Slavery in the 21st Century???

You might have missed this one, for it wasn’t as widely reported as Trump’s rambling rants on Friday morning to a Fox News crew.   And honestly, the first time I saw the headline this evening, I almost kept going, for it sounded like tabloid news.  But then I checked the source and it was CNN.  And I double checked to see if other sources were carrying the story, and sure enough, NPR, one of the most reliable, as well as a number of locals ran it.  It reads exactly like something from the 1940s – 1950s.

Restaurant Manager Beat Black Employee for Years and Forced Him to Work Without Pay

John C Smith

John Christopher Smith

John Christopher Smith began working at a family-owned restaurant, J&J Cafeteria in Conway, South Carolina, when he was only 12-years-old.  He started as a dishwasher and worked his way up … to … slave.  Smith has an IQ of about 70 and is considered to be ‘intellectually disabled’.  Things seemed to go okay for Mr. Smith and he even liked his job … until 2009, when a man named Bobby Paul Edwards, the owner’s brother, took over as the restaurant’s manager.

Things changed for Mr. Smith once Edwards took over.  First, he stopped paying Smith a salary, then he forced him to move into an apartment behind the restaurant, and insisted he work 17-hour days Monday through Saturday and 8 hours on Sunday.  For all intents and purposes, John Christopher Smith was a slave and Bobby Paul Edwards the cruel overseer.

Bobby Paul Edwards

Bobby Paul Edwards

Edwards used both violence and threats to keep Mr. Smith ‘in line’.  He was said to have beaten Smith with a belt, or with his fists, or with pots from the kitchen, when he believed Smith was working too slowly or doing something wrong. On at least one occasion Edwards dipped metal tongs into hot grease, then placed them on Mr. Smith’s neck.  The court document states that the burn was treated immediately by other employees.  Think about that one a minute.  Edwards refused to let Smith speak to his family and threatened to have him thrown in jail if he tried.  Remember that Smith’s IQ is only 70, so where you or I might realize the futility of such a threat, he likely did not.  By Edwards’ own admission, other members of his family were aware of the abuse but said nothing.

Finally, in 2014, a local woman, Geneane Caines, heard from her daughter-in-law, an employee of the restaurant, about the treatment of Mr. Smith, and decided to go check things out herself.  She immediately saw the scar on Smith’s neck, and coupled with what her daughter-in-law had told her, it was enough to convince her to make a report to the authorities.

According to Ms. Caines …

“Customers that were going in there would hear stuff and they didn’t know what was going on, and they would ask the waitresses, and the waitresses were so scared of Bobby. they wouldn’t tell them then what it was.”

Ms. Caines first took her concerns to the NAACP, who brought it to the attention of the authorities.  Initially, Edwards was charged only with one charge of misdemeanor assault.  One charge???  Misdemeanor???  You have got to be kidding me!!!  But then Abdullah Mustafa, the president of the local NAACP, pushed for greater punishment, including federal involvement. “It should be more than just assault … we are talking about enslavement here.” After investigation by the FBI in conjunction with assistance from the Department of Labour’s Wage and Hour Division, the misdemeanor charge was dropped and Edwards was charged with one count of forced labour.  He faces up to 20 years in prison, a maximum $250,000 fine, and restitution to Mr. Smith to be determined at the time of sentencing.

On October 10, 2014, police and NAACP officials removed Smith from the restaurant to an ‘undisclosed location’ for his safety, and the first charges were filed against Edwards just over a month later.  The restaurant owner, Edward’s brother Ernest Edwards, claims to have been unaware of the abuse, as he spends most of his time vacationing in Myrtle Beach.  Nonetheless, charges have also been filed against both the restaurant and its owner.

I have some questions about this:

  • It was 2014 that Ms. Caines reported the situation, first to the NAACP. Why the Sam Heck did it take four years … four years … for this case come up for sentencing?

