Competing with faux jungles full of parrots, pods of under-water-ballet-performing mermaids, and parks dedicated to every conceivable theme, another "attraction" would seem to be the last thing Florida needs. But if you're in the Sunshine State during the next six weeks, I strongly urge you to visit the new Florida Modern-Day Slavery Museum.
A project of the PR-savvy crew at the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), an organization trying to improve the lot of migrant farm laborers, the museum features the sort of exhibits you might expect: chains, a blood-stained shirt worn by a field hand who was beaten for not working hard enough, and cramped, filthy living quarters. What might come as a surprise is that these are not relics of the 1800s. They all came from slavery cases the Coalition has helped bring to light in the last decade or so. Since the mid-1990s, more than 1,000 slaves have been freed in at least six cases in Florida.
Fittingly, the museum is housed in a 24-foot box truck once used to haul produce. The truck is a replica of one in which several men were kept locked up for as long as two and a half years until the slavery ring that held them was broken in 2007. They slept in the truck, urinated and defecated in one corner, and were driven in the truck daily to fields where they were forced to pick tomatoes, often for no pay. Some of the men who were imprisoned acted as "consultants" on the project to assure authenticity. In late 2008, several members of a family were sentenced to jail terms in the case.