Black man enslaved, whipped and beaten ‘for 17 years’ by restaurant manager

‘I couldn’t see my mom...and I couldn’t talk to nobody,’ says John Christopher Smith

Zamira Rahim@ZamiraRahim
Friday 08 November 2019 10:54
Chris Smith was abused for 17 years.
Chris Smith was abused for 17 years.

A white restaurant manager who enslaved a disabled black man and forced him to work more than 100 hours a week for no pay has been jailed for 10 years.

Bobby Paul Edwards admitted to regularly beating John Christopher Smith with pots, pans, a belt and his fists.

Mr Smith has an intellectual disability and an IQ of less than 70, according to a filing at the United States District Court of South Carolina.

The document also revealed Edwards once dipped metal tongs into boiling grease and burned his neck.

Edwards also regularly used racial slurs and abusive language against the 39-year-old, while abusing him at the J&J Cafeteria in South Carolina.

“This abusive enslavement of a vulnerable person is shocking,” said FBI special agent Jody Norris after the sentencing.

Eric Dreiband, US assistant attorney general for the civil rights division, added: “It is almost inconceivable that instances of forced labour endure in this country to this day – a century and a half after the Emancipation Proclamation.”

Mr Smith began working at the J&J Cafeteria as a dishwasher in 1996, the filing said. He was 12 at the time he was employed by Edwards’ family.

He was initially paid for his work, but said Edwards began abusing him after becoming manager of the business, which is owned by his brother Ernest.

“I could get along with his wife, his momma, his daddy, his cousin, his brother ... I could get along with all of them ... but I couldn’t get along with him,” Mr Smith told the ABC 15 News channel.

Edwards began the physical and emotional abuse whenever Mr Smith worked slowly.

He also forced Mr Smith to live in a small room behind the restaurant.

Eventually, Geneane Caines, a customer and local resident, reported his behaviour to the authorities.

“Chris came out of the kitchen and put some food down on the bar. He leaned one way over and when he did, I could see a scar on his neck,” she said.

By the time officials removed Smith from the restaurant in October 2014, he had been abused for 17 years.

Bobby Paul Edwards was sentenced to 10 years in prison (J Reuben Long Detention Centre)

The local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP) assisted him and he has since worked at other local restaurants in the city of Conway.

Charged with forced labour, Edwards pleaded guilty and was sentenced to serve 10 years in prison earlier this week.

He was also ordered to pay $272,952 (£213,000) in damages to the victim.

“I wanted to get out of there a long time ago. But I didn’t have nobody I could go to,” Mr Smith said. “I couldn’t go anywhere. I couldn’t see none of my family so that was that. That’s the main basic thing I wanted to see was my mom come see me. I couldn’t see my mom ... and I couldn’t talk to nobody.”

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Mr Smith alleges that other members of the Edwards family knew about the manager’s behaviour.

“All of them knew. They knew what he was doing,” he said.

Edwards, Ernest Edwards and the restaurant are also facing a federal civil lawsuit over the case.

J&J Cafeteria is under new management but is still owned by the Edwards family.

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