"Modern Slaves": The Liberian Labor Crisis and the Politics of Race and Class

Document Type


Publication Date

Summer 2006


Gender, Race, Sexuality, and Ethnicity in Communication | International Relations | Social Influence and Political Communication | Speech and Rhetorical Studies


During the 1920s the government of Liberia sanctioned labor practices that many people considered similar to slavery. Black journalist and novelist George S. Schuyler visited Liberia to explore the Liberian labor situation, and his experiences there inspired him to write a novel, Slaves Today: A Story of Liberia. In this essay I argue that this novel provides a literary window into the politics of black identity in the early years of the Great Depression. Slaves Today illustrates how black workers around the globe endure the dehumanizing bureaucracies of the bourgeoisie and the imposition of racial thinking into their daily lives, both of which create static cultural spaces that deny the progressive potential of modernity. The novel's protagonist, Zo, embodies the ability to navigate the constraints of class and race and personifies the agency of an empowered African Diaspora. I conclude that the novel's construction of a pan-African hero evinces an evolving black voice in the politics of white supremacy and the administration of U.S. foreign policy.