Dec 11, 2017

The Freedom Center in Cincinnati

The Underground Railroad Freedom Center is the place to open up your mind. The Center celebrates the heroes who created the Underground Railroad; a secret network slaves used to escape to freedom, but the center also makes people aware of the 27 million people worldwide who are still trying to get their freedom.

The Freedom Center has been on my bucket list from the day it opened in 2004 and finally, John and I got to visit during our recent visit to Cincinnati.  It was just down the street from the Hyatt where we were staying and nearby there is a Bell Connector bus that stops at major sites in the city – very convenient. 

The Center was much more than I had expected.  I figured it would
be about American slavery; and, it was; but it is more than that. There were displays that explored the history of slavery plus present day heroes working to eliminate slavery.  

The videos and displays were informative.  I am familiar with Harriet Tubman and I am always fascinated by Levi Coffin who managed to get slaves to freedom by pretending they were part of a funeral parade. It is worth noting that the Freedom Center is located just steps from the Ohio River, the dividing line between freedom and slavery. There is more to slavery than that which most of us know about.

Many people think that when slavery was outlawed in America that
was the end of slavery. Not so. The Center has a great section dealing with Nelson Mandela and his struggle against apartheid in South Africa. Apartheid was the practice of segregating non-whites to specific locations and not allowing non-whites, who were the majority of the population, to participate in politics while the economics and educational restrictions of apartheid keep the non-whites poor. There is a replica of the prison cell where Mandela was held for many years. 

Actually, slavery has existed for centuries but only America made it hereditary. Slavery, in several forms, still exists.  Slavery is defined as the total physical and/or mental control of a person for the purpose of exploiting their labor or body for commercial of personal gain. The center defines five types of slavery: forced labor, debt labor to repay a debt, sex slavery, child slavery, and domestic servitude.

I think most of us are familiar with the sex trade because it is one of
the few kinds of slavery that makes the news. In the Unites States child labor was common until the passage of the Fair Labor Standards Act. Children were employed in the textile industry because they were small and could maneuver in the tight conditions of the looms and other equipment. Today it is not uncommon to see children working in foreign counties making carpets. Years ago John and I visited one such shop in Egypt.  The owner said he was teaching them a lifelong trade and cared for them because otherwise they would be living on the street. Interesting rationalization. 

There are things we can do to help eliminate slavery in other countries.  One of the easiest ways is to buy Fair Trade Certified products which ensure that farmers, workers, and fishermen are fairly treated, work in safe conditions, and are paid a sustainable salary. 

The Freedom Center wants visitors to know about slavery today and to understand how modern slavery relates to the “American experience” and to “empower each of us with the knowledge that we can end slavery.”