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Know Your Rights
Source: Coalition of Immokalee Workers
Subject: Immigration
Type: Media Coverage

Modern-Day Slavery Museum Northeast Tour

To kick off Week Two of the tour, the Modern-Day Slavery Museum spent three very busy days in New York, a Northern city heavily implicated in the history of chattel slavery.

This long-forgotten history is best reflected at African Burial Ground National Monument, a 6.6-acre burial ground in Lower Manhattan that was used for both free and enslaved Africans from the 1690s until 1794. The burial ground was lost for generations and not re-discovered until 1991 when excavators were preparing the land at 290 Broadway for a new federal building.

Placing New York’s slavery practices into context, Dr. Leslie Harris writes, “As in the South, black slave labor was central to the day-to-day survival and the economic life of Europeans in the colonial North, and no part of the colonial North relied more heavily on slavery than Manhattan…. Under both the Dutch and the British, slaves performed vital agricultural tasks in the rural areas surrounding New York City…. In the eighteenth century, only Charleston and New Orleans exceeded New York City in number of slaves.”

Our site for the first of three days in Manhattan was in front of the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine, an incredibly beautiful, if unfinished, structure that is one of the two largest cathedrals in the world.

And with our gracious host and continuous visits from old friends (including some familiar faces from the Farmworker Freedom March), we didn’t feel like strangers in the big city for long. Above, Las Mariposas Urbanas, the youth group at the Iglesia San Romero de las Americas (UCC), receive a firsthand tour of the museum from the CIW’s Oscar Otzoy.

The tour crew made plenty of new friends, as well, such as this passerby who was so touched by the exhibit that he shared a hug with Oscar.

We were also honored to receive a visit from Dr. Eric Foner, the DeWitt Clinton Professor of History at Columbia University. Dr. Foner provided useful feedback during the planning phase of the museum and had this to say about the exhibit back in February:

“A century and a half after the Civil War, forms of slavery continue to exist in the world, including in the United States. This Mobile Museum brings to light this modern tragedy and should inspire us to take action against it.”

Our second day in New York required skillfully maneuvering the cumbersome box truck through the very center of Manhattan, including Times Square, en route to our next stop at Judson Memorial Church on Washington Square.

But the tedious journey was well worth it as throngs of museum-goers crowded the site throughout the day including close allies from the Poverty Initiative and Domestic Workers United, another organization fighting against the long shadow of slavery. In case you missed the news, DWU recently won a major victory in Albany with the passage of the Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights. Congratulations, once again!

In June, the New York Times reported, “The State Senate has just passed a domestic workers’ bill of rights, with an array of guarantees that most workers take for granted, like paid holidays, sick days, vacation days and the right to overtime pay and collective bargaining domestic workers, like farm workers, have long struggled for equality in the workplace. Labor protections drafted in the New Deal specifically excluded both groups of workers, who remain highly vulnerable to exploitation.”

Farmworkers, however, have had less success as of late petitioning the State Senate for similar reforms.

Day Two was rounded out with a special visit from Florrie Burke, long-time CIW supporter and steadfast ally in the fight against modern-day slavery with the New York Anti-Trafficking Network and Freedom Network USA.

On our third and final day in New York, the museum relocated to Middle Collegiate Church and opened with a visit from the Mayor’s office!

Above, Deputy Mayor of Legal Affairs Carol Robles-Roman and Deputy Counsel Norma Abbene speak with the CIW’s Julia Perkins about the city’s “Let’s End Human Trafficking” initiative and the Campaign for Fair Food.

The civil servants were soon followed by a band of young visitors from the Lower Eastside Girls Club and, later that day, workers from Make the Road New York, long, long-time friends who accompanied us on the very first Taco Bell Truth Tour!

Again in the evening, the museum was the place to be as community members got off work and visited, including members of Brandworkers International and the Global Action Project.

Even a pair visitors who had first seen the museum in its native Florida happened upon it in New York City and they joined the growing ranks of consumers who are letting Ahold USA know exactly what they think of its decision to turn a blind eye to the exploitation in Florida’s fields.

As the final day drew to a close, the museum crew began to turn its attention to the road ahead on the Northeast Tour.

But by any reasonable standard, the three-day visit was a smashing success, made possible, in large part, by the tireless efforts of the Community/Farmworker Alliance (who are preparing to turn the heat up on NYC grocery fave Trader Joe’s) and the National Economic and Social Rights Initiative (NESRI). Thanks to one and all who came out to the museum and continue to stand by the CIW in the Campaign for Fair Food!