Voices - Modern Abolition

Modern Abolition

Tuesday, May 6, 2014 - 12:00am

A Call For Action

Bring Back Our Girls

By now, you all are aware of the horrific kidnappings that took place in Nigeria on April 15. It is now estimated that 200-300 young women were taken from the Chibok Government Girls Secondary school by Muslim extremist group, Boko Haram, whose name means “Western education is a sin.”

Although Nigeria has Africa’s largest economy, poverty and lack of education continues to plague its people. Economic insecurity has created fertile ground for outside extremist groups like the Boko Haram to take root and prey on the region’s youth, constantly surging communities with terrorist attacks. But the kidnappings also have darker and more sinister implications on the everyday lives and freedoms of the girls and women in Nigeria.

In a video released to the French media earlier this week, Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau stated that their intent was to sell the young women at $12 a person, to become “wives” to men in neighboring countries. This is a blatant attack on their personal civil liberties and freedoms. These groups, operating under the guise of military men, invade these communities to sell and trade human beings as cargo. Men, women and children in the region live in a constant state of fear and worry simply because they are intent on providing their children an education and experiences that will give them a better quality of life. 

Stand Up and Speak Out

As a nation of people who understand the high price of and struggle for freedom and equality, I am calling you to speak up. I call you to educate your communities on the dangers of human trafficking and modern slavery. I call you to be champions of freedom and stand with our President and our nation’s leaders to demand that the Nigerian government take immediate action. For assistance and resources to help you get involved, please visit Bring Back Our Girls to stay connected. Join us in our efforts to eradicate human trafficking and modern day slavery.

Many have already made the call for action. How will you answer the call? #BringBackOurGirls!

-Dr. Clarence G. Newsome, President

Tuesday, April 29, 2014 - 1:50pm

Part of the Solution?

 Forced labor sculptureOne of the things I relish about my work at NURFC is the chance to develop a deeper understanding about enslavement today and the steps I can take in my own life to end it.

Our Invisible: Slavery Today  gallery is jam-packed with facts and stories surrounding those who daily face conditions that make exploitation easy. The light bulb moment for me has been not that there are enslaved people still extant, but the industries in which forced labor is used to keep prices down on goods I personally might use and buy, making me complicit.

I, like many people, make many choices when buying products, and for many reasons, some even political. But I think I’m too eager, as so many of us are, to make price the bottom line choice, without ever thinking about how that low, low price is possible. I try to be a good global citizen by buying fair trade, especially in industries I know to be worker exploitative, like clothing, chocolate, coffee, and jewelry. But it did not occur to me before visiting NURFC that my price on a rug or bricks could be made possible by child or forced labor. Now that I am aware, I will look for products by goodweave, for instance, which combats child labor in the rug weaving industry.

For more information about slavery today, and the steps we can take to help eradicate it, please visit our Invisible: Slavery Today  permanent exhibit on the third floor.

- Gina K. Armstrong, IMLS Coca-Cola Museum Studies Apprentice

Sunday, April 6, 2014 - 8:42pm

"We have abolished the slave, but the master remains."

On April 3, Director of National Strategic Initiatives Luke Blocher took part in a panel discussion on modern slavery as part of the opening ceremonies of the new Mayerson JCC exhibition, When Slavery Hits Home: Not Just History But Here and Now. Blocher delivered the following remarks preceeding the event:

"I was on the beach in the Outer Banks of NC earlier this week, thinking about what I would say tonight. I was distracted, though, by two troubling realizations. First, that it was actually much colder there than it was here, but much more importantly, that I had quite ignorantly, and embarrassingly as a native Cincinnatian, scheduled a vacation to overlap with Opening Day.  Like many things, though, my 15 month old daughter helped me find focus.

In this instance, attempting to explain the Atlantic Ocean – which was of course really a conversation with myself – its vastness, its permanence, I was reminded, believe it or not, of slavery.

Now, despite what this may project, I don’t walk around with slavery on the brain all day long. Yet, it is impossible to engage in this work and not be struck by the scale, scope, and dogged persistence of the problem. So I figured that was a good way to structure this talk.

