The history of black people in the United States has been brutal and traumatic and continues to affect our country today. Lots of deserved recognition and an Oscar for the film 12 Years and A Slave reminds us that slavery has consequences, and they don't go away easily. When Steve McQueen, the director of the movie, said that there are still 21 million people enslaved on this planet, it got me thinking again about how I personally felt about slavery, and not just in the United States. The truth of the matter is that slavery was a business and made a lot of money for the people who rounded up and sold slaves, the ship owners who transported them, and, of course, those who sold goods made from slave labor. Has the business changed? Ask the 21 million enslaved today.
I lived during the civil rights movement in America -- from the '50s to the '70s. I saw and experienced the hurt, fear, distrust and pain of those who bravely marched, sat in, rode buses, and were jailed, beat and water-hosed. It was a time of turmoil and a time when African-American's were not going to accept being treated as second class citizens. But what about the people who remain enslaved?
Discussions about slavery are always coming up. If only it hadn't happened -- how could the world allow it to happen? Who supported it? Who benefited from it? Who were the enslaved and who were the "masters?" The issue of slavery came up for me in a surprising place and the person who brought it up, and what they had to say about it, intrigued me. Last week I attended a meeting at the Croatian Consulate in Chicago for a marketing presentation by the Croatian National Tourist Board about the beauty of Dubrovnik. Expecting to hear a generic tourism pitch as to why we should visit Dubrovnik, I was taken aback when the mayor of Dubrovnik, Dr. Andro Vlahušić, made his opening remarks.
He said Dubrovnik was an ancient city-state and had a long history of fighting for justice, equality and freedom. And then he said something that made me sit up straight in my seat. He continued by saying that Dubrovnik did not participate in slavery and, in 1416, abolished participation in the slave trade by law -- whether you were a business person, owned ships or wanted slave help. Dubrovnik had a large fleet of ships and was very much involved in global trade, but they refused to traffic in slaves. Why? The business of slave trafficking in humans was so abhorrent to the people of Dubrovnik; the law was created to send a clear message to the world that the people of this city-state valued human life.
The mayor's presentation and the very difficult subject of the Oscar winning movie 12 Years a Slave, and the fact that there are 21 million people in this world still enslaved, made me think hard.
One small city-state had the strength to make a stand as early as 1416. In 2014, slavery still exists.
I can't help feeling that Dubrovnik showed us something -- everyone should take a stand against slavery. Each of us needs to remember that there are people who stood for justice, equality and freedom despite pressure to do otherwise. Maybe we need to search for other countries and people like those from Dubrovnik, Croatia. They are out there!
Granny Regina Fraser
Seeing slavery from a global point of view