COMING TO TERMS WITH SLAVERY
BY ANDREW CLUNIS
White group dons chains to apologise for slavery and ‘African holocaust’
“I mean to take the shame upon myself, in common indeed with the whole Parliament of Great Britain, for having suffered this horrid trade to be carried under their authority. We are all guilty – we ought to plead guilty.” – William Wilberforce
Abolitionism has taken on renewed significance thanks to the efforts of a group of lobbyists intent on forcing the white world to reconcile the turmoil created throughout the black world by slavery.
Often, a deaf ear is turned on the emotional pleadings of black campaigners, who for decades have been demanding an official apology as well as reparations from the white world. Now a group led by a white British former school teacher, is responding to those calls, in an attempt to get the white world to demonstratively accept responsibility for the ‘African holocaust’ – the trans-Atlantic slave trade.
Ex-teacher David Pott has had to confront cynicism about his methods of drawing attention to unresolved issues of the slave trade, but he has a steely resolve to fulfil his vision – the white world must come to terms with this horrendous aspect of their history, a view that he believes would have had the profound backing of people like Wilberforce and fellow abolitionist, Thomas Clarkson.
The concept is called Lifeline Expedition – The Slavery Reconciliation Walk for Penitence and Forgiveness. And it has been attracting attention in major cities which contributed to the slave trade. Essentially, white volunteers are manacled and marched through town centres in a symbolic reversal of the indignity that slaves suffered from the point of being captured on the West African coast to their arrival in the West Indies and America. Understandably, his group draws a range of reactions ranging from menacing and intimidating counter protests by far right white groups such as the KKK in America to empathetic inquiries and expressions of amazement in Europe.
The group are often asked why they dwell on the past instead of focussing their campaign on modern slavery and other forms of oppression in today’s world. Pott says: “We recognise that this is an unusual form of symbolic action. Our hope and prayer is that this form of apology will speak in ways that words cannot. Our action is also a protest against all forms of slavery and racism in our own time.
“We are walking in chains as representatives of nations who were involved in the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. With regard to black/white relationships we believe that the legacy of the slave trade is that of an unredeemed past that intrudes its malignant presence into the present. We will not deal with the past by forgetting it. Psychologists tell us that dysfunctional families must return to the source of their trauma, and face it, including the possibility of apology and the offer of forgiveness before they are to find stability. The same is true for the family of nations.”
Pott’s mission of reconciliation is slow to gain traction as he only operates with an annual budget of around £5,000 and the white world has not been keen to throw bundles of cash at him. He is now hoping that the black community will see the importance of his mission and get on board.
The members of the group are drawn from 12 nations and have prayed and lobbied together for over 300 miles throughout England, France and the United States. At the end of this month they head to the Caribbean where they will tour several islands displaying the ‘white captives’. Pott told The Voice that the response has been tremendous: “In France, when people saw Europeans walking in yokes and chains the typical response from black people was ‘Enfin –At last!’ Now we feel that white people are taking our story seriously.”
In 2003 the group toured Spain and Portugal, in 2004 the Netherlands and the USA, this year they are visiting the Caribbean and in 2006 they will retrace the former slave trade routes in West Africa. In 2007 they will mark the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade in Britain with school children walking relay-style around the island, stopping at the major slave ports.
On the walks, the white campaigners wear t-shirts that read ‘So Sorry’ while their black counterparts wear traditional African clothing and armbands that signify forgiveness.
There have been deeply poignant moments on the tours, particularly when the group visited several cities which are former slave ports in the United States. On occasions direct descendants of slaves were able to meet direct descendants of their forebears’ masters. In Maryland Chris Hayley, 45 symbolically embraced Orlando Ridout IV. Haley is a descendant of the famous slave Kunta Kinte and Ridout, a descendant of the slave auctioneer that sold Kinte into slavery. Haley, the nephew of Roots author Alex Haley, said people on both sides of the divide tend to be defensive when discussing slavery. “We’ve got to get past that and root out racism.”
The campaign has the backing of the Kinte-Haley Foundation in the United States and Anti-Slavery International in the UK, The Equiano Society, Hull City Council, Peaceworks and Youth With A Mission.
Pott is calling for British cities to formally follow Liverpool’s lead and publicly acknowledge and apologise for the roles they played in the slave trade. In particular, he wants Mayor Ken Livingstone to lead the initiative in London. “London had the second largest number of slave ships that sailed. It is very important that the capital recognises this and that the reconciliation process is put into motion. When London does it other cities will follow. Ken Livingstone has a responsibility make sure this goes forth.”
In 2007 Britain will see the full spectacle of the march of the abolitionists. There will be a 200-mile Meridian Walk from Hull to Westminster and the Sankofa Walk which will link London, Bristol and Liverpool in a triangle to symbolise the triangular slave trade. Pott explains: “The 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade in the British Empire is a significant event, providing a unique opportunity to reflect and learn from the past and working towards a better future. Through these walks participants will learn about the places and people associated with the history of slavery and abolition. There will be special focus on learning about the contributions of Africans themselves to the abolition of the slave trade, as well as the role of women.”
Although some critics have pointed out that the trans-Atlantic slave trade was not unique in the history of slavery, nor was it only Europeans that were complicit in that trade, David Pott says that some historians estimate that “at its worst the Atlantic slave trade cost five dead Africans to land one slave alive in the Americas – that was not the case with the European (or other) slaves. The economic and social consequences of the slave trade were of an altogether different degree for Europe and for Africa.”
The walks will also provide an opportunity to raise funds to combat present day slavery. Anti Slavery International estimates that there are 27 million children, women and men trapped in slavery today.
Published: 03 October 2005
Marchers wear yokes, chains as sign of apology for slavery - Daily News
Marchers wear yokes, chains as sign of apology for
By Sean Flynn/Daily News staff
don't need to feel guilty, We just need to feel SORRY.'
- Jacob Lienau, 13, of
the Lifeline Expedition, on right
NEWPORT - The sight of a 13-year-old
boy with a yoke over his head and his
hands tied in chains was perhaps the
most controversial image in Thursday's
"slavery reconciliation march" through
the streets of Newport.