First, then, a word on scale and scope.

The latest and most credible study on the subject, the Global Slavery Index by the Walk Free Foundation, estimates there are 29.8 Million people in some form of modern slavery. The International Labor Organization puts it at 21 Million. These are the conservative estimates. 

Modern Slavery is often referred to by the bureaucratic term “human trafficking”, which can lead people to believe cross-border movement is an essential element of the crime. The working definition of modern slavery most commonly used is actually much simpler: one person forcing another to work, commercially or sexually, against their will and for the profit and benefit of another.

Most of the anti-slavery field today further breaks this definition into 5 categories, which form the organizing principle for the Freedom Center’s permanent exhibit “Invisible: Slavery Today”:

Forced Labor, which is most like our historic American slavery - coerced, usually physically, and without pay; its close cousin Bonded or Debt Labor, which is made to look like an employment agreement, but one where the worker starts with a debt he or she must work to repay – usually in brutal, forced labor conditions – only to find that repayment is impossible and therefore permanent; Sex Slavery, in which women and girls, and sometimes men, are forced to work in the commercial sex industry against their will; Domestic Servitude, where the seemingly normal practice of live-in help is used as cover for the exploitation and control of someone, usually from another country; and Forced Child Labor, which exhibits elements of the other forms in the special context of children, many of whom have been sold by their own parents.  

Almost half of these modern slaves can be found on the Indian sub-continent, where a toxic combination of extreme poverty, over-population, official corruption, and gender and caste-based discrimination has left 12-14 Million of that region’s poorest in some form of bonded labor, with another 1 Million +, conservatively, trapped in the Sex Industry. Another 3 million can be found in China; a half million more in Russia. On a per capita basis, Mauritania, Haiti, Nepal, Moldova, and Benin join India at the top of the charts. 

But this is not a problem limited to the developing world or places we may associate with oppressive governments. 

There are annually tens of thousands of men and women trafficked into the US and Western Europe under the false pretense of a job or educational opportunity, and then forced into both the commercial sex industry and the agricultural, construction, and hospitality industries. A fate they share with natives of each of those countries, as well.

Nor is this a problem that any of us can plausibly say does not touch our lives. There is slavery in the goods we buy and the foods we eat. Documented slavery in the material mining that goes into much of our electronics and things like makeup; documented slavery in the global seafood industry; documented slavery in the harvesting of palm oil and other cooking essentials. And the list goes on. I would encourage you to visit slaveryfootprint.org to learn more, as I know you can at kiosks in the exhibit.

How does this happen? In our world, today? The business is based on exploiting vulnerability – whether it be economic, social, or emotional – to meet a seemingly insatiable demand for cheap goods and cheap sex. It is conducted by organized - crime syndicates and solo practitioners alike.

And business is good. By all accounts, slavery is now the world’s 2nd largest criminal enterprise, at an estimated $32B/yr, behind only drug trafficking.

This financial incentive is, I believe, the key to understanding our second topic: slavery’s persistence.

Nothing I’ve seen better explains this notion than the simple remarks of radical abolitionist Wendell Phillips on the passage of the 13th Amendment:

“We have abolished the slave, but the master remains.”

The desire for slave labor did not start with the Transatlantic and American domestic slave trades. Nor did it end with their 19th century legal demise.

The histories of every part of the world are filled with references to slavery and forced labor. And important recent books like “Slavery by Another Name” make clear that slavery in effect, if not legal form, picked right back up in the former Confederacy shortly after Reconstruction ended.

The truth of this insight can be seen in the lives of the two men featured in the exhibit you are here to see tonight. 19th Century American Solomon Northup and 21st Century Cambodian Prum Vannak lived 150 years and half a world apart, yet both were kidnapped by people they thought were offering them jobs, and later sold into slavery for many years.

When we start to look, we see this story repeats elsewhere: whether it is young girls in a Bangladeshi village, lured by the promise of a better life in India; or the Haitian man crossing in to the sugar fields of the Dominican Republic in hopes of work that will bring dignity and security.