  • If Bobby Paul Edwards is willing to plead ‘guilty’ to these heinous crimes, what else is there? The charges are said to be a result of a plea deal, so … is there something even more despicable he has done that he is willing to plead guilty to forced labour and hope for a light sentence?

  • Those customers who asked questions about what was happening?  Why didn’t they at least report their suspicions?

  • Why didn’t other employees, who surely must have realized something was not right, report the situation. Perhaps they were afraid of losing their job, but come on, people … it is J&J Cafeteria, not Maxim’s!!!

  • Smith had family in the area … they even came into the restaurant from time to time, but were not allowed to see John C. Smith. Did they not think something was off?  FIVE YEARS this went on!  Surely somebody must have thought something was not right!

What would you do if you worked in a restaurant and saw a fellow employee, black or white, being physically abused by a member of management?  It’s not hard to answer that, is it?  So why did the other employees of J&J Cafeteria allow this abuse to continue non-stop for 5 bloomin’ years???  I really cannot imagine being so afraid of losing my job that I would see a person treated as Mr. Smith was treated.

Ask yourself the question … would it have been different if Mr. Smith had white skin?  Think about it.

47 thoughts on “Slavery in the 21st Century???

  1. Dear Jill,

    I’m with you. If I knew someone was being abused, I would step in and I don’t get why this case took so long to adjudicate. It looks like Lady Justice is a bit slow when it comes to our brothers and sisters of color.

    Hugs, Gronda

    Liked by 1 person

    • Many have had the same response as you … shocking, but not really surprising. It doesn’t make a very nice statement about what we have become as a society, does it? Thanks for the link … Roosevelt Ave has always, I think, been a ‘hot spot’, but I didn’t realize how bad it had gotten. Sigh.

      Liked by 2 people

      • I agree that it is not a nice statement of what we have become.

        I had no idea that you were aware of that area! I have such mixed feelings about that area…I love the diversity of the area but dislike the sex trafficking.

        Liked by 2 people

        • Ah yes … a native New Yorker here … Brooklyn. Half my childhood was spent in Brooklyn, the other half in San Francisco. Back and forth numerous times. If I could, I would be back in New York today, but I cannot afford to live there! Like you, I love the diversity, but hate the drugs, sex trafficking and other crimes.


  2. These are all pertinent questions. Indeed how could this go on so long? Two things. For the family, fear of retaliation, whites,programmed to accept mistreatment of blacks and mentally challenged individuals? How deep does this run in your society? Hint, see the movie RADIO,Based on true story.

    Liked by 1 person

    • How deep does it run? I thought I knew the answer, but recent events have proven that I know nothing about our society. Like most others, I apparently have been living in a bubble and not seeing the world around me as closely as I once thought I did. Fear of retaliation, maybe. But … if you knew your brother or child were being brutalized, wouldn’t you step in despite your fear? I’m 99% certain that I would, for fear is one of those things I don’t really have when I see things like this. Fear is of high places, but other than that, there isn’t much I fear.


  3. Why the other employees were so hesitant to get involved is a very good question. I’ll relate two incidents from my working career which might help illuminate the psychological and sociological reasons behind it.

    Why, I don’t know, but I’ve always been something of a social justice crusader. When encountering injustices such as this 21st century slavery example, I’ve typically thrown caution to the wind and jumped into the fray. The first incident occurred when I accepted a computer programming position at a smaller company (it was a poor decision on my part). Our department was headed by a tyrant who regularly badgered her lowest paid female subordinates. After three months of observing this behavior, I couldn’t sit quite anymore. I got in this manager’s face and told her off in front of the other employees. Normally, this would’ve gotten me fired; but, I had the advantage of being the most technically skilled programmer on the staff which this manager could’ve afford to lose. Afterwards, she toned down her bad behavior quite noticeably and our department became more peaceful. I did subsequently resign because my business relationship with her had been irreversibly damaged.

