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Nov 12, 2018

In Episode 1 of Series 4 of The Rights Track, Todd is in the United States, where he interviews leading slavery experts Professor David Blight from Yale University and Professor John Stauffer from Harvard University about lessons from history that are applicable in today's fight to end modern slavery.

He starts by talking to David Blight about his recently published biography of Frederick Douglass, the escaped slave who became the greatest orator of his day and one of the leading abolitionists and writers of the era.


  • David talks about his quest to find out over nearly a decade to understand why Douglas was so steeped in the Old Testament
  • He mentions Old Testament scholars recommended to him including Robert Alter  Walter Bruggemann and Abraham Heschel.
  • He explains how reading those scholars led him to describe Douglass as a Prophet of Freedom


  • David says what Douglass had to say about a host of issues related to issues of inequality still resonates today
  • He goes on to explain that being a successful campaigner who achieved great things by the time he was in his forties he went on to see many of those victories eroded as his life drew to an end - he references the Jim Crow laws
  • Douglass' power lay in his facility with carefully crafted words and prophetic language. He references the Fugitive Slave Crisis, the Dred Scott decision and the black exodus to Kansas
  • David talks about his favourite words from Douglass' second autobiography My Bondage and my Freedom describing how he will continue use his voice, his pen and his vote in the fight against slavery and how he thinks that's all any of us has today to fight slavery.

Todd asks John Stauffer what lessons from history are being harnessed in what's been describes as the 4th wave of an anti-slavery movement


  • John talks about the power of the voice in history and today  (orally and written) - he references the first abolitionist newspaper,  William Lloyd Garrison's The Liberator  and the response that drew from John C.Calhoun, a political advocate of slavery and someone credited with 'starting' the American Civil War
  • Todd asks if it's the voices of slaves themselves that are more important or the voices of people who represent slaves - John says it's both
  • John explains that even though there was no internet or social media to help spread anti-slavery messages, the power of public speaking then was as influential as the voices of celebrities today.
  • John says the abolitionists, despite only being 5% of the population, may not have turned people into abolitionists, but they were effective in making people anti-slavery
  • John says that silencing slaves is the weapon of modern day slave owners just as it was more than 100 years ago so that speaking out and bearing witness is the key to mobilising action to end slavery.