Sunday, April 20, 2008

The Courage of Washington

By John C. Bersia

From the Anniston Star:

ALEXANDRIA, Va. — In 1799, George Washington, America's first president, personally took an important but still-debated step against one of the most despicable practices in human society: slavery.

Standing near the spot where he freed his own slaves in a deathbed will, viewing every accessible documentary and file on the subject (for more information, visit, and paying my respects at the slave memorial here, I thought about Washington's decision to defy the accepted standards of his time. And I wondered what might have happened, had he advocated an anti-slavery position as president.

Sadly, despite Washington's example, the Civil War, the outlawing of slavery in the United States, the fight for civil rights in this country, the end of colonialism and the moves by nations the world over to give at least constitutional attention to human rights, the scourge is more prevalent than ever. Some 30 million people suffer the indignities of one form or another of human trafficking, as the problem commonly is known today.

Modern slaves are found everywhere, including in the United States, which leads me to ask: Where are the 21st-century abolitionists? And, in the context of American politics, which of the leading candidates for the 44th U.S. presidency will follow in Washington's footsteps?

Time is running out for them to make a difference in this campaign, and I do not mean in the sense of offering general statements. The top contenders should put serious thought and energy into no less than a global strategy to confront slavery. The U.S. government's current program to monitor human trafficking, while commendable, falls short of the challenge.

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