    The second incident occurred near the end of my career when I worked as a professional bartender at a large hotel/casino. When I discovered that a new supervisor was sexually harassing some of the cocktail waitresses, I informed our department management. They in turn informed the hotel administration. The hotel administration tried to force me to reveal the names of my coworkers who had been involved with this supervisor’s illegal conduct. I refused, and they reacted by suspending me for several days. I chose not to return to this job. Months later, I heard that the supervisor had been fired.

    The employee-employer relationship is fundamentally authoritarian. The former is subordinate and the latter is superior. Everyone implicitly understands this. Workers risk their livelihoods if they rock the boat. Most are not willing to take such risks, and some might not feel any empathy for victims. Also, in this particular case, bigotry may have played a role as well.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Abominable doesn’t even begin to describe this evil man’s treatment of another human being. There are surely many lasting effects that John Smith will endure forever, way beyond the physical damage. I had not read about this and appreciate your sharing Mr. Smith’s story. It makes me wonder if you are aware of the EJI- Equal Justice Initiative, that is located in Montgomery, Alabama. If you are not, I believe that it would be of great interest to you and if you are, perhaps a post by you about “The National Memorial for Peace and Justice” that opened in April would interest your followers. I am a more recent follower, and may have missed such a post. Thank-you!

    Liked by 2 people

    • I could just HUG you!!! No, I was not aware of EJI until today, but on your recommendation did a quick & dirty overview and, while I will need to do more research, I think I have found my ‘good people’ subject for Wednesday! Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!

      I agree with you … there isn’t a word to describe the heinous treatment John C. Smith received for 5 years, and it isn’t a very nice statement about society when so many people turned a blind eye for so long.

      Red pandas for Benjamin in Monday’s a.m. post! Hope he enjoys them!


  5. This is shocking, but, sadly, I don’t find it hard to believe. I’d bet this sort of thing happens far more than we realize. Human trafficking and children and women being sold and used as sex slaves is much, much more common than we care to think. Slavery is alive and well today, as is racism. It truly is disgusting and shows us just how despicably awful humans are at treating each other.

    Liked by 2 people

    • You are, I’m certain, quite right in that it is happening right under our very noses, and most of us are unaware until we see something like the article that triggered this post. We, as a society, have become so complacent … we are content in our own safe little worlds and rarely look very hard at the world around us. And now we have leaders who place no value on human life, so nothing is likely to change, at least not for the better, in the foreseeable future. It IS disgusting and does not make a very pretty statement about our society.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. For generations a closed minded, self-centered element of the world’s societies living in fear have been able to create the illusion of how great and wonderful their societies are because of the ignorance and lack of technology of the masses… today’s technology has helped to create change and that change is showing what those societies are really about… 🙂

    “It’s time for greatness — not for greed. It’s a time for idealism — not ideology. It is a time not just for compassionate words, but compassionate action. A lot of people are waiting for Martin Luther King or Mahatma Gandhi to come back — but they are gone. We are it. It is up to us. It is up to you. “ Marian Wright Edleman

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Black people in the south are afraid of far more than losing a job. They’re afraid for their lives and the lives of their families. There’s still a KKK and other fearful groups down there. Under the present administration, these idiots have become emboldened. The hate groups have become more active across the whole country. Black people driving through Missouri have been warned these days. That man was not the only slave. The sharecroppers in the south are so in debt to the farm owners they are also virtually slaves. 😦 — Suzanne

    Liked by 3 people

    • What you say is certainly true. But still, I cannot absolve those employees and customers who didn’t even bother to so much as make an anonymous phone call to the police, the FBI, a media outlet, or the NAACP. Those who saw and did nothing are complicit in this crime, and are a sad statement of society. And all too often, the law turns a blind eye as well. Sigh. I’m glad I don’t live in the south, but it’s almost as bad in the north, and one of the largest neo-Nazi groups in the nation is in my state. 😥

      Liked by 1 person

  8. This story is almost unbe- bloody- lievable in this day and age. If other employees treated Smith’s wounds why did they not go to the police or to Smith’s family ? Thank heavens someone finally did. I hope he gets the twenty years in prison for his cruelty.

    Liked by 3 people

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