Tag Archives: slavery

Prize-winning book chronicles history of racist thinking

Stamped from the Beginning, winner of the National Book Award winner for nonfiction, is a work of history very much rooted in recent events.

Ibram X. Kendi’s 600-page narrative traces racism in the United States, from colonial times to the present.

Kendi began working on the book shortly before the killing of Trayvon Martin in 2012 and he felt a special urgency to write about what he calls “stimulations,” individuals “who believe that black people were culturally or behaviorally inferior.”

“There are notions that scientists, and journalists, and scholars can be objective,” he says. “And typically those ideas that have connoted that black people are in some ways inferior have been cast as these objective ideas, which then legitimize them and allowed for their circulation.”

Kendi, an assistant professor of African American History at the University of Florida, structured Stamped from the Beginning around five people, ranging from Thomas Jefferson to Angela Davis, and around the efforts to combat racism, whether the self-help ethic of Booker T. Washington or the moral persuasion of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

The book’s title comes from a speech by Jefferson Davis, given the year before he became president of the Confederate states.

“This country was created by white men for white men, and inequality between the white and black races was stamped from the beginning,” Davis said.

In a recent interview with The Associated Press, Kendi discussed his findings on racist ideas, why some breakthroughs in American history were not such breakthroughs after all and whether he would have made any major changes had he completed the book after the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States.

ON THE ORIGINS OF RACIST IDEAS:

“I chronicle a history in which we’ve been taught this notion that it’s ignorance and hate that lead to racist ideas about black people, and then it’s these people with these racist ideas that are the people who create racist policies. And I actually find, through my research, that that line of thinking is ahistorical, and it’s actually been quite the opposite. Racist policies have been created typically out of self-interest and those policies have bred racist ideas to justify those policies, and then the circulation of those racist ideas has led to ignorance and hate.”

ON WHY BROWN V. BOARD OF EDUCATION, THE SUPREME COURT DECISION THAT DEEMED SEGREGATION IN PUBLIC SCHOOLS UNCONSTITUTIONAL, WAS ALSO AN AFFIRMATION OF RACIST THINKING:

“Most Americans have not read the actual majority opinion written by Chief Justice Warren, and in that opinion, he states very clearly, and I’m quoting him, that ‘The segregation of the white and colored children in public schools has a detrimental effect upon colored children,’ and not white and colored children, but colored children, and his decision was based on all of these psychological and social science studies that were making the case that segregational poverty was literally making black children inferior. … These studies then suggested that what black children need is to be closer to white children.”

ON SIMILARITIES HE SEES BETWEEN TODAY AND THE EARLY 20TH CENTURY:

“One hundred years ago a wealthy New Yorker by the name of Madison Grant published a best-selling book called The Passing of the Great Race, and this book was translated into several languages, including German, and it became the bible of somebody by the name of Adolf Hitler, and this ‘Passing of the Great Race’ author made the case that the ‘great race,’ of course an Anglo-Saxon white race, was basically under attack by everyone else. By immigrants from Eastern Europe and Southern Europe, by non-white immigrants, by civil rights activists …”

ON WHETHER HE WOULD HAVE WRITTEN THE BOOK’S OPTIMISTIC CONCLUSION, IN WHICH HE WONDERS IF “MAYBE THE TIME IS NOW” FOR REAL PROGRESS AGAINST RACISM,” HAD HE FINISHED IT AFTER THE ELECTION OF TRUMP:

“I would say that in order for anybody to bring about change you have to believe that change is possible, and so first and foremost that epilogue, and that ending, is coming from that perspective. And then, secondly, being an historian, I know that changes have usually come as a result of people feeling and recognizing that things are pretty bad. And so it would not surprise me if we are able to create an anti-racist America in the near future …”

On the web

https://www.ibram.org/

 

Attorney General offers ‘national strategy’ to combat human trafficking

As part of National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month, Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch announced the Justice Department’s National Strategy to Combat Human Trafficking , as required by the 2015 Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act.

In addition to this new national strategy, every year, the attorney general also submits the Attorney General’s Annual Report to Congress and Assessment of U.S. Government Activities to Combat Trafficking in Persons, which details the programs and activities carried out by all federal agencies and sets forth recommended goals for the upcoming year.

The most recent report, for FY 2015, is available here.

The department also has launched www.justice.gov/humantrafficking as a central destination to learn more about the department’s efforts to combat the scourge of human trafficking.

“Human trafficking is one of the most devastating crimes that we confront,” said Lynch.  “The National Strategy to Combat Human Trafficking summarizes the work that our many components and our U.S. Attorney’s Offices are doing to better help survivors and target traffickers. These efforts encourage increased collaboration within the department as well as between the department and our partners in order to build on our successes as we prepare to take on the work that remains.”

The National Strategy sets forth plans to enhance coordination within the department and to develop specific strategies within each federal district to stop human trafficking.

