The Role of Journalists
in Exposing Slavery

Kevin Bales, founder of Free the Slaves and author of "Disposable People: Understanding Slavery in a Global Economy" (University of California Press, 1999 and 2004) and "The Slave Next Door: Human Trafficking and Slavery in America Today" (University of California Press, 2009) launched the Social Justice Leadership Series organized by the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism and the International Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life at Brandeis University. 

In his remarks, Bales called journalists the “secret weapons” and “secret heroes of abolition,” citing reporters Frederick Douglass, William Lloyd Garrison, E. Benjamin Skinner, and Nicholas Kristof, among others.

As long as there have been journalists, there have been stories about slavery to report.


From before the Civil War until today, reporters have exposed slavery’s existence. Their stories awakened public awareness to slaves' lives and to the efforts of abolitionists to free them. In the mid-19th century—as the PBS American Experience series “The Abolitionists” attests—many of those fighting to abolish slavery (such as William Lloyd Garrison, Angelina Grimké, Harriett Beecher Stowe, and Frederick Douglass) also published newspapers or wrote books to carry forth their message.​

Adam Hochschild, author of "Bury the Chains: Prophets and Rebels in the Fight to Free an Empire’s Slaves," describes how slavery’s abolition in the British Empire aligned with the emergence of “what we would call human rights journalism.”

Now, examples of undercover reporting about slavery are collected in a unique database created by Schuster Institute Senior Fellow Brooke Kroeger, author of "Undercover Reporting: The Truth About Deception." These first-hand accounts transport us from Horace Greeley's New York Tribune of the 1840s to NBC's Dateline of the present day.


Related Topics
The Role of Media
Hollywood's Slavery Films Tell Us More About The Present Than The Past, Dexter Gabriel, Jan. 9, 2013,

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