Magazine article Social Studies Review

Slavery: An Enduring Tragic Story with Emerging New Perspectives

Magazine article Social Studies Review

Slavery: An Enduring Tragic Story with Emerging New Perspectives

Article excerpt

Abraham Lincoln ended slavery in the United States with the Emancipation Proclamation issued January 1, 1863. Actually, the proclamation only liberated slaves in rebel occupied territories. While slavery may have been ended legally in those lands, in practice it continued for years south of the Mason-Dixon Line. Slavery in the Confederate States of America went on until the end of the Civil War in 1865. "Economic slavery" continued to linger on for years in the South with insidious forms of forced labor such as share cropping and tenant farming that kept former slaves and their descendants in a new form of bondage, a neo-slavery. Today, slavery in its contemporary practice continues in our nation in the forms of child labor and human trafficking. The story of slavery on this planet stretches back thousands of years, across land and time. Sadly, it reaches right into our present in our country and abroad, and is likely to last long into the future somewhere on our Earth. In the period of time for which there is a written history, slavery is well documented worldwide. It would seem not a single culture or race was immune from it. Today, new chapters of the story are being revealed, some most surprising.

The story of slavery is chronicled as it existed in numerous ancient civilizations, from Greece to Rome, from the Middle East to China, and even America. Slavery's history is revealed in the ancient texts of the Bible, school textbooks, novels, movies, and the world wide web.

Among the earliest known written laws are those of the Hammurabi Code. This heralded Babylonian code made fundamental law uniform and fair by the standards of its society. However, it can only be regarded as unjust by today's global standards. Its laws tolerated and enforced slavery. These ancient laws addressed a multitude of issues associated with slavery as it existed in Babylonia nearly five thousand years ago: "If anyone take a male or female slave of the court, or a male or female slave of a freed man, outside the city gates, he shall be put to death." From reading just this one law, one can conclude the Hammurabi Code protected the institution of slavery and "the property rights of slave owners." Some of the earliest accounts of slavery may be found in the Bible. In the film "The Ten Commandments," based on the Bible's story of Exodus, viewers witness the Jews in servitude to the Pharaoh of Egypt. Audience members are thrilled as Moses parts the waters of the Red Sea and leads the tribes of Israel out of slavery and on to the Promised Land. The movies "Ben Hur" and "Spartacus" were produced in the late 1950s. They were spectacular films in the new wide screen Cinerama format. Ben Hur and Spartacus are the heroes, and both Roman slaves. Ben Hur is able to become free, while Spartacus dies fighting for freedom with his fellow slaves....a mission that fails in the end. Slavery remained an institution in the Roman Empire for hundreds of years. The recent film "Twelve Years a Slave" is an example of how the modern media brings home an uncomfortable experience of the brutality of slavery in America's past.

The story of Native American slavery is a mixed story. There are accounts of white people capturing Indians and putting them into servitude, those of white people selling African slaves to those tribes, and even of tribes legalizing slavery on their lands.

One of the earliest accounts of an Indian being captured and enslaved is that of Squanto. Squanto is traditionally introduced as the Indian who facilitated communication between the Pilgrims and the Indians. The part of the story generally not told is that Squanto had been captured and brought to England as a slave, later to be brought back to America with Captain John Smith. While in England, Squanto learned English and became a Christian. This is the "secret revealed" as to how Squanto was able to speak English to the Pilgrims and serve as their translator, and was able to teach them to farm. …

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