The National Strategy includes the following:

  • An assessment of the threat presented by human trafficking based on FBI case information.
  • An account of the work of the department’s components that are most extensively involved in anti-trafficking efforts, including the Civil Rights Division’s Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit; the Criminal Division’s Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section; the U.S. Attorneys’ Offices; the FBI; and various grant-making components within the Office of Justice Programs.
  • A description of the district-specific strategies developed by each U.S. Attorney’s Office.
  • A discussion of human trafficking and anti-trafficking efforts in Indian Country.
  • Information about annual spending dedicated to preventing and combating human trafficking.
  • A description of plans to encourage cooperation, coordination and mutual support between the private and non-profit sector and the department to combat human trafficking.

On the web

To learn more about the report and the department’s efforts to combat human trafficking visit www.justice.gov/humantrafficking.

Colson Whitehead, Rep. John Lewis win National Book Awards

On a night of nervous laughter and cathartic tears and applause, Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad won the National Book Award for fiction and Democratic U.S. Rep. John Lewis, of Georgia, shared the prize for young people’s literature for a graphic novel about his civil rights activism.

The awards were presented in mid-November during an emotional dinner ceremony at Cipriani Wall Street in Manhattan, with Larry Wilmore serving as host and President-elect Donald Trump the running theme and arch-villain.

From Wilmore’s opening monologue through virtually every award announcement, speakers in the deep-blue literary community addressed Trump’s stunning upset of Democrat Hillary Clinton and how authors should respond.

“Outside is the blasted hellhole wasteland of Trumpland, which we’re going to inhabit,” said Whitehead, whose Oprah Winfrey-endorsed narrative about an escaped slave already was the year’s most talked about literary work. “I hit upon something that made me feel better: be kind to everybody, make art and fight the power.”

Daniel Borzutzky’s The Performance of Becoming Human won for poetry and historian Robert Caro was presented an honorary medal for lifetime achievement.

No speaker moved the crowd more than Lewis, who collaborated with Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell on a trilogy of illustrated works titled March. Cited for the finale, March: Book Three, the 76-year-old Lewis became tearful as he remembered a librarian in his native Alabama who refused to let him borrow books because of his skin color. He then remembered an elementary school teacher who told him “Read, my child, read!”

“And I tried to read everything,” he said.

Lewis’ win marked two rarities for the National Book Awards, now in their 67th year: a prize for a graphic novel and for a member of Congress. In 2004, the government-drafted 9-11 Commission Report was a nonfiction finalist.

Wilmore, whose rueful jokes about Trump at the beginning of the night seemed to depress rather than amuse the gathering of writers, publishers, editors and others, got a good laugh at the end when he called the evening the BET (Black Entertainment Television) production of the National Book Awards.

The awards are presented by the National Book Foundation and the ceremony was the first under executive director Lisa Lucas, the first black and first woman to have the job. Ibram X. Kendi’s Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America won for nonfiction and an honorary award was given to the founders of Cave Canem, a Brooklyn-based foundation for black poets.

“I spent years looking at the absolute worst of America, its horrible history of racism, but in the end I never lost faith,” Kendi said. “In the midst of the human ugliness of racism, there is the human beauty of the resistance to racism.”

Each of the winners in the four competitive categories received $10,000.

Choices are made by panels of judges that include writers, critics, journalists and scholars.

Many of the nominated books seemed to take on added relevance and even urgency in the week after the election. The Underground Railroad is a deep look into the culture of this country during the Civil War, and Arlie Russell Hochschild’s nonfiction Strangers In Their Own Land a modern journey to a conservative Louisiana community.

Fiction nominee Jacqueline Woodson, whose Another Brooklyn is a coming of age story about a black girl in the 1970s, said she was feeling a “a mixture of sobriety and hope” and “gratitude for what is both a distraction and a call to work.” Nonfiction nominee Andres Resendez said we were living in a “new era” and needed more than ever to study the past.

“We still have much to learn and discover about this shameful part of our history, and thus the exploration will surely continue and intensify,” said Resendez, a finalist for The Other Slavery: The Uncovered Story of Indian Enslavement in America.

Every speech seemed to touch upon the present even when Trump wasn’t named.

Caro spoke of his books about Lyndon Johnson and municipal builder Robert Moses and how his aim was to show how political power really operated.

A co-founder of Cave Canem, Cornelius Eady, referred to a certain building (Trump Tower) further north in Manhattan and how he feared that the President-elect and his aides were “trying to write a narrative about who we are and who we are supposed to be and what they intend to do about it.”

“It’s our duty to make sure we get to write our story …” he said, “the fullness of who we are, the contradictions of who we are, in our own language, in our own way.”

After Kaepernick’s protest, singers question anthem

Grammy-winning R&B singer Anthony Hamilton has sung the national anthem in the past. Don’t ask him to sing it in the near future.

