LONDON — This seminal 9/11 event embraced an essence of freedom sparking outrage around the world.
This event erupted exactly one year before the devastating 9/11/01 attacks in America where terrorists struck out at several targets, including the iconic Twin Towers in New York City.
Those terrorist attacks provoked a punitive military response from the U.S. government that decimated the freedom of life for millions from Iraq to Afghanistan while also driving the federal government deep into trillion-dollar debt that’s exacerbated multiple miseries for Americans.
On September 11, 2000, a woman from the African nation of Sudan escaped from slavery…yes, the bought-and-sold brand of slavery most people thought died well over a century ago.
Mende Nazer, from the Nuba Mountains in southern Sudan, fled to freedom from her then place of enslavement — the home of a Sudanese diplomat located in a posh section of London.
Nazer’s story —from being captured as a child by raiders in her rural village through to a captivity compounded by regular physical and sexual abuse — became the subject of news articles, an asylum campaign, a book, a television documentary and a play.
That play, “Slave: A Question of Freedom,” premiered in London last Thursday evening with a gripping performance in a venue on the banks of the Thames River and before a packed audience that included Nazer.
Throughout the performance, Nazer sobbed, often uncontrollably.
Nazer sat next to the play’s director and co-author, Caroline Clegg, who kept a comforting arm around Nazer all the while.
Nazer, during an interview after the play with the host of a London internet radio show, said seeing the play evokes her reliving all of the horrors of the dread she experienced.
“Why I cry is the play is so real…it tells my story. Every time I see it my emotions come over me,” Nazer said during that interview, which aired two days after the premier on the “Saturday Breakfast” show on Colorfulradio.com.
“People have to get aware of what is going on around the world and get involved,” Nazer told the “Breakfast” show’s host, Richard Phillips, about modern day slavery.
Phillips, whose on-air name is Toby Kell-Ogg, expressed utter amazement about the scourge of ongoing slavery. “This thing of slavery is staggering.”
The play’s director, Clegg, in remarks following the premier and during her interview with Phillips, said she thought slavery was an outrage of the distant past until she read the book on Nazer’s plight and plunged into five years of researching the subject.
“I found out that (slavery) is a big industry and a dirty secret,” Clegg said.
“We have got to end this in our lifetime,” Clegg said, citing statistics from experts who contend modern slavery exceeds the Transatlantic Slave Trade.
Modern slavery spans sex-slaves from Asian and Eastern European countries to child trafficking in India and West Africa and labor-slavery on agricultural estates in Brazil — a truly worldwide offense hardly limited to the Sudan of Nazer’s circumstance.
The London-based Anti-Slavery International organization estimates that “at any one time” 5,000 people are trafficked in the United Kingdom.
“While some are forced into prostitution, increasing numbers are forced to work in construction, domestic work, cleaning, the restaurant trade, care, on farms and in factories,” the organization’s website states.
Forms of slavery, according Anti-Slavery International, include persons that are “bought and sold as property” plus persons who are “owned and controlled” by their employers.
“There are places in the world where parents living in dire poverty will sell their children,” Clegg said during the “Breakfast” show interview.
“People come to the U.K. as domestic workers recruited in India and Thailand. When they get here their employers take away their passports and they become stateless, vulnerable because they can’t flee.
Nazer experienced having her passport snatched while held in the London home of the Sudanese diplomat after she began questioning her circumstance.
To heighten Nazer’s isolation and dependence, her captors falsely claimed that London was an extremely dangerous city where even a walk on the street presented life threatening risk. They barred her from leaving the house alone.
“Slave: A Question of Freedom” tells the story of Nazer. It was adapted by Clegg (and Kevin Fegan) from the book written about Nazer by a British journalist who aided Nazer’s fight for freedom.
The play begins with Nazer’s childhood life in the Nuba Mountains through to her capture before then focusing on her captivity in Khartoum (Sudan’s capital) and London, and her post-escape struggle for freedom.
Incredibly, the British government rejected Nazer’s first request for asylum on the odious assertion that slavery didn’t constitute persecution.
A campaign for Nazer’s freedom that included the assistance of members of Britain’s Parliament forced a government reversal on asylum — but seemingly based on pragmatism not moral principal.
In part, the letter granting Nazer freedom stated: “In view of the widespread publication of her book” the government’s satisfied she’d “face difficulties…were she to be returned to Sudan.”