The constant here – and this is important – is the slaver, not the slave. In the beautiful film 12 Years a Slave, you saw the newly kidnapped Solomon beaten physically and psychologically, in an effort to force him to accept his new identity as a slave. On a recent panel I shared with the film’s Director Steve McQueen, Brad Myles of the Polaris Project, the leading anti-slavery organization with an American focus, pointed out that the film could be a field manual for the various methods of control he encounters regularly in his work with the survivors of modern slavery. What we see being done to Solomon happens today in Mumbai and Thailand, just as it does in Texas, and in Ohio.

We have abolished the slave, but the master remains.

I chose the word persistence to describe this concept because it insists on some sort of response. Usually you’re describing something as persistent because, like my young daughter’s frustrated wailing, it’s something you can’t ignore. But for far too long, that is just what we have done. We’ve chosen to believe the triumphant and comforting narrative that we ended slavery once and for all 150 years ago.

Wendell Phillips, along with Thomas Jefferson, is sometimes credited with another saying that more accurately describes reality: “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty”

This should be our mindset, and the good news is there are a large and growing number of modern abolitionists already there. Pioneers like Free the Slaves, International Justice Mission, and the Polaris Project are now being joined by Heads of State, Multinational Corporations, and religious leaders. Indeed, just a few weeks ago, the Pope, the ArchBishop of Canterbury, and the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar University in Cairo announced the formation of an historic interfaith alliance against slavery called the Global Freedom Network.    

This is progress, but not success. Eternal vigilance remains our obligation.

Or, in the words of the Talmudic Proverb my friend and mentor John Pepper often repeats in our work at the Freedom Center: “you are not required to complete the work, but neither are you permitted to desist from it." "

-Luke Blocher, Director of National Strategic Initiatives


Tuesday, February 25, 2014 - 3:38pm

In It To End It - So What Can I Do?

Have you seen the red Xs taking over Facebook today? Or perhaps you joined in and marked your hand with the X yourself. The End It Movement asked the anti trafficking community and its followers to shine a light on slavery by drawing a red X on hands on February 27th. That red X means that you’re telling the world that slavery still exists and you won’t stand for it. By using your influence and your hand, thousands are carrying the message of freedom.

What Does the Red X Mean?

The End It Movement asks individuals to use their voices to tell the world that slavery still exists in three main ways: Be the Billboard, Spread the Word, and Get the Toolkit. By supporting END IT gear you can advertise that slavery still existeverywhere you go.

Then by drawing that red X on your hand, you can tell your Facebook, Instagram and Twitter followers that slavery still exists using #ENDITMOVEMENT. People will start talking and asking questions when they see a sea of red Xs across their streams! Finally, head here to download the End It Movement toolkit. You’ll get a ton of digital resources to do a bunch of things with, like:

  • Change your profile pics to the red X
  • Print off a poster and leave it at your coffee shop on your morning java run
  • Learn more about the slavery industry & tweet a series of facts, like:
    • The slavery industry rakes in an estimated $32 billion each year
    • The majority of trafficking victims are between 18 and 24
    • In 1850, the cost of slave (in today’s dollars) was $40K; the average price of slave today is $90


What Else Can I Do?

Sometimes it’s overwhelming to think about slavery because we don’t know what we can actually do to end it. Not everyone can leave careers and join organizations fighting on the ground – but we don’t all have to. Even if you only have a small amount of time, you can make a valuable contribution. Here is a list of easy ways you can get involved today:

  1. Save the hotline number in your cell phone and call/text if you suspect something. 1-888-373-7888
  2. Head to Slavery Footprint to learn how many slaves work for you. Then look at your shopping habits.
  3. Check the labels of your coffee and chocolate to make sure it says Fair Trade Certified. If it doesn’t, commit right then to only purchasing from companies that guarantee their products are made without slaves.
  4. Fundraise for organizations that are on the front-lines. Take your pick – there are dozens of great organizations working to assist those in slavery. If your budget is tight, then use your birthday as an occasion for others to give on your behalf.
  5. Write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper that shows readers slavery didn’t end in 1865. Use the facts on the End It Movement toolkit if you need some evidence to beef it up – they share where each of their statistics came from.