Hamilton’s frustration with “The Star-Spangled Banner” is shared by some other black Americans, who feel like the tune sung before major U.S. events is not the best representation of all Americans.

That sentiment became part of the national conversation after the NFL’s Colin Kaepernick announced he would not stand for the anthem in protest of racial discrimination against blacks in the United States, particularly after a spate of police shootings of African Americans.

Since Kaepernick has decided to take a knee while the anthem plays at games, others have followed suit, from the NFL to high school to other sports.

There are still plenty of singers singing the national anthem at major events.

But Hamilton is among those who are reconsidering whether they’d do so.

“I’m gonna take a little time away from the anthem until it starts feeling like it’s for me,” said Hamilton, who is black. “We need a new song, one that really speaks for all of us, or bring some new life to the one that we have.”

Several musicians declined to be interviewed for this story.

The anthem, one of the most popular songs in the country, has become a badge of honor for musicians when invited to sing it, and a well-received live performance of the song normally boosts an act’s career. Whitney Houston’s performance of the anthem at the Super Bowl is considered one of her greatest, and one of the best renditions of it.

Alicia Keys, who has performed the anthem at the Super Bowl and other events throughout her 15-year career, said she gets where the San Francisco 49er quarterback is coming from.

“I understand. I understand,” she said seriously in an interview.

Keys, who like Kaepernick is biracial, said that she learned new information about the anthem after the athlete’s protest sparked countless articles. A third verse that is rarely sung includes the lines, “No refuge could save the hireling and slave/From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave.”

Francis Scott Key, the song’s author, was a supporter of slavery.

“To actually read the facts, you know, I can understand it. It’s time for a lot of things to change. We know what this country was built off of and based off of, and it’s time for that to evolve. It’s time for the story to evolve,” she said.

“There’s some great things that have carried on for generations and generations and there’s some things that have to change, like that was an old way of thinking and now if we’re going to move toward really looking at each other in the same eyes and in the spirit of oneness, then we have to make changes from past mistakes.”

That third verse is also one reason why John Legend tweeted shortly after Kaepernick’s protest that he wasn’t a fan of the national anthem. While Legend has sung the anthem previously, he called the anthem “weak,” opting for “America the Beautiful” instead.

The NFL said teams arrange for their own anthems, and while some singers are second-guessing performing the song after Kaepernick’s protest, the organization said “no teams have identified this as an issue.” But on Monday at the Sacramento Kings preseason game, singer Leah Tysse, who is white, kneeled while performing the national anthem.

“I have sung the anthem before but this time taking a knee felt like the most patriotic thing I could do. I cannot idly stand by as black people are unlawfully profiled, harassed and killed by our law enforcement over and over and without a drop of accountability,” Tysse wrote on her Facebook page. “The sad reality is, as a white American I am bestowed a certain privilege in this nation that is not enjoyed by all people. Black families are having much different conversations with their children about how to interact with the police than white families. Let’s be honest. Until we can recognize that white privilege exists we cannot have a dialogue about race.”

The Kings Organization said in a statement they “respect the personal decision of Leah Tysse to exercise her freedom of speech.”

A Quinnipiac University poll released this week shows that most white Americans disapprove of protests by athletes during the national anthem while black Americans approve of the protests by an even larger margin.

Pop singer JoJo, who burst on the music scene at 13, said she’s still proud to sing the anthem because of the veterans in her family.

“When I sing the national anthem, I’m thinking of the veterans in my family, and I completely respect Colin’s stance to bring awareness to black people who are still facing injustice, and I really do respect it. But for me, I’m just, I enjoy singing the song,” said 25-year-old JoJo, who is white.

“Well this is what my mom said to me: ‘We’re all just trying to somehow make things right, so if we can come together as a country over that song, great. But at the end of the day, it’s easier said than done,”” she added.

Hamilton said he currently feels mixed emotions about being black in America in these racially charged times, and even sometimes feels betrayed.

“It feels like it’s a lie by the way they treat us,” Hamilton, 45, added of the anthem and how blacks are regarded in America. “Seems like the Constitution ain’t really constituting us.”

 

Shrimp slaves wait for justice 8 months after Thai raid

Nearly eight months ago, migrant worker Tin Nyo Win thought he was doing the right thing — the only thing — to help free his pregnant wife from slavery inside a Thai shrimp peeling shed. He ran for help and prompted police to raid the business, freeing nearly 100 Burmese laborers, including child slaves.

Yet the couple ended up first in jail and then held inside a government shelter, even though they were victims of trafficking. That’s where they remain today with a few other workers from the Gig Peeling Factory, waiting to testify in a slow-moving court case while their former employers are free on bail. Angry and frustrated, they just want to go home.

“I feel like I’ve been victimized three times. Once in the shrimp shed, the second time in … jail and now again in the shelter,” Tin Nyo Win said on a mobile phone smuggled in by another Burmese worker.