A few years after receiving asylum Nazer returned to the Nuba Mountains, reuniting briefly with her remaining family. However, she entered through rebel territory, fearing government retribution if she flew into Khartoum.
Nazer currently lives in Britain, although Clegg told a Philadelphia Tribune reporter that Nazer plans to eventually move to the United States.
“If I made a difference, all of you can,” Nazer said.
Linn Washington Jr. is a graduate of the Yale Law Journalism Fellowship Program.
CHARLESTON, S.C. — A Clemson University professor is convinced that Harriet Beecher Stowe might not have written "Uncle Tom's Cabin" if it were not for a fugitive South Carolina slave she harbored for a night before starting the history-making novel.
The book, which fueled the abolitionist cause and helped put the nation on the path toward the Civil War, was published in 1852 after being serialized the previous year. It became a bestselling book of the 19th century, second only to the Bible.
Stowe mentions harboring the slave in her Maine home in a late 1850 letter to her sister. She writes that "he was a genuine article from the 'Ole Carling State.'" While it is well-known to historians that Stowe harbored a slave, neither her letter nor her later writings mention his name.
Susanna Ashton, a professor of American literature at Clemson, says her research has convinced her the slave Stowe harbored was John Andrew Jackson. He was born a slave on a Sumter County, S.C., plantation and escaped in 1847, fleeing to Charleston and then stowing away between bales of cotton on a ship heading north.
Ashton's conclusions appear in this summer's edition of "Common-Place," the journal of the Massachusetts-based American Antiquarian Society.
After fleeing, Jackson settled in Salem, Mass. But when the Fugitive Slave Act was passed in 1850 by Congress — meaning even slaves who had escaped from the South could be returned to their owners — Jackson headed north through Maine to Canada.
Jackson later learned to read and write, went to Europe and his book "The Experience of a Slave in South Carolina" was published in in England in 1862. After the Civil War, Jackson made a living as a writer and lecturer.
In his book, Jackson recalls the encounter with Stowe, mentioning her by name.
"She took me in and fed me, and gave me some clothes and five dollars. She also inspected my back, which is covered with scars which I shall carry with me to the grave. She listened with great interest to my story," he wrote.
In Stowe's letter to her sister, the original of which is in the Beineke Library at Yale University, Stowe notes the effect that night had on her family.
"There hasn't been anybody in our house (who) got waited on so abundantly and willingly for ever so long. These negroes possess some mysterious power of pleasing children for they hung around him and seemed never tired of hearing him talk and sing," she wrote.
In a recent interview, Ashton said: "Was it Jackson who was hidden by Stowe as a fugitive in Brunswick Maine? I'm 99.9 percent sure. That seems absolutely true. I think he was an inspiration for the novel. I think his pain touched her and helped her to act."
Ashton said after "Uncle Tom's Cabin" was published, a lot of Blacks and former slaves wanted to meet Stowe and sought her endorsement.
"She was one of the biggest celebrities in the United States and had huge political and cultural clout," Ashton said. "It was only when I looked at the dates more closely I said wait a minute, Jackson met her before she wrote 'Uncle Tom's Cabin.' That's how the remarkable nature of this encounter began to unfold for me."
Stowe would later say she had a vision in a church in Brunswick — the pew is marked — where she imagined the ending of "Uncle Tom's Cabin" and went home to write.
Ashton suggests Stowe never mentioned Jackson in her later writing because she would have had to admit she violated the Fugitive Slave Act.
Katherine Kane, executive director of the Harriett Beecher Stowe Center in Hartford, Conn., pointed out that critics have said Stowe, as a northerner, was writing about a section of the country where she had little firsthand experience.
Although born in Connecticut, Stowe spent 20 years in Cincinnati, just across the river from Kentucky, a slave state.
"I don't think we want to devalue the time in Cincinnati," Kane said, adding that Stowe was an abolitionist who would have seen owners hiring out their slaves for work. She also had servants in her household who were former slaves and collected stories of others writing about slavery, Kane said.
So, did Jackson prompt Stowe to write the book?
"Quite frankly that might be," Kane said, although she noted that it seemed Stowe was moving toward the book for some time.
"When you look at her accumulated letters from that time, you see it starting to build," she said. "But it gives me goose bumps that Dr. Ashton has been able to identify this unnamed person who was in the household at the time."
She added: "From the Stowe Center's point of view, we are trying to use all this history because it's important to us all today. Here we are still talking about "Uncle Tom's Cabin" and its impact, and the more we know about the individuals who inspired the story, the better it is." -- (AP)