Florida’s Modern-Day Slavery Museum Spotlights Plight of Farm Laborers


Though it’s unlikely to compete for crowds with Disneyworld, the Modern-Day Slavery Museum may be Florida’s most important new attraction.

Barry Estabrook, who wrote a haunting and horrifying story about slavery in Florida’s tomato fields for Gourmet last year, has an article on the Atlantic website about his visit to the museum, which will be touring Florida until April 15. It’s a project of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, a community-based organization that advocates for low-wage immigrant laborers in Florida where, Estabrook writes, more than 1,000 slaves have been freed since the mid-1990s.

The museum is housed in a 24-foot box truck once used to transport produce, and is a replica of the truck where several men were kept locked up for two-and-a-half years, until they were freed in 2007. The men were only let out to pick tomatoes every day, work they often did without pay. The museum also exhibits chains and a blood-stained shirt worn by a laborer who was beaten for not working hard enough, as well as a plywood sorting table used as a “bed” by the workers, who also had to defecate and urinate in a corner of the trailer.

Winter tomatoes, as Estabrook explained in his Gourmet piece, are often picked by slave laborers hired by independent contractors, or crew bosses. In the story, he asked the chief assistant U.S. attorney, who was one of the prosecutors on the the case that inspired the slavery museum, if it was reasonable to assume that tomatoes found in supermarkets during the winter were picked by slaves. The attorney replied, “It is not an assumption. It is a fact.”

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