Juneteenth Marks Abolition, But Slavery Still Exists: 17 Things You Should Know

On June 19th, we celebrate Juneteenth, which honors the abolition of slavery in the U.S. after the Civil War. America’s history as a slave-holding nation has been in the news more than usual as of late, largely due to Ta-Nehisi Coates’ lengthy and acclaimed argument for slavery reparations in The Atlantic. And just last Wednesday, the Dallas County Commissioners Court voted for a (non-binding) resolution in favor of reparation payments ... even though it later turned out that they didn’t realize what they were voting on.

Even though it's been almost 150 years since the U.S. started abolishing slavery, the institution and its effects still reverberate through American life. Our nation's history of slavery is reflected in everything from the socioeconomic status of black Americans (incarceration rates and wealth disparities, to name a few) to the food that ends up on our plates, much of which is still the product of slave labor. America has made progress, but anyone who tells you that slavery's effects are a thing of the past is either misinformed, lying, or in denial.

In recognition of slavery’s lingering effects — both in America and elsewhere, both direct and indirect — here are a couple of things you should know about slavery.

  1. An estimated 30 million people still live in slavery today.
  2. An estimated 26 percent of all modern slaves are children under 18, the majority are underage girls forced into child prostitution and pornography.
  3. By comparison, the total number of slaves imported from Africa during the Trans-Atlantic slave trade is pegged at around 12 million. Almost two million didn’t survive the trip.
  4. In the United Kingdom, holding a person as a slave wasn’t actually a crime until ... wait for it ... 2010.
  5. A lot of the financial institutions that made slavery possible (and profitable) in America still exist today: JPMorgan Chase, Aetna, New York Life, Wachovia, and NM Rothschild & Sons, just to name a few.
  6. As of 2013, there are an estimated 60,000 slaves in the United States.
  7. British Colonists had been enslaving Africans for over 130 years before the United States was even founded.
  8. There’s strong evidence to suggest that Barack Obama’s 11th great-grandfather was one of the first African slaves in the British Colonies.
  9. Modern-day Liberia was founded by freed slaves from America; upon their arrival, they established one-party rule over the indigenous African population and denied them voting rights until well into the 20th century. The tension between these two ethnic groups continues to this day.
  10. In 2009, when Virginia’s Republican Governor declared April "Confederate History Month," he refused to make any mention of slavery in his proclamation, explaining that it wasn’t one of the “most significant” factors in the Civil War.
  11. Mississippi’s state flag still contains an image of the old Confederate flag, which the state’s current Republican governor defends.
  12. Senator Rand Paul, who may well be the Republican nominee for president in 2016, employs and wrote a book with a pro-Confederate activist who’s stated his support for Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. While running for the Senate in 2010, Paul also argued against the Civil Rights Act.
  13. Though emancipation is worth celebrating, black Americans continue to be incarcerated at a rate six and a half times higher than their white counterparts. They're also more than twice as likely to be unemployed and three times more likely to be arrested on drug charges.
  14. In addition, the black poverty rate has consistently been around three times higher than that of whites since at least the 1960s, and between 2006 and 2010, black children were almost four times more likely than their white counterparts to live in areas of concentrated poverty.
  15. When Haitian slaves won independence from their French slaveowners in 1804, reparations were indeed paid — by Haiti, to France, which threatened a military invasion if Haiti didn’t pay it billions in “lost” profits.
  16. In 2013, a Nevada lawmaker said he’d vote to reinstitute slavery if that’s what his constituents wanted.
  17. In a 2014 poll, a majority (51 percent) of white Americans said that slavery was “not a factor at all” in lower average wealth levels of blacks in the U.S. today.

Image credits: Getty, Global Slavery Index, Pew Research Center