“Even prisoners know how many years or months they will be in prison, but we don’t know anything about how many years or months we’ll be stuck here,” he added. “It’s worse than prison.”

Recently, Thailand was lifted off the U.S. State Department’s blacklist, where it had been listed for the past two years as one of the world’s worst human trafficking offenders alongside North Korea, Syria, Iran and others. Some activists saw the upgrade as a political move by Washington to appease an ally, and 21 labor, anti-trafficking and environmental groups expressed their disappointment in an open letter to Secretary of State John Kerry.

The Thai government lobbied hard ahead of the announcement, saying new laws have been passed to help protect victims. The government also said that 241 human traffickers were sentenced in 2015, and 34 officials are facing prosecution for involvement or complicity in the trade.

But critics say low-level people or brokers from other countries are typically the ones jailed instead of Thai business owners, corrupt police or high-ranking officials.

“Debt bondage for migrants is still the norm, and police abuse and extortion happens on a daily basis all over the country,” said Phil Robertson of Human Rights Watch in Bangkok. “While it’s good that prosecutions are going up, the reality is that we’re still talking about the tip of the iceberg here.”

The country has been under international pressure to clean up its $7 billion annual seafood export industry, including the threat of a seafood import ban from the European Union. An Associated Press investigation last year uncovered a slave island with migrant fishermen locked in a cage and buried under fake Thai names. The reporting, which led to more than 2,000 men being freed, followed the slave-caught seafood to Thailand and on to American dinner tables.

The investigation also focused on the Gig Peeling shed in Samut Sakhon, just outside of Bangkok, where Tin Nyo Win and his wife, Mi San, were forced to work 16 hours a day. They had to rip the guts, heads and tails off shrimp that entered supply chains feeding some of America’s biggest companies, including Red Lobster, Whole Foods, Wal-Mart and most major U.S. supermarkets. Many companies have said they are taking steps to prevent labor abuses.

Col. Prasert Siriphanapitat, the Samut Sakhon deputy police commander, said witness testimony began in April in the Gig shed case against three Thai defendants and two Burmese brokers. Only one Burmese suspect has been located. He added that new laws mandate quick prosecution of human trafficking, meaning the Gig case will likely be closed by the end of the year. But Tin Nyo Win said he and his wife have not spoken to a prosecutor or been informed about the case’s progress.

Suwalee Jaiharn, director of the country’s Anti-Trafficking in Persons division, said Thailand’s eight shelters are there to protect undocumented workers and denied that those housed inside are prohibited from leaving. She added, however, that some victims of trafficking are more closely monitored if they are expected to testify in criminal cases.

“We are protection centers and not detention centers,” she said. “There is an exception when some victims are witnesses in human trafficking cases. We have to give them extra protection.”

Suwalee said Thailand’s laws allow victims to testify ahead of their trials so they can go home quickly, or stay and work in the country. But aid workers said these options are rarely made available to migrant workers, leaving victims to wait in facilities far from home.

“Somebody’s always ordering you, and you are always under watch by someone and having to get permission all the time. This is totally what trafficking victims would have gone through while they were being trafficked,” said Ohnmar Ei Ei Chaw, senior case adviser at the Bangkok-based nonprofit Project Issara, which assists trafficking victims. “It is very difficult for them to feel empowered and like their needs are being met.”

For the first few months that Tin Nyo Win and Mi San were in the shelter, they said they were not allowed to have a phone. They couldn’t leave the shelter unaccompanied. They couldn’t work.

“If victims see that when they come forward they are kept in government shelters but not given freedom to work and move around, then what incentive do they have to come forward?” said Susan Coppedge, the U.S. anti-trafficking ambassador.

Following a supervised interview with AP at the shelter, Tin Nyo Win spoke candidly on a call. He said restrictions eased a couple of months ago, and victims can now have a phone and go outside the compound unsupervised. However, only eight people from the Gig case are still in the shelter, after 12 undocumented workers ran away. Those who remain worry they will never be compensated for unpaid wages and the abuses they suffered.

“My sister is in another shelter. She is 17 years old, and we have no chance to see each other. I’ve asked permission to see her many times, but I’m not allowed,” said Hkin Tet Mun, 31, adding that phone calls to her sibling are also prohibited. “I’m worried about her, and my sister wants to stay with me.”

Win Kai, 19, said he’s also desperate to leave, but feels trapped.

“My family is so worried about me,” he said by phone. “I don’t want to stay in the shelter. Can you help me quickly?”

Tin Nyo Win’s wife, now seven months pregnant, rubs the growing bump under her bright flowered shirt. She yearns to have the baby at home. But her husband says he won’t go — even if it means missing the birth of his child.

“We want to show the boss that we are really victims, and we want to show this to the court,” he said. “We want to see justice carried out.”