Ending slavery is a challenge that’s been around for many, many years – but it’s one that this generation can implode if it takes it seriously. A red X won’t end slavery, but it raises the awareness of those within your circle of influence. Use that influence wisely, and then take real steps in your own life to address slavery.

We can end slavery in our lifetime. Be in it to end it.

Monday, February 24, 2014 - 1:43pm

Ohio Anti-Trafficking Leaders Gather at Freedom Center & Tour Invisible

On Tuesday, February 25th, the Freedom Center will host the leaders of the Ohio Department of Public Safety (ODPS), its Office of Criminal Justice Services (OCJS), the Southwestern Ohio branch of the Salvation Army, and the Greater Cincinnati Rescue & Restore Coalition End Slavery Cincinnati. These abolitionists are coming together at the Freedom Center to announce a grant from OCJS to the Salvation Army that will allow for more comprehensive care of trafficking victims in Southwestern Ohio.

The meeting doubles as a working session on the new statewide Human Trafficking Awareness campaign, recently launched by ODPS and the Governor of Ohio’s Human Trafficking Task Force. The members of the End Slavery Cincinnati coalition will be leading the regional effort to share these materials in order to keep the momentum building around awareness in our region.

Adding a healthy dose of sober reflection and inspiration was a group tour of Invisible: Slavery Today that followed the working session.

“Hosting modern day abolitionists like the End Slavery Cincinnati coalition is core to our mission,“ said Luke Blocher of the Freedom Center. “Like the Vigilance Committees of the 19th Century, these groups are on the front lines of serving victims and fighting slavery in our community. We hope, like all of our visitors, they will leave empowered in the knowledge that slavery has been defeated before, and can be again today.”

Monday, February 3, 2014 - 2:37pm

How Violence Plagues the Poor

Our friends at the International Justice Mission made an exciting announcement this morning. Their President and CEO, Gary Haugen, released his brand new book, The Locust Effect, which details the reality of brutal, constant, and unchecked violence that confronts most of the world’s poor.

At the Freedom Center we challenge and inspire people to take courageous steps for freedom by telling stories like Gary’s, as we did in our documentary Journey to Freedom. We tell these stories so people will be empowered to join with Gary and IJM, and others like them, in attacking injustices like the scourge of violence that greets the extremely poor at nearly every turn. We tell these stories because true freedom can only come when everyone can enjoy the basic protection from violence that most of the developed world experiences.  

Violence & the Poor

Globally, the facts are stunning:

  • Nearly 30 million children, women and men are held as forced labor slaves.
  • One in 5 women will be a victim of rape or attempted rape – and sexual violence makes everyday activities like going to school, gathering water, using a communal restroom or taking public transport dangerous. 
  • The truth is that that 4 billion people - that most of the world’s poorest people – live in places where their justice systems don’t or can’t protect them from these kinds of “everyday violence.”  

Learn more by visiting Invisible: Slavery Today, the world’s first permanent, museum-quality exhibit on modern slavery, housed at the Freedom Center and developed with Free the Slaves, GoodWeave, International Justice Mission, and Polaris Project,

How can this be?

The Locust Effect gets to the most basic – and perhaps most shocking – point on page 36 of the very first chapter:

“The most fundamental systems of law and order (which communities in affluent countries consider the most basic public service) have been so useless for so long in much of the developing world that violent criminals preying upon the poor don’t give it a second thought – and tragically, much of the world has ceased to give a second thought to fixing or even understanding the breakdown”

Perhaps we’ve been lulled into a sense of complacency by the appearance of justice – by the mirage that is reflected off of the statue books and courtrooms we’ve come to associate with the Rule of Law. Gary’s book shatters the illusion and makes very clear the drastic consequences for the world’s poor.

We simply can’t accept the mere appearance of justice anymore, and The Locust Effect offers a guidepost on how to get started. 

Check out this unforgettable video that shows what the world is up against as we work together to help our poorest neighbors.  You won’t want to miss the powerful moment at 1:48 - - our fight against poverty is worth safeguarding.  Click here to see the video.

