Historical Abolitionist of the Month: John Parker

By Katie Masi

The fight to end slavery is rooted in history and extends until today. Each month we profile some of the brave men and women, both contemporary and historical, who have fought to eradicate slavery. Our historical abolitionist of the month is John Parker.

In 1827 John Parker was born into slavery to a white father a slave mother in Norfolk, Virginia. When he was just eight years old, Parker’s father sold him to a doctor in Mobile, Alabama.

The doctor’s family taught him to read and write and allowed him to apprentice at an iron foundry, where he earned enough money to buy his freedom at the age of eighteen. Parker moved north, where worked at several iron foundries in Indiana and Ohio. Parker ran a general store in 1848 at Beachwood Factory, Ohio before settling in Ripley, Ohio in 1850. Using the skills he acquired as an apprentice, Parker established a successful foundry behind his home and became one of the first African Americans to obtain a patent in the 1800s.

As soon as he gained his freedom, Parker helped others escape slavery as an Underground Railroad conductor. Despite being well known to regional slave catchers, Parker risked his life to guide slaves from Kentucky to Ohio, opening his home as a shelter for runaways. During the Civil War, John Parker became a recruiter for the 27th Regiment, U.S. Colored Troops. He recruited hundreds of slaves to serve in the Union Army.

John Parker was a strong and successful businessman who used his skills to fight slavery. Sadly, slavery still exists today, but it is hidden under a new name – human trafficking. Human trafficking generates $150 billion dollars a year for traffickers and approximately 21 million people are enslaved around the world. In order to combat modern day slavery, we need a multi-sector approach, including both the public and private sectors. Business leaders need to adopt best practices and increase transparency in their supply chains in order to protect their operations from forced labor. To learn more about how to build on the work of John Parker and other abolitionists, please see our blueprint, on “How to Dismantle the Business of Human Trafficking.”

Published on November 30, 2015


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