‘Free State of Jones’ bares forgotten Civil War tale

Newton Knight was a poor Mississippi farmer and Confederate soldier who deserted the Army in early 1862, waged a rebellion against the Confederacy and ended up forming a little colony of exiles, which they referred to as the Free State of Jones.

Their numbers rose with deserters as the Confederate effort floundered. They even took over Jones County and raised an American flag at the courthouse. It’s a fascinating slice of forgotten history. Coming after three years after “12 Years a Slave” made sure we’d never forget the name Solomon Northup, it’s not unreasonable to expect that maybe “Free State of Jones “ could do that for Newton Knight or his fellow rebels.

The film might teach you the name Newton Knight (played by a scruffy, gaunt and almost feral Matthew McConaughey), but it is far too sprawling and too unfocused to be placed in the canon of forgotten Civil War-era stories alongside “12 Years a Slave.”

This tale follows Newt from his last days in the service to his near-accidental establishment of a rogue state in a swamp as the war rages on, all the way to emancipation and reconstruction. If 14 years sounds like a lot of territory to cover, it is, and the movie takes its time doing so, running nearly two and a half hours. And yet it still feels hurried.

It begins promisingly enough, with the requisite war is hell reminder — fast-cutting between horrific injuries on the battlefield and then in an overrun makeshift hospital. Newt grudgingly participates, mostly by helping the wounded, but then something happens that rattles him personally and he heads home to his wife Serena (Keri Russell, looking very concerned) and their young child. Things are bleak there, too, where Confederate soldiers regularly rampage homes and take anything they might need and want — corn, livestock, blankets — for the war effort. There’s also the deplorable “Twenty Slave Law” which allows members of the Confederacy to opt out of conscription if they provide 20 slaves. It’s a law that benefits only the rich and that is not lost on Newt or his poor friends, none of whom own slaves or support the Confederate cause either.

Being a deserter, Newt’s mere presence endangers everyone. Serena even packs up the kid and leaves. When they literally send the dogs after him, he retreats to the swamp where he meets some runaway slaves, and they begin to grow their community. It’s here where things get a little murky and rushed.

Director Gary Ross (“Seabiscuit,” “The Hunger Games”) wants badly to present a lyrical epic, and there are some moments of grace, but mostly it’s just labored, propelled only by the passage of time, pages worth of printed exposition on the screen and the hope that Newt’s journey is a good enough engine. And yet with all of those years covered, Newt is as defined as vapor, and his supporting characters even less so.

There’s also a jarring cut early on to a trial in 1948 in Mississippi where one of Newt’s decedents is suspected of having African American ancestry, despite looking white. While you get used the back and forth, it doesn’t ever drum up the suspense of a courtroom drama or achieve its intended poignancy.

Newt does in fact take up with Rachel (a powerful, if underused Gugu Mbatha-Raw), a former house slave to a plantation owner. The question being asked in 1948 is whether or not they had any kids, thus starting a line of mixed race ancestors. It’s certainly an interesting thread, that this fight could continue so many generations after the war, but as with most things here, in execution it’s just more pasta thrown at the wall.

Rachel is one of the more compelling characters in the film, as is Moses (Mahershala Ali), who we meet with steel claws around his neck and see progress into a true protest leader by the time the war is over when, despite emancipation, little has changed for the former slaves and actually seems to be getting worse.

The Civil War and reconstruction were messy, and “Free State of Jones” wants to tackle it all. In the end, it’s too much for any one film to handle compellingly with such specificity.

 

On the Web

Watch the trailer.

Is the birthplace of ‘Uncle Tom’ in a Maryland hayfield?

The archaeological finds seem ordinary at first. A rusted belt buckle, shards of broken pottery and glass, remnants of an old clay pipe.

But in this detritus of lives lived more than 200 years ago on a southern Maryland farm known as La Grange, researchers in Charles County believe they have uncovered the birthplace of a key figure in African American history.

Josiah Henson is not a household name, but the autobiography the former slave published in 1849 provided integral source material — and some say inspired the title character — for Harriet Beecher Stowe’s “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” published three years later. Stowe’s book, the most popular novel of the 19th century and one that has been translated into more languages than any other book besides the Bible, is credited with helping anti-slavery forces gain support for their cause in the years leading to the Civil War.

In his telling, Henson describes being born on a farm belonging to “Francis N” near Port Tobacco, Maryland, and he later relates the story of his mother being brutally attacked by an overseer. When his father sought revenge for the attack, he was punished with 100 lashes and had his right ear cut off. His father was then sold to another slave owner.

Julia King, a professor of anthropology at nearby St. Mary’s College of Maryland, said it took months of scrutinizing old documents and several weeks of digs at the 7-acre property to determine that this was indeed where Henson was born and lived for the first eight or nine years of his life.

She admits the evidence is not definitive.

