King Leopold II of Belgium used forced labor to build his empire in the Congo.
When you think of the world’s worst mass murderers, King Leopold II doesn’t usually come up. But due to his forced labor practices in the Congo, nearly 10 million people lost their lives. He did this by pretending that his actions in that region were a missionary effort. In reality, he forced Africans to harvest wild rubber or risk having their hands cut off.
The truth is even darker than that: it turns out that Leopold was far from the only person doing this. This same era was marked by many major world powers engaging in forced labor. From the US in the Philippines to Arab countries in eastern Africa, much of the modern world was built on forced labor.
Author Adam Hochschild joins us for this episode to discuss his book “King Leopold’s Ghost“.
I first heard about this story on the Noble Blood podcast and their episode “The Red Paint on Leopold II”.
- Had you heard of King Leopold II before this?
- Leopold did send missionaries to the Congo. Was that a positive or negative thing for our Christian witness?
- Did you know that other major countries were engaged in forced labor into WWII?
- What do you think of the US-backed coup in Congo? Is it okay for the US to get involved in the politics of another nation?
Christians helped to end the British Slave Trade. But we forgot one of it’s greatest heroes: Thomas Clarkson
The British slave trade had several well-known enemies: William Wilberforce and John Newton (who wrote “Amazing Grace”) to name a few. But historian Adam Hochschild (“King Leopold’s Ghost”, “To End All Wars”) argues that history has largely forgotten the most valuable member of the abolition movement: Thomas Clarkson. Clarkson was in charge of gathering and disseminating information across the British Isles. He fought for years to end the slave trade and then slavery itself.
This movement is important for many reasons. It was the first to use logos, a coordinated marketing campaign, and it established a high bar for investigative journalism. It was also an ecumenical movement.
In this episode we explore slavery, the importance of slave rebellions, the power of ecumenical efforts, and the book “Bury the Chains“.
Helpful discussion questions:
- Had you heard of Thomas Clarkson before this episode?
- Do you participate in any cross-denominational movements? Where do you draw the line?
- Has your church ever participated in anti-racism movements?
- Was there any wisdom in ending the slave trade first?
- Why do you think John Newton didn’t give up the slave trade as soon as he became a Christian?
- Was it possible to be a Christian and own slaves?
- Do you think humanity will ever go back to slavery?
- Do modern payday loans keep people in bondage in the way that debt kept people in bondage in the 1700s?
- Link to slave ship diagram (very interesting)
- Episode Photo from the Library of Congress. FYI – it is not from the correct era or place.
What ended the British slave trade?
- Slave revolts in places like Haiti
- The high cost of ending slave revolts
- Freedom was in the air after the American Revolution and the French Revolution
- Public opinion
- Women in the 1800s boycotted sugar to protest slavery