Want more? Check out The Locust Effect, by IJM’s president Gary A.  Haugen, which releases today.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014 - 10:25am

Remarks at the Ohio Human Trafficking Awareness Day

Note: Luke Blocher, Director of Strategic Initiatives, joined state and national anti-trafficking leaders in Columbus on January 9, 2014 and delivered these remarks. He was joined by keynote speaker Theresa Flores, human trafficking survivor and founder of Save Our Adolescents from Prostitution (SOAP); Ohio Senator Peggy Lehner; Ohio Human Trafficking Coordinator Elizabeth Ranade-Janis; Former CEO of Procter & Gamble and Founding Counselor for the Global Business Coalition Against Human Trafficking John Pepper Jr.; Judges Paul Herbert and Greg Singer; U.S. Attorney Carter Stewart; Director of the Attorney General’s Division of Children’s Initiatives Melinda Sykes; and human trafficking survivors.

You can watch the remarks below or at The Ohio Channel, a service of Ohio’s Public Broadcasting stations. Freedom Center Honorary Co-Chair of the Board, Mr. John Pepper’s remarks begin at 66:03. Luke Blocher’s remarks follow, beginning at 86:52. Both can be watched in 35 minutes.

The Freedom Center is a museum on the banks of the Ohio River in Cincinnati.  We are located there, on the border between slave and free states, because close to 60% of all the courageous slaves who fled north on the Underground Railroad in the years leading up to the Civil War did so by crossing the Ohio within 30 miles of our location.

Our mission is to tell the stories of freedom’s heroes, from the era of the Underground Railroad, through to contemporary times, inspiring and challenging people to take courageous steps for freedom today.

In other words, we stand firmly rooted in an era that revealed the best of courage, cooperation, and perseverance…and demand that people do better today.

We do this through our exhibits, through programming we host in our building, and – increasingly – through digital content and media.

So what is it that we say people should learn from this history, as it relates to the challenges we face today?

First: Slavery is not a historical concept. The form of legal, chattel slavery that dominated our nation’s politics for much of our first 100 years is, Thank God, a piece of history. But the exploitation and control of one human by another, for the purposes of one profiting from the other’s labor, continues. It continued in this country after the Civil War, as it did around the world. And it continues everywhere today, including here in our State. 

Importantly, though - and this is the main point I want to make today to this audience – abolition is not a historic concept either. In our schools and in our culture, we celebrate the conductors on the Underground Railroad, and the abolitionists who fought for decades to end legalized American slavery, as unvarnished and uncontroversial heroes.

You may recall from your history books, however, that the idea slavery could be outlawed was, for many, many years, a ridiculous proposition. Indeed, it is hard to conceive of an economic and cultural force more potent than “the slave power” of the first half of the 19th century. Yet these abolitionists fought day by day; they built a movement, brick by brick. And eventually, they won.

Today we face a different battle. Instead of a concentrated political and economic elite, we face the forces of ignorance and indifference, and of shadowy but highly organized criminal networks who feed on both.

But while the game may have changed, the way to win has not - the simple truth remains that a collection of committed individuals, united around the basic cause of human freedom, can stamp out slavery.

Indeed, to paraphrase Margaret Mead, it is the only thing that ever has.

This is the story we tell at the Freedom Center, so that the people we touch will recognize slavery is still a problem they must confront, and believe they have the power to do something about it.

YOU are our evidence. The people in this room, and the people all across the world who continue the work of the great 19th Century Abolitionists. YOU demonstrate that abolition is not merely a historic concept.

Think about it this way:

At the Freedom Center, we celebrate how John Parker, himself a former slave, traveled into Kentucky from Ripley, Ohio to ferry escaping slaves across the Ohio River to freedom. TODAY, people like the Salvation Army and International Justice Mission and so many others similarly extend their hand to help people escape their traffickers. But we can do more.

Back then in Ripley, the Rev. John Rankin opened his home to keep runaway slaves safe as they continued their journey to freedom. TODAY, safe houses do this same work here, at places like the Oasis House, and around the world.  Although we need much more.

