The heartbreaking story of John Christopher Smith starts years ago, back in 1990 when he was only 12 years old. Smith, a now 43-year-old Black man with intellectual disabilities, was employed by J&J Cafeteria, happily washing dishes and busing tables under good management until now 56-year-old Bobby Paul Edwards, a White restaurant manager, took over in September 2009. And when Edwards took over, Smith would not see his wages, would soon be living in horrifying conditions and would work as a slave for the next five years of his life.
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Restaurant Manager Kept Black Man As Slave
Edwards had made the alarming changes when he took over the restaurant, located in Conway, South Carolina. He had moved Chris Smith was moved into a roach-infested apartment that he owned, which Smith’s attorneys described as “sub-human, “deplorable,” and “harmful to human health,” according to the Seattle Times. According to court documents, Edwards forced Smith to work over 100 hours a week with no days off and no pay, taking advantage of Smith’s disabilities for years. But the abuse didn’t stop at enslaving.
Edwards purposely kept Smith from seeing his family in enslavement, isolating him with threats of having him arrested. Edwards consistently hurled racial slurs at Smith and would inflict physical violence by whipping with belts and kitchen pans, as well as punching Smith multiple times. One of the worst examples was when Edwards dipped metal tongs into hot grease and pressed them on Smith’s neck as punishment for Smith not delivering fried chicken to the buffet as quickly as demanded.
Thankfully, Geneane Caines helped put an end to the abuse, after her daughter-in-law who worked at the restaurant explained what was going on. In October 2014, Caines took his case to law enforcement, resulting in Smith getting taken in by Adult Protective Services. Edwards was charged with second-degree assault and “attempt to establish peonage, slavery, involuntary servitude or human trafficking. Sherri A. Lydon, U.S. attorney for the District of South Carolina had said, “For stealing his victim’s freedom and wages, Mr. Edwards has earned every day of his sentence. The U.S. Attorney’s Office will not tolerate forced or exploitative labor in South Carolina, and we are grateful to the watchful citizen and our partners in law enforcement who put a stop to this particularly cruel violence.”
Bobby Paul Edwards
And although this case happened half a decade ago, resulting in the district court ordering Edwards to pay Smith $273,000 in unpaid wages after his 2019 guilty plea to a forced labor charge, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals just ruled that the federal labor laws were not accounted for, entitling Smith to $546,000, which is double the amount originally owed. And although Edwards’ “reign of terror” has ended, Smith will never forget what he was forced to go through. He said, “Most of the time I felt unsafe, like Bobby could kill me if he wanted. “I wanted to get out of that place so bad but couldn’t think about how I could without being hurt.”