The Shadow of Slavery


I picked up a book at the library recently; it’s called Slaves in the Family, by Edward Ball.  He’s a descendant of slave-owning rice barons of South Carolina who spent time researching the intersecting paths of his white ancestors and their black slaves.  It’s a fascinating story, full of vibrant history and gut-wrenching realities.  This is the kind of thing you probably think of when you hear the word ‘slavery’.

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Let me tell you another story . . . Sandra,a young homemaker, decided she needed someone to do housework and help out with her young son.  She took 12-year-old Maria into her home, ensuring her family that she would provide an education and opportunities the girl would never have in her home country.  What she gave Maria was much different . . . “the young girl cooked, cleaned, scrubbed, and polished.  If Maria dozed off from exhaustion, or when Sandra decided she wasn’t working fast enough, Sandra would blast pepper spray into Maria’s eyes.  A broom was broken over the girl’s back and a few days later, a bottle over her head.  At one point, Sandra tortured the 12-year-old by jamming a garden tool up her vagina.  That was Maria’s workdays; her “time-off” was worse.  When Maria wasn’t working, Sandra would chain her to a pole in the backyard without food or water.  An eight-foot concrete fence kept her hidden from neighbors.  After chaining her, Sandra would sometimes force Maria to eat dog feces.  Then Maria would be left alone, her arms chained behind her with a padlock, her legs chained and locked together until the next morning, when the work and torture would begin again.  Through the long afternoon and night Maria would fade in and out of consciousness from dehydration, and in her hunger she would sometimes scoop dirt into her mouth . . . Maria was in shock, disoriented, isolated, and dependent . . . The police found Maria chained hand and foot, covered in cuts and bruises, and suffering from dehydration and exposire.  She was too weak to walk and had to be carried to freedom on a stretcher.  Her skin was badly burned from the sun.  Photos taken at the time show one of her eyes bloodied and infected and thick welts and scars on her skin where the chains had cut into her.  She had not eaten in four days.”  This story didn’t happen in some far away country.  It didn’t happen in the distant past.  It happened in our time, in a “comfortable suburb of Laredo, Texas – a neighborhood of solid brick homes and manicured lawns . . . a perfectly normal middle-class existence.”  Maria’s saviour was someone who happened to be on the roof of the neighboring house and saw her over the concrete wall surrounding the yard.  You can read this story and others in  Kevin Bales’ book The Slave Next Door.

Slaves aren’t in the past . . . they don’t exist only in tales of long ago and far away . . . they aren’t just in “foreign” countries . . . they are right here in the good ol’ U.S.A., right in our own backyard . . . in someone’s backyard . . . maybe right next to you . . .

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