In 19th century Cincinnati, Katie Coffin opened her home as a transitional place, for escaping slaves to reclaim their mental, physical and spiritual health. TODAY, many different transitional homes staffed with dedicated caregivers provide a sanctuary for survivors to move from slavery to a true and empowered freedom. Although, again, we need more.

A Governor who sat in this very building, Salmon Chase, was first a lawyer in Cincinnati who regularly challenged the system of legal slavery and advocated on behalf of escaping slaves in court. TODAY, lawmakers like Theresa Fedor are making policy that allows lawyers and investigators to bring traffickers to justice for the first time, and to change the cost-benefit analysis of choosing a life of criminal trafficking. But we need more.

Most importantly, back then people like Frederick Douglass, Solomon Northup, and Harriett Jacobs - men and women of almost unfathomable courage - had the will, the temerity, to escape from slavery and then to spend their lives telling their story and forcing our country to face the ugly truth of chattel slavery. TODAY, we have heroes like Theresa Flores, Rachel Lloyd and my new friend Katalea from Wright State who do the same. Their impact, and their courage, can’t possibly be overstated. As Rep Flores and I were discussing last night, we need to give them an even greater voice.

These are the stories that we tell. We tell them in our exhibits, like the world’s first museum quality exhibit Invisible: Slavery Today; in our programming, like the annual reception with the State Department Trafficking in Person Report Heroes and the unique academics-to-activism Historians against Slavery Conference;

and in media like our original documentary Journey to Freedom. This film, which is available on youtube and dvd, tells the parallel stories of Solomon Northup in 1840 and Cambodian Prum Vannak. You may have heard of Solomon’s story from the new film 12 Years a Slave. Vannak’s story is eerily similar, but it took place in Southeast Asia less than ten years ago. The film also tells the parallel stories of abolitionists in each era, and concludes by asking viewers to join the network of these abolitionists which spans hundreds of years and every continent. It has been screened at over 50 US embassies around as an integral part of the U.S. State Department’s public programming, and is available for use by anyone who wants to introduce this topic to broad audiences.

This has been our part of this movement, but WE need to do more. More to tell your stories, so that others join this movement.

That’s why n the coming months, we will be re-launching a website and anti-trafficking resource called EndSlaveryNow. This will be a place anyone can go, to easily, but comprehensively, get an introduction to what modern slavery is, where it is happening around the world, and who is doing what to respond to it.

We will also present the full spectrum of the response to trafficking - from awareness, rescue, and prosecution, to aftercare, transition, and empowerment – as well as a way to connect to the organizations focused on each of these elements.

And finally, we’ll provide a FULL picture of the many ways a committed individual can act – today – to attack human trafficking and modern slavery around the world and in their communities.

In this way, we hope End Slavery Now will act as a funnel: attracting people (through the magic of Search Engine Optimization) who may just be learning about modern slavery and human trafficking, educating them as to the true scope and scale of the challenge, and then funneling them to the organizations and issues that most align with their hearts and their passion.

We believe there will be two keys to the success of this effort. First, it must be comprehensive. We are fortunate that the original creators of this resource had close relationships with many of the leading national and global NGOs. To this base, we’re adding a state-by-state directory of anti-trafficking organizations. In Ohio, we will of course be relying on the incredible work already undertaken by Liz Rainade-Janis and the Deparment of Public Safety in this area. We will welcome your comments and suggestions at all times as to what we may be missing, though.

Just as important as this depth, though, will be the way the information presented. This, like everything we do at the Freedom Center, will be done through stories. We will explain the many forms and locations of modern slavery through the stories of the individuals affected by it; we will present the spectrum of modern abolition by highlighting the people and organizations that are leading this charge. I’ve already spoken to some of you here about how we might feature your organizations – and your stories – as a way to reach more people with your message, and ultimately to inspire action. I hope to talk to many more of you about this in the coming months. 

This project, As we have begun to say, has a very simple purpose: We all have a role in ending slavery in our communities and around the world. At End Slavery Now, we help you find yours

Let me close by saying this:

The Freedom Center and other museums of conscience and educational institutions exist to tell the stories of heroic people. We exist because people throughout time have chosen to stand up against injustice, and demand change. We exist because of people like you.