“We’re not going to find a piece of ceramic that says ‘Josiah Henson was born here,’” King s as she led a tour of the excavation site. But she and others have discovered plenty of convincing clues, more than enough, she says, to make the case that this is Henson’s birthplace.

Located on the winding road between Port Tobacco and La Plata, the grand house built in the late 18th century by Francis Newman still stands on the property. The slave quarters are long gone, but after mapping out the land and taking shovel samples every 25 feet or so, King and her team believe they have located the site of the former structures. It is there, with just a few sample digs, that they have uncovered a trove of items dating to the late 18th and early 19th centuries. They expect to find many more in the weeks ahead as the project continues.

King has spent her career as an anthropologist and says she doesn’t often get emotional about artifacts that she and her team unearth. This time, however, was different. She had just watched the remake of “Roots” when the digging portion of the project began. The realization that the miniseries was set at about the same time that Henson would have been enslaved hit her hard.

“I was really just overwhelmed with emotion,” King said. “And I was really just grateful that I had the opportunity to get this bigger story out.”

In his book, Henson tells of how his family was separated and he and his mother were then sold to an owner in Montgomery County, where a park now bears his name. He later tried to buy his way out of slavery but was cheated out of money by his former owner. Finally, in 1830, he escaped from a slave owner in Kentucky and made his way to freedom in Canada, where he founded a settlement for former slaves.

Henson’s story also is an inspiration for Janice Wilson, president of the Charles County NAACP, who says she wants to make sure others in the community learn more about him.

“He’s very much a part of American history, and we know that our history over the years has been denied or not really taught in history books,” she said. “It’s a proud moment here for African Americans in Charles County to know that someone with the same blood running through our veins was born here and was such a significant figure.”

What happens next to this site is unclear. The area believed to be the location of the former slave quarters is in a rolling hayfield lined by giant pine trees. King says that a great first step would be a historical marker to alert passersby to its importance. Perhaps more ambitiously, she’s trying to persuade the local high school to create a “Hamilton”-like musical based on Henson’s life.

“I just want to make sure everyone knows who he is and where he lived,” King says.

An AP member exchange.

Treasury: Front of new $20 to feature Harriet Tubman

Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew announced a portrait of Harriet Tubman will be featured on the front of the new $20.

Lew also announced plans for the reverse of the new $10 to feature an image of the historic march for suffrage that ended on the steps of the Treasury Department and honor the leaders of the suffrage movement — Lucretia Mott, Sojourner Truth, Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Alice Paul.

The front of the new $10 note will maintain the portrait of Alexander Hamilton.

The secretary also announced plans for the reverse of the new $5 to honor events at the Lincoln Memorial that helped to shape U.S. history and prominent individuals involved in those events, including Marian Anderson, Eleanor Roosevelt and Martin Luther King Jr.

The reverse of the new $20 will feature images of the White House and President Andrew Jackson.

The secretary announced these changes in a letter addressed to the American people and noted that the Bureau of Engraving and Printing will work  with the Federal Reserve to accelerate work on the new $20 and $5 notes,

The goal will be to put the three new notes into circulation as quickly as possible, consistent with security requirements.

The text of the letter follows: 

April 20, 2016

An Open Letter from Secretary Lew:

When I announced last June that a newly redesigned $10 note would feature a woman, I hoped to encourage a national conversation about women in our democracy.  The response has been powerful.  You and your fellow citizens from across the country have made your voices heard through town hall discussions and roundtable conversations, and with more than a million responses via mail and email, and through handwritten notes, tweets, and social media posts.  Thank you for sharing this thoughtful and impassioned feedback.

Over the course of the last 10 months, you put forth hundreds of names of people who have played a pivotal role in our nation’s history.  Many of you proposed that our new currency highlight democracy in action and reflect the diversity of our great nation.  Some of you suggested we skip the redesign of the $10 note, which is the next in line for a security upgrade, and move immediately to redesigning the $20 note.  And others proposed unconventional ideas, such as creating a $25 bill.

I have been inspired by this conversation and today I am excited to announce that for the first time in more than a century, the front of our currency will feature the portrait of a woman — Harriet Tubman on the $20 note.

Since we began this process, we have heard overwhelming encouragement from Americans to look at notes beyond the $10.  Based on this input, I have directed the Bureau of Engraving and Printing to accelerate plans for the redesign of the $20, $10, and $5 notes.  We already have begun work on initial concepts for each note, which will continue this year.  We anticipate that final concept designs for the new $20, $10, and $5 notes will all be unveiled in 2020 in conjunction with the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which granted women the right to vote.

