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Op-ed: A world where slavery still lives

Published May 16, 2014 4:24 pm
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

In my living room there's a photograph of a beautiful young African woman holding my month-old son Paul. Seated beside her is a young man holding our daughter Mary and our son Dennis. The woman was Soraya Magid, the man her husband El Rasheed Abdel Magid. The image was taken in our Logan home 54 years ago while Rasheed was my graduate student.

Soon after the couple returned to the Sudan, Rasheed's wife and one of his sisters were kidnapped by Soraya's family because the bride price had not been paid. The women were sold into slavery. Rasheed never quit searching for his wife and sister. He became one of the most powerful men in the Sudanese department of agriculture and was able to travel widely in Arabian countries looking for his lost love. The last time I was in Sudan, about 1976, he was in Saudi Arabia where an acquaintance reported seeing a woman who might be Soraya.

A decade later, Rasheed was dead. He never found his wife or sister. Soraya is probably dead. Slavery is alive and well. On April 15, Boko Haram terrorists kidnapped more than 300 girls from a Nigerian school. The terrorists reportedly took some as wives, the remainder they intend to sell as slaves.

Mothers of the girls wailed in protest, many holding a sign: #BringBackOurGirls. An outraged world joined them. Celebrities, including the pope and First Lady Michelle Obama, filled newspapers and television screens with support. But the girls were property, useful to some male.

On Mother's Day some Utahns held the hashtag sign and demonstrated for the release of the girls. But for the most part we celebrated Mother's Day with flowers, Sunday brunches and purchases to fuel a commercial event that employs mothers working for wages that will not support a family.

Abraham Lincoln abolished chattel slavery seven years before Julia Ward Howe wrote her Mother's Day proclamation of 1870. It says, in part:

"Arise then...women of this day!

Arise, all women who have hearts!

Whether your baptism be of water or of tears!.....

The sword of murder is not the balance of justice.

Blood does not wipe out dishonor,

Nor violence indicate possession.

As men have often forsaken the plough and the anvil

At the summons of war,

Let women now leave all that may be left of home

For a great and earnest day of counsel.

Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead.

Let them solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means

Whereby the great human family can live in peace..."

Mother's Day has come and gone. As we approach Memorial Day, — "a day to bewail and commemorate the dead" — there are still women who labor in slavery.

Memorial Day was officially proclaimed on May 5, 1868, by Gen. John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic. It was first observed by placing flowers on the graves of men who died in a war to end slavery. In Utah it has become a day where graves of ancestors and other loved ones are decorated with flowers.

This Memorial Day I'll put no flowers on graves. I will look at a photograph of a young Sudanese couple and wonder if Soraya still lives. I will remember unmarked graves in a slave cemetery on a farm where I lived in Texas. I'll think about Nigerian girls still being sold into slavery and American women working for wages that will not feed their children.

Thad Box is professor emeritus at Utah State University, where he served as dean of natural resources for 20 years.






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