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Tougaloo College establishes Institute for the Study of Modern Day Slavery

Believe it or not, 20 million to 45 million people are currently affected by slavery worldwide

Tougaloo College, whose campus was built after the Civil War on the remains of the John Boddie slave plantation, has received a $550,000 grant to establish the Institute for the Study of Modern Day Slavery.

The institute, the only one of its kind at a historically black college or university, will amass an alliance — one between academicians, students, policymakers, law enforcement officials, international social activists, think tanks, scholars and grassroots community and global outreach groups, both large and small — to study issues such as human trafficking and forced labor in a global context. The institute’s ultimate goal is to develop solutions to combat and eradicate the scourge of subjugation.

“Modern-day slavery,” Tougaloo’s Stephen Rozman told The Undefeated, “is a current and growing problem that’s beginning to affect more and more people.”

Rozman, a professor of political science, is the co-director of the institute, along with Johnnie M. Maberry, associate professor of art and curator at Tougaloo, which received the grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

What is the definition of modern-day slavery? When a person (or persons) possesses or controls another person in such a way as to significantly deprive that person of his/her individual liberty, with the intention of exploiting that person (or persons) for use, profit, transfer or disposal.

“Tougaloo will show the continuity of slavery, beginning with race-based slavery from hundreds of years ago,” Rozman explained. “We will connect with Jim Crow laws, segregation, the civil rights movement, today’s modern-day slavery abolitionists. We also will have an international component; we will compare and analyze slavery [in the United States] with slavery in Brazil, Cambodia, other Asian countries, Africa and India.”

Global estimates state that victims of modern-day slavery range from 20 million to 45 million, including approximately 50,000 to 60,000 in the United States, with most of that U.S. total trapped in the sex-trafficking underworld. India and Nepal top the international list overall.

“It’s difficult to determine the numbers because modern-day slavery is undercover and illegal,” Rozman said. “It’s not like race-based slavery was in the United States, when slave masters would openly tell how many slaves they had — and it was legal. Modern-day slavery is so hidden, and the people doing it are hiding.”

Though most modern-day slavery victims globally tend to be of darker skin and from lower-income backgrounds, the effects of this human tragedy permeate all racial lines. “Most of it isn’t race-based; it’s more about the most vulnerable among us,” Rozman said. “Some of the countries are dominated in population by darker-skinned people, such as India and Bangladesh. But there’s also modern-day slavery of white people in some Eastern European countries.”

Rozman indicated that the institute also intends to explore the controversial issues of forced prison labor in legal incarceration facilities and unduly harsh prison sentences.

Tougaloo, a private school in Mississippi with an enrollment of about 900 students, will host a conference, along with partners Morehouse College and Bennett College, on the modern-day slavery project in April 2017.

Spearheaded by 12 faculty members, Tougaloo plans to devise core courses for its students to study modern-day slavery, with a curriculum designed to attract participants worldwide.

After the three-year grant expires, Rozman said, the institute aims “to sustain its momentum and expand it” with the help of donors, concerned supporters and fundraising. Said Rozman, “We have a vision and we plan to take it step by step.”

Gregory Clay is an editor, writer and television/podcast commentator focusing on current news events. Based in Washington D.C., he has worked at Newsday and McClatchy and once gave a speech at a convention for the Texas State Bar Association.