The Long March from 54th to 1600 Pennsylvania

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War memorial to the Massachusetts 54th Regiment Memorial, Boston

Image shows the war memorial to the Massachusetts 54th Regiment Memorial, Boston


Regardless of the fact that President Obama’s recent election victory brought about a tangible sigh of relief in many parts of the world, these next few years will be a tough test for him and his administration.   For those of you interested in Obama, from next January our sister venue the Walker Art Gallery hosts the exhibition In 7 Days by the artist Nicola Green, who between August 2008 and January 2009 had the opportunity to follow Barack Obama on his Presidential campaign. One of the images ‘Change’ has the then Senator Obama in a John Wayne-esque pose.  The similarities end there though; it could be said that Wayne had rather more conservative political values.

Moreover, Wayne’s Wild West is not quite the sole domain of the rugged, blue eyed pioneer one might assume.  One Robert Nesta Marley’s Buffalo Soldier includes the lyrics There was a buffalo soldier in the heart of America, Stolen from Africa, brought to America, Fighting on arrival, fighting for survival which refers to Black soldiers involved in the notorious 19th century military campaigns to gain the lands of the Native Americans. The Buffalo Soldiers were in fact part of the 9th and 10th cavalry units established by Congress as the first peacetime Black units in the regular U.S. Army.   Several African American regiments had already been raised during the Civil War to fight in the Union Army and Navy after a clause in the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 allowed Black men to join the armed forces. By the end of the war, over 175,000 Black soldier’s had fought including the famous Massachusetts 54th Regiment, immortalized in the film Glory with Denzel Washington in the role of a soldier who had himself been enslaved and Matthew Broderick as Colonel Shaw.

I have seen the Robert Gould Shaw and Massachusetts 54th Regiment Memorial in Boston (pictured) which one has to say has a rather imposing Colonel Shaw astride a horse above the Black infantry men.  As Kirk Savage notes in his article From Hope & Glory: Essays on the Legacy of the 54th Massachusetts Regiment to focus on one man would be inadequate as the memorial is much more than a tribute to one individual. That said, units were segregated and enlisted Black men were typically commanded by white officers.

I digress somewhat as I want to focus on the Obama administrations work on human trafficking, something which directly relates to our work here at the Museum.  With regards challenging trafficking The President recently declared that “we can’t ask other nations to do what we are not doing ourselves”.  In recent years there has been more recognition that victims of trafficking in the US are not only from other countries but can be US citizens themselves. It is not just an entry point but a provider.   President Obama brings renewed high level vigour to the fight against trafficking, building on such initiatives as the President’s Task Force to Combat and Monitor Trafficking of Persons, formed in 2000 and recently chaired by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.   More must be done but it is a start that the power of the federal government is behind such campaigns and regardless of the argument about motives or the speed of such initiatives there seems to be movement in the US.   One federally supported project is Slavery Footprint – Made in a Free World – an online portal for companies who are looking to eliminate forced labor in their supply chains.

President Obama has often praised President Abraham Lincoln, who in September 1862 issued a Preliminary Proclamation which stated as of 1 January 1863 “all persons held as slaves within any state…shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free”.  This year the White House celebrated the 150th anniversary of the signing of this document and so now more than ever the issues of emancipation is on the agenda.  In fact the organization has called for a modern “Proclamation of Freedom” and the actor and activist  Jada Pinkett Smith a supporter -   recently tweeted that “Prop 35 Passed! Freedom Shall Reign!” in reference to California’s passing of Proposition 35, the Californians Against Sexual Exploitation Act which amongst other things has increased prison penalties for  human traffickers and states that those convicted of such crimes will be added to California’s sex offenders registry.

You might ask what is happening this side of the pond regards the political fight against human trafficking? Well a positive move was the UK’s 2011 ratification of the EU Directive on Preventing and Combating Trafficking in Human Beings, the aim of which is to harmonize anti-trafficking legislation across Europe.   Also, ahead of this year’s Anti-Slavery Day on 18 October the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs opened a conference at the Houses of Parliament which brought together European countries who are tackling human trafficking, NGO’s and law enforcement agencies.  Steps in the right direction. 

What makes the Museum an important partner in the fight against human rights abuses and forms of trafficking is that we are able to bring the message to a large public audience.  To continue this work, the Museum, like the recent Obama/Biden campaign strap line, needs to move ‘forward’.  To do that we need the continued support of people (if you read this Jada drop me a line). Retweet us, connect with us on Facebook, show us on Flickr, blog about us, tell your friends and neighbours about us, and last but not least, come and visit us. 

Finally, anyone that sees me in the flesh during the month of November might notice I am sporting a rather dashing moustache.   This is not for vanity reasons but it is Movember, where moustaches on thousands of men’s faces around the world raise awareness of men’s health issues, specifically prostate cancer and testicular cancer.   Check it out.

Bye for now,