E. Benjamin Skinner Biography
Born in 1976, Ben Skinner was raised in Wisconsin and northern Nigeria, where
his father had served as a British colonial administrator. He first learned
about slavery as a child in a Quaker meeting. The Quakers, who believed that the
divine spark animates every man, were the first abolitionists. Skinner's Sunday
school teachers spent as much time on Harriet Tubman and William Lloyd Garrison
as they did on Moses and Jesus.
Skinner himself comes from abolitionist stock. His great-great-grandfather,
Robert Pratt, served with the 1st Connecticut Artillery at the Siege of
Petersburg, the ten-month campaign which bled white the Confederate Army and led
to Lee's surrender at Appomattox. Pratt's uncle was a comb-maker too old to
serve at the time, but not too old to make fiery antislavery speeches. When one
of his distributors told him his abolitionist talk was hurting sales in the
south, he exploded: "If they won't buy my Yankee combs, then let them go lousy!"
In 2003, as a writer on assignment in Sudan for Newsweek International,
Skinner met his first survivor of slavery. He had first flown in under enemy
radar with an Evangelical group purporting to buy slaves en masse to secure
their freedom. Afterwards, on his own, he hitched a ride on a U.N. Cessna to the
frontlines of the north-south Sudanese civil war. There he met Muong Nyong. Like
Skinner, Nyong was 27 at the time, and pondering what to do with the rest of his
life. Unlike Skinner, he had spent the first part of that life in bondage.
After meeting Nyong, Skinner traveled the globe to find others like him.
Scholars estimate the total number of modern-day slaves is greater than at any
point in history. But the number means nothing, unless slavery means something.
Skinner adopted a narrow definition: slaves are forced to work, under threat of
violence, for no pay beyond subsistence.
Though there are more slaves today than ever before, finding them would prove
the most daunting challenge of Skinner's professional life. Slaves languish in
shadows, kept hidden by violent traffickers and masters. Going undercover when
necessary, Skinner infiltrated trafficking networks and slave quarries, urban
child markets and illegal brothels. In the process, he became the first person
in history to observe the sales of human beings on four continents. Skinner's book about the horrors of modern slavery is entitled A Crime So Monstrous: Face-to-Face with Modern-Day Slavery.
This biography was last updated on 08/13/2011.
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