Modern-Day Slavery Museum Northeast Tour, Days 3-5, Philadelphia, PA

 July 27-29, 2010

After successful stops in Charlottesville, VA and Washington, DC, the Florida Modern-Day Slavery Museum spent two and a half days in Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love, and one-time capital of the United States.
The site for most of the visit — directly outside Independence Hall, in a highly trafficked constellation of museums and historic buildings — provided an ideal opportunity to reflect on the themes of freedom and bondage throughout American history. After all, it was in the colonial-era building located directly behind the mobile museum (pictured above) that the Declaration of Independence and Constitution were debated and adopted more than two hundred years and forty ago.
And it was in that same building where language condemning the slave trade as an “assemblage of horrors” was stripped from an early draft of the Constitution, in effect allowing the importation of slaves to continue unabated for another twenty years.


Indeed, the persistent gap between the ideals set forth in the country’s founding documents and the grim reality of slavery for millions of people of African descent has given meaning to some of Philadelphia’s best-known historical symbols.
The Liberty Bell, originally known as the “Independence Bell,” was so named by the growing abolitionist movement which called Philadelphia home. In fact, the American Anti-Slavery Society was founded in Philadelphia in 1833 and later counted among its key members none other than Frederick Douglass. Douglass himself had passed through Philadelphia via the Underground Railroad in 1838 and would return to Independence Square six years later to encourage the nation to live out the famous bell’s inscription to:
“… Proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof…”
Over the course of the mid-ninteenth century, many men and women, both black and white, came to see the Liberty Bell as a powerful symbol of the struggle to abolish slavery.


But first, the Modern-Day Slavery Museum was due on Potter St. for a visit with our longtime friends at the Simple Way. As it turned out, they were hosting a block party that evening, which ensured that the museum would be visited by dozens of neighborhood residents.



As has been the case throughout the tour, the exhibit moved people to action. Above, community members sign postcards of support for the Campaign for Fair Food that will soon be delivered to Stop & Shop supermarket’s corporate headquarters in Quincy, MA.

The visitors on Potter St. continued to stop by until late in the evening…
… but that didn’t keep the tour crew from setting up the museum bright and early the following morning at Independence Visitor Center. As you can see, the July sun was in full effect by mid-afternoon, and so were the museum’s accompanying umbrellas.
For two full days, the museum hosted tourists and locals alike, providing invaluable opportunities for friends and families, including scores of Giant and Stop & Shop customers, to learn about the hidden exploitation behind the fruits and vegetables sold at their supermarkets.

Even tourism industry workers stopped by, such as this man sporting layered colonial garb and a tricorne, apparently indifferent to the near-suffocating heat and humidity inside the box truck.
Crowds swelled throughout both days as the museum received visitors from the Philadelphia Student Union, Pennsylvania and New Jersey Human Trafficking Coalitions, Taxi Workers Alliance, Media Mobilizing Project and many other grassroots and social justice organizations throughout the city.



But regardless of size, the crowds were expertly handled by our crack docent team, including new addition Rudy Cortinas of the Student/Farmworker Alliance.
As the slogan on the back of the Media Mobilizing Project’s t-shirts reads, “Movements begin with the telling of untold stories”…


… which is precisely the logic behind the CIW’s Modern-Day Slavery Museum and Campaign for Fair Food. And as more and more consumers hear the stories about forced labor in Florida’s fields, so will more and more food retail corporations be forced to make real changes to their supply chains, moving Florida’s farmworkers one step closer to a future absent of slavery and moving our country one step closer to its highest ideals.