Slavery Is Not American History

We need to stop teaching our children about slavery exclusively in American History classes. Slavery in America is a current event.

I was taught as early as elementary school that slavery ended with the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment. I knew that the bigotry did not end there. I saw it first hand. But I spent much of my life blissfully unaware that slavery, in any form, existed at all in America much after that event. I was not taught correctly.

Is a whole new generation going to grow up believing this?

Probably. Even today, if you go to the history page of you read this: “From the beginnings of slavery in British North America around 1619, when a Dutch ship brought 20 enslaved Africans to the Virginia colony at Jamestown, nearly 240 years passed until the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution officially ended slavery in 1865.”

And the image below is representative of the kinds of images we are shown; woodcut drawings and beat up black and white photos. They scream at us, “This is history! This is not happening today!”


Wikipedia’s history of slavery in the U.S. ends at 1865 as well.

This is a tragic misrepresentation. Yes, of course the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution made slavery illegal, but it did not end slavery in America. It simply took it underground. The U.S. State Department Trafficking In Persons Report of June, 2006 says that more than 50,000 people each year are trafficked through the United States. They are trafficked as sex slaves, domestics, and as garment and agricultural slaves. (1)

What would happen if we stopped teaching slavery exclusively as American History and started teaching it in social studies as a current event?

I am 45 years old and am just now waking up to the fact that slavery of all kinds, especially child slavery, is running rampant in our world. To open my eyes fully to the truth that this is happening inside the borders of this country is sobering at best, frightening at worse. Every day I spend time sifting through my google reader looking at the slavery news stories and blog posts that pour in each day. And as I work the topic into my social conversations, I’m not surprised at how few people understand the scope of the problem. It’s what our trusted teacher’s taught us.

As a society, we would be better off teaching our children, as early as is appropriate, that while slavery is illegal, it has not ended. It’s our only hope for ending it, not only here in the United States, but everywhere. They need to be educated about the ways slavery supports industry and commerce, both here and abroad. They need to be made aware that there are things they can do to help. They need to understand the geopolitical issues that make this a complex problem that can’t be solved with anembargo on all unfairly traded goods.

We’re not going to be able to teach this exclusively as a history lesson until corporations use their collective influence over their suppliers to force their vendors to stop using slave or forced labor. If we allow another generation to grow up believing slavery is already history, we make it harder to develop the kind of truly creative solutions that speak to the absence of resources and education that make it possible for people to be enslaved in the first place.

If we want our children to be able to help us solve the problem of slavery in the future, we’ve got to start educating them about it’s presence today.


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