Topeka Charles Jacobs had never visited the Statehouse, but he felt at home Wednesday, especially when he studied its famous second-floor mural of abolitionist John Brown.
Jacobs calls himself a new abolitionist. He is president of the Boston-based American Anti-Slavery Group, which is fighting to end slave labor and trafficking in slaves.
He came to Topeka to visit U.S. Sen. Sam Brownback, sponsor of legislation on the issue. Brownback decided to bring Jacobs to the Statehouse, where Brown is immortalized in a large mural by John Steuart Curry.
It depicts Brown with a flowing white beard, arms upraised with a rifle in one hand and a Bible in the other. He is standing over the bodies of fallen Union and Confederate soldiers.
"It's stunning to walk in and see that portrait of John Brown towering over everything," Jacobs said. "I felt at home."
They also visited the House chamber, where the names of anti-slavery leaders, including Brown, are on the walls.
Jacobs' group has about 1,200 members nationwide and is working to raise awareness that slavery still exists, nearly 140 years after Americans began fighting the Civil War.
The Civil War came after "Bleeding Kansas," when the Kansas territory was the site of a guerilla war about slavery. Brown was a central figure in that conflict, and his passion against slavery led to his ill-fated raid on Harpers Ferry, Va., in 1859. He was captured and hanged.
Both Brownback and Jacobs noted that New England abolitionist groups financed emigrations to Kansas, so that the territory would enter the Union as a free state in 1861.
"I like to think of the Boston-Kansas nexus on abolition since abolitionism is needed again," Jacobs said. "It's a terrible thing, that we have to invent abolition again, but slavery is there."
Jacobs' group estimates that at least 27 million people are slaves. It includes servants who are bought and sold in the Middle East and Africa, as well as people kept in bondage over their debts in India and Pakistan.
He emphasized that slavery isn't confined to Third World nations. He and Brownback are concerned about trafficking in women, brought to the United States and other wealthy nations as prostitutes.
Brownback believes anti-slavery legislation he supports could pass Congress as early as next week. It imposes 20-year prison sentences on traffickers and makes it easier for slaves to testify against the people who claim to own them.
"More and more, organized crime is getting into this trafficking in people," Brownback said.