The decision to put Harriet Tubman on the new $20 was driven by thousands of responses we received from Americans young and old.  I have been particularly struck by the many comments and reactions from children for whom Harriet Tubman is not just a historical figure, but a role model for leadership and participation in our democracy.  You shared your thoughts about her life and her works and how they changed our nation and represented our most cherished values.  Looking back on her life, Tubman once said, “I would fight for liberty so long as my strength lasted.”  And she did fight, for the freedom of slaves and for the right of women to vote.  Her incredible story of courage and commitment to equality embodies the ideals of democracy that our nation celebrates, and we will continue to value her legacy by honoring her on our currency.  The reverse of the new $20 will continue to feature the White House as well as an image of President Andrew Jackson.

As I said when we launched this exciting project: after more than 100 years, we cannot delay, so the next bill to be redesigned must include women, who for too long have been absent from our currency.  The new $10 will honor the story and the heroes of the women’s suffrage movement against the backdrop of the Treasury building.  Treasury’s relationship with the suffrage movement dates back to the March of 1913, when advocates came together on the steps of the Treasury building to demonstrate for a woman’s right to vote, seven years prior to the passage of the 19th Amendment.  The new $10 design will depict that historic march and honor Lucretia Mott, Sojourner Truth, Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Alice Paul for their contributions to the suffrage movement.  The front of the new $10 will continue to feature Alexander Hamilton, our nation’s first Treasury Secretary and the architect of our economic system.

The reverse of the new $5 will depict the historic events that have occurred at the Lincoln Memorial.  In 1939, at a time when Washington’s concert halls were still segregated, world-renowned Opera singer Marian Anderson helped advance civil rights when, with the support of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, she performed at the Lincoln Memorial in front of 75,000 people.  And in 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his historic “I Have a Dream” speech at the same monument in front of hundreds of thousands.  Honoring these figures will bring to life events at the Lincoln Memorial that helped to shape our history and our democracy.  The front of the new $5 will continue to feature President Lincoln.

Due to security needs, the redesigned $10 note is scheduled to go into circulation next.  I have directed the Bureau of Engraving and Printing to work closely with the Federal Reserve to accelerate work on the new $20 and $5 notes.  Our goal is to have all three new notes go into circulation as quickly as possible, while ensuring that we protect against counterfeiting through effective and sophisticated production.

This process has been much bigger than one square inch on one bill, and along the way, we heard about countless individuals who contributed to our democracy.  Our website, modernmoney.treasury.gov, will highlight many of the names that we heard throughout this process, and help tell some of the many stories that inspired us.  Of course, more work remains to tell the rich and textured history of our country.  But with this decision, our currency will now tell more of our story and reflect the contributions of women as well as men to our great democracy.

Thank you,

Secretary Jacob J. Lew

Read more: Modern Money.

Human trafficking cases rise in Wisconsin, U.S.

New data show a 17 percent increase in the number of human trafficking cases handled in Wisconsin in 2015 and an increase of 24 percent nationwide.

Polaris, a leader in the global fight to eradicate modern slavery, released data earlier in February from the National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline and the BeFree Textline. The organization’s numbers do not represent the full scope of the problem, but rather the incoming calls for help.

There were 50 cases of human trafficking reported to the hotline from Wisconsin in 2015, including 45 cases of sex trafficking and three cases of labor trafficking.

In 2014, Polaris reported 43 cases of human trafficking from Wisconsin.

Since 2007, the organization has received reports of 205 cases in the state.

Nationwide, the increase in the number of cases was larger — 24 percent from 2014 to 2015 and an increase of 519 percent since 2008.

There were 5,973 cases of human trafficking reported to the hotline and the BeFree textline in 2015. Most of these cases involved reports of sex trafficking and about 30 percent of the survivors or victims were identified as U.S. citizens.

“From the domestic servant forced to work for little pay who required emergency shelter to the young girl made to sell sex online against her will who texted us for crisis support, survivors of human trafficking are reaching out to the national hotline more than ever,” said Bradley Myles, CEO of Polaris. 

Also, recent research by Northeastern University funded by the National Institute of Justice found that posting the number to the hotline in public areas is one of the most effective ways to increase the number of human trafficking arrests. The hotline has collected more than 6,500 tips since 2007.

Myles said, “More survivors calling the national hotline means more women, children and men are being connected to life-changing support through the incredible work of more than 3,000 service-provider partners across the country.”

In Wisconsin, those partners — prosecutors, police officers, social workers, educators, victims advocates, lawyers and other professionals — have begun meeting as a task force to address eradicating modern-day slavery. The task force consists of 37 members representing public and private agencies and is co-chaired by Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel and Department of Children and Families Secretary Eloise Anderson.

At the task force’s first meeting in late 2015, the attorney general’s office shared the case of a 15-year-old girl rescued from sex-traffickers by Department of Justice agents. Undercover officers found information for the girl, missing from her home for months, posted on an Internet site under “escort.” 

“We challenged everyone in the room to make this a true working group — one that works to improve training, law enforcement, prevention, awareness, advocacy, resources for victims seeking help, sensible legislation, counseling and other direct services to survivors, housing for survivors and aftercare,” Schimel said after the meeting.