And for that I simply want to say thank you, and don’t stop. 

Friday, November 15, 2013 - 1:29pm

The Solomon Northup Tour

After watching the film, Twelve Years A Slave, my colleague, Rich Cooper, and I were reeling with emotions. Chiwetel Ejiofor’s performance as Solomon Northup gave us goosebumps – not to mention the performances by Michael Fassbender and Lupita Nyong’o. Everyone I talked to was processing the film days later, and we realized how important it was to work through the emotions this film rattled inside of us. Its impact on race-relations, human trafficking, the cradle-to-prison pipeline, and so many other contemporary issues is huge – and some place needed to harness the film’s power to achieve dialogue and action. We also thought that Solomon’s powerful story on film deserved to be honored in a national institution.

The Solomon Northup Tour

So, the Solomon Northup Tour was birthed. I’m a native of Saratoga Springs, New York – the very town Solomon lived in prior to his kidnapping – and Rich is a historian of the Underground Railroad (his newest book, Cincinnati’s Underground Railroad, releases in March 2014). Both of us were passionate about his story long before the film, and we were honored to transform his narrative into a guest experience that could create powerful meaning for today.

The tour begins the moment you step toward our elevators in our main lobby. You enter a scene from the film where Solomon and Ann ride in a carriage in Saratoga. The elevator doors open, physically separating Ann and Solomon – a depiction of the twelve years to come. Once you arrive on the second floor, you’re greeted by our beautiful Grand Hall, a two story atrium created by the unification of three wings of the museum: the Courage Pavilion, the Cooperation Pavilion, and the Perseverance Pavilion, the three characteristics that define the historic Underground Railroad and, certainly, Solomon’s journey. The flood of natural light through the magnificent two-story windows draws you to the river scene to the south, where you begin following Solomon’s story.

7 Stops – and a Changed Life

The Solomon Northup Tour weaves through two floors and more than three permanent exhibits. In each of the seven stops, you learn more about Solomon’s heart-breaking story. For instance, on the second stop, you step inside our largest artifact: the John W. Anderson Slave Pen, a real slave pen built in the 1800s and used as a holding pen by a slave trader from Kentucky. While standing in this slave pen, you read about Solomon’s kidnapping in Washington D.C., his confinement inside a pen just like this one, and his first whipping – again, inside a slave pen like this one. You imagine Solomon – and millions of others – standing where you are standing. And, you feel the cold, bitter hatred that crawls out to underpin a system such as slavery.

There are six more stops, each of which offer a glimpse into Solomon’s life and allow you to experience his story. Through artifacts, murals, paintings and portraits, and a reproduction of a cotton bale you’re transported back in time, whispering hope to Solomon and feeling compassion for the nameless millions whose stories didn’t make the silver screen.

Solomon and Today

The final stop on your journey is our permanent exhibit, Invisible: Slavery Today, where you encounter the stories of five others: Alexandre, Kumar, Tatyana, Mariano and Helia. These five individuals share their stories with you, too – except that they’re nearly a century and a half later. Through their courage, cooperation and perseverance you learn that slavery still exists despite our common understanding that it ended in 1865.

Our Final Thoughts

Rich and I hope that you’ll take a few hours to come down to the Freedom Center to take this important tour. We don’t recommend planning your date night around it because, quite honestly, you’ll most likely be ready to digest and process in silence. But that’s what this tour is for – for our friends, family and guests to process their emotions and thoughts after viewing a film like Twelve Years A Slave.

What does this film mean for contemporary America? Can we develop a meaningful approach to the legacies of slavery? Our colleagues at the Freedom Center believe so, and this is our first step toward doing so. We truly hope you’ll think so, too.



The tour is presented courtesy of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. If you enjoy the tour, consider joining our movement by becoming a member of the museum or supporting our mission.

The tour is curated by Rich Cooper and Brooke Hathaway. Tour materials were designed by Jesse Kramer. Copyright 2013.