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Why We Are Doing This:

Working Together to

Expose Slavery

Florence Graves, founding director of the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism, describes the significance of joint efforts with PBS and WBGH Boston Public Radio in spotlighting past and present reporting about human trafficking and slavery, and in highlighting the importance of investigative journalism in telling the stories of the millions of people enslaved today.

2013 marks the 150th anniversary of President Lincoln’s signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, providing us an extraordinary opportunity to not only reflect on our nation’s legacy of slavery, but also to remind us that people continue to be enslaved in countries throughout the world—including in the United States.

As Americans, we grow up knowing the story of slavery in the Southern states, but perhaps not the full story. To tell us more and to commemorate this history-making document, American Experience’s three-part PBS series “The Abolitionists”—airing Tuesdays January 8, 15 and 22, 2013—will focus on this period of history from the perspective of a handful of those who risked so much to abolish slavery from our land. The series spotlights five people, four of whom were writers, who played key roles in exposing the truth about slavery, spreading word about the abolitionists’ cause and movement, and in persuading the public that slavery should be abolished.

Working in conjunction with PBS and WGBH Boston Public Radio to spotlight slavery in the past and present seemed like a natural fit for the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism. Through our Human Trafficking & Modern-Day Slavery Reporting Project, journalists undertake intensive investigations to track and reveal the contemporary practices involved with slavery. We provide support for the difficult, and at times dangerous, work that these journalists do in their groundbreaking investigations into human trafficking and bonded labor.

Our reporting on modern-day slavery includes:

  •    In 2012, Bloomberg Businessweek published the three-continent, six-month investigation reported by Schuster Institute Senior Fellow E. Benjamin Skinner, who interviewed survivors and tracked slave-caught seafood from fishing vessels in New Zealand waters to Americans’ dinner plates.

  •   On Tuesdays and Thursdays during January, Schuster Institute Senior Fellow Phillip Martin is broadcasting on WGBH Boston Public Radio his exhaustive year-long investigation, “Underground Trade: From Boston to Bangkok.” Martin traces sex trafficking and human bondage from East Asia to the American Northeast and interviews survivors, activists, law enforcement officials, and legislators in his eight-part series.

Journalist, author, and Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism professor Adam Hochschild’s book "Bury the Chains: Prophets and Rebels in the Fight to Free an Empire’s Slaves" documented slavery’s global footprint 225 years ago when the British Empire ruled this marketplace and three quarters of the world’s population was either enslaved or in some sort of servitude. “Starting an anti-slavery movement in Britain in 1787 was as improbable as starting a renewable energy movement today in Saudi Arabia,” he writes in an essay commissioned by the Schuster Institute. But the improbable did happen, and Hochschild lets us know that one reason for the unprecedented success of the British abolitionist movement “was that it made use, from the very beginning, of what today we would call human rights journalism.”

Schuster Institute Senior Fellow and New York University journalism professor Brooke Kroeger, author of "Undercover Reporting: The Truth About Deception," has brought together a unique database of groundbreaking journalism by undercover reporters. Among the topics this database features is slavery, and her exhaustive research takes us back to the 1840s and then delivers us to the present, transporting us from Horace Greeley’s New York Tribune to NBC’s Dateline.

Journalists—then and now—have contributed mightily to exposing slavery and to increasing public awareness of abolitionist movements, from the days of William Lloyd Garrison’s Liberator and Frederick Douglass’s North Star (portrayed in the PBS series three Tuesdays in January) to Martin’s radio series (being broadcast twice a week in January).

Slavery did not end with a stroke of Abraham Lincoln’s pen on the Emancipation Proclamation, and intrepid reporters remind us of this today. In absolute numbers, more people are enslaved now than at any other time in history, yet modern-day slavery too often remains out of sight.

Or, in the case of the massage parlors that WGBH’s Martin reports on, they sometimes operate in plain view, even if those who see them from the outside are oblivious to what goes on inside.

Journalists are continuing to expose these atrocities, and the Schuster Institute is committed to following these stories wherever they might take us—and share what we find with global audiences.

Philanthropists Elaine and Gerald Schuster have provided generous support of the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism with a special additional gift to establish the Institute's Human Trafficking & Modern-Day Slavery Project.


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