Task force members emphasized their work on this issue requires putting aside partisanship and politics.

“We have an amazing multi-disciplinary group from all across the state,” Schimel stated. “If anyone can accomplish something, it is this group.”

A month after the task force’s first meeting, legislators introduced SB 618, legislation intended to make certain that child victims of human trafficking can access services. Through a loophole in the law, child victims of human trafficking are not automatically eligible for services made available to victims of child abuse. 

The measure also would require the reporting of suspected abuse — child prostitution and sex-trafficking — to a law enforcement or social services agency, possibly leading to earlier intervention in cases.

The Senate Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety held a hearing on the measure on Feb. 1.

On the line

The National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline is 1-888-373-7888. Reach the Polaris BeFree textline at 233733.

Recognition in Racine

Karri Hemmig on Feb. 2 received the first “Unsung Hero Award” from Racine Mayor John Dickert for her work with the Racine Coalition Against Human Trafficking. “I don’t know that people realize that for years, Karri worked without a salary to make sure the lives of our women and men, boys and girls who have become victims of human trafficking are rescued from a perilous future,” Dickert said.
— L.N.

Criticized book on George Washington and slaves pulled

Scholastic is pulling a new picture book about George Washington and his slaves amid objections it sentimentalizes a brutal part of American history.

“A Birthday Cake for George Washington” was released Jan. 5 and had been strongly criticized for its upbeat images and story of Washington’s cook, the slave Hercules and his daughter, Delia. Its withdrawal was announced earlier this week.

“While we have great respect for the integrity and scholarship of the author, illustrator and editor, we believe that, without more historical background on the evils of slavery than this book for younger children can provide, the book may give a false impression of the reality of the lives of slaves and therefore should be withdrawn,” the children’s publisher said in a statement released to the AP.

The book, which depicts Hercules and Delia preparing a cake for Washington, has received more than 100 one-star reviews on Amazon.com. As of Sunday evening, only 12 reviews were positive. The book also set off discussions on Facebook, Twitter and elsewhere on social media.

While notes in “A Birthday Cake for George Washington” from author Ramin Ganeshram and illustrator Vanessa Brantley-Newton had pointed out the historical context of the 18th century story and that Hercules eventually escaped, some critics faulted Ganeshram and Brantley-Newton for leaving out those details from the main narrative.

“Oh, how George Washington loves his cake!” reads the publisher’s description of the story. “And, oh, how he depends on Hercules, his head chef, to make it for him. Hercules, a slave, takes great pride in baking the president’s cake. But this year there is one problem — they are out of sugar.”

The trade publication School Library Journal had called it “highly problematic” and recommended against its purchase. Another trade journal, Kirkus Reviews, had labeled the book “an incomplete, even dishonest treatment of slavery.”

In a Scholastic blog post from last week, Ganeshram wrote that the story was based on historical research and meant to honor the slaves’ skill and resourcefulness.

“How could they smile? How could they be anything but unrelentingly miserable?” Ganeshram wrote. “How could they be proud to bake a cake for George Washington? The answers to those questions are complex because human nature is complex. Bizarrely and yes, disturbingly, there were some enslaved people who had a better quality of life than others and ‘close’ relationships with those who enslaved them. But they were smart enough to use those ‘advantages’ to improve their lives.”

The announcement comes amid an ongoing debate about the lack of diversity in publishing, although the collaborators on “A Birthday Cake” come from a variety of backgrounds. Ganeshram is an award-winning journalist and author born to a Trinidadian father and Iranian mother and has a long history of food writing. Her previous works include the novel “Stir It Up” and the nonfiction “FutureChefs.”

Brantley-Newton, who has described herself as coming from a “blended background — African American, Asian, European and Jewish,” has illustrated the children’s series “Ruby and the Booker Boys” among other books. The editor was Andrea Davis Pinkney, also an author who in 2013 won a Coretta Scott King prize for African-American children’s literature.

The pulling of the Washington book also recalls a similar controversy from last year. “A Fine Dessert,” written by Emily Jenkins and illustrated by Sophie Blackall, was criticized for its cheerful depiction of a 19th century slave mother and daughter as they prepared a blackberry recipe. Jenkins apologized, saying that her book, which she “intended to be inclusive and truthful and hopeful, is racially insensitive.” (“A Fine Dessert,” released by the Random House imprint Schwartz & Wade, remains in print).

Copies of “A Birthday Cake for George Washington” were not easy to find even before Scholastic’s decision. The print edition on Amazon.com, ranked No. 13.202 earlier Sunday, was listed as shipping within “2 to 4 weeks.” Several Barnes & Noble stores in Manhattan did not have the book in stock. Scholastic Corp. spokeswoman Kyle Good said she could not provide an immediate reason for delays in the book’s availability.