“They bought PEOPLE?”

For many years Warren has brought our 4th graders into Town for a tour that includes warren waterfrontdiscussion of architecture, important sites and a little bit of history.  For the last two years there has also been some inclusion about the slave trade and people who were enslaved here.  Standing at the Town Wharf near where Warren’s first slave ship departed in 1789, I tell the kids a little about the slave trade.  Now you have to understand these kids tend to be squirmy, have a hard time listening and can be easily distracted by the humm and bustle of Water Street. 

The first year I talked about the ship the Abigail that went to Africa and returned with slaves.  That barely raised an eyebrow.  But when I did it last year, I explained that the ship went to Africa where they bought people to bring back here.  Some of the kids got quiet and looked at me slightly shocked.  One boy said loudly “They bought people?  You can buy people?”  Well that lead to a flurry of discussion about exactly what slavery was and whether there was still slavery.  We agreed that yes there still was but then the bus came and we ran out of time.  (Which was a relief to the adults who weren’t quite sure how they were going to explain sex trafficking and child enslavement to 4th graders.)  

I tell this story because there is an ongoing discussion about the use of the word “slave” vs “enslaved person.”  If I had any doubt about which way to go on that, the discussion down at the wharf sealed it.  And so there will be occasions when I will use the word slave, I try to make that a conscious decision every time.  Anyone have their own take on this issue?

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