Lincoln chair and documents to the winning bidder in time for an Oscars party. Dr. Cornelius hopes the items will eventually be donated by the winning bidder to the Lincoln library.
Recognizing that slavery still exists, Kaller wants a portion of the auction proceeds to go to an organization that is helping to finish what Lincoln started. Kaller was introduced to Free the Slaves by historian Ron Soodalter, co-author along with FTS Co-founder Kevin Bales, of the book The Slave Next Door.
There are reasons young people end up in slavery today. We’re all vulnerable to harm, one way or another, at one point or another.
Traffickers spot these weaknesses, and pounce when they see an opening.
The campus video channel mtvU has just launched an amazing social media campaign that visualizes how young people can end up enslaved inside the United States.
The Backstory draws you in to become a central character in the storyline. First, you see provocative online ads, and then you see the painful stories behind those seemingly innocuous posts. Soon, you find out how those ads could have turned someone you know in to a slave.
The Backstory is illustrated through a powerful series of videos featuring dancers from Alvin Ailey II, music scored by Kenna and text read by rapper Talib Kweli.
It’s inspired by real stories, including the book The Slave Next Door by Free the Slaves Co-Founder Kevin Bales and historian Ron Soodalter. The idea for the project started with four students at James Madison University, who answered mtvU’s call for innovative digital tools to raise awareness.
The Backstory asks a central question: what would you do? You have several choices for action. The Backstory is part of mtvU’s Against our Will campaign. Free the Slaves is a partner.
Kevin Bales was recently interviewed by María Hinojosa for her show “One-on-One.” They discuss modern-day slavery in the U.S., and refer to The Slave Next Door, the book Bales co-wrote on this topic (historian Ron Soodalter was the other co-author). The U.S. “could be the first slave free country in human history,” Bales says, “if we just decide to make that happen.”
The above video is a preview of “One-on-One” interview. The full show will air this Saturday, February 19 at 6:30pm ET. For more details on broadcast schedules, go here.
On Saturday, it will be Lincoln’s birthday. It is normal for American school children to learn that President Lincoln ended legalized slavery in the U.S. with the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863. It is not as usual for school children to learn that slavery persists to this day. In fact, it never ended.
In their book on modern slavery in the U.S. The Slave Next Door, Ron Soodalter and Free the Slaves President Kevin Bales cite a State Department study that says between 14,500 to 17,500 people are trafficked and enslaved into our borders every year. They go on to say that the precise number of enslaved U.S. citizens is as yet unknown, but, “a conservative estimate would be around fifty thousand and growing.”
The horrifying truth is that modern slavery victimizes American citizens. And it happens all over the country. But how to translate this alarming reality into something that can be presented in a middle school, or high school class room?
A New York-based non profit has tackled this very challenge. Girls Learn International (GLI) was founded by women who saw that “in depth lessons on human rights are rarely available or entirely absent from school curricula within the United States.” GLI launches extra-curricular classes in schools across the U.S., where children learn about contemporary human rights issues. They are paired with schools in developing countries, cultivating cross-cultural friendships.
Recently, GLI approached Free the Slaves about including modern-day slavery into their curriculum. FTS worked with Irish NGO Trocaire to develop education packs for after school programs. (You can download our kits here!). GLI was able to adapt this material for their own curriculums. The results of this are attached here as PDFs—one lesson plan for high school students, and one for middle schoolers.
GLI’S AFTER SCHOOL HUMANITARIANS
Each GLI chapter is partnered with a school in a developing country. Their pilot chapters brought together schools in New York and New Jersey with schools in Afghanistan and Kenya. Now, there are chapters in 14 states and 10 countries. The chapters operate as extra-curricular clubs. Using curriculum developed by GLI, students learn about human rights issues affecting women and girls. They become activists in their own communities by raising awareness about the issues they learn in class. They even fundraise on behalf of their partner schools.