Post Expedition Press Release
Between September 29th and October 18th 2004, white Americans and Europeans walked in a replica yoke and chains as a symbolic sign of penitence for the sins of their forefathers in the Atlantic slave trade. Africans and Africans of the Diaspora accompanied them as they have traveled on a pilgrimage toward healing, hope and peace, which also sought to raise awareness of slavery and racism in our own day.
The group, which wore T-shirts inscribed with the words “So Sorry,” traveled to several East Coast cities, including Baltimore, Salem, Marblehead, Boston, Providence and Newport, RI, Charleston, South Carolina and Richmond and Jamestown Virginia. As they journeyed along the East Coast, the group encountered a wide range of emotional reactions, from skepticism and protests to sympathy and gratitude.
The journey began in Annapolis where the Lifeline Expedition joined with the Kunta Kinte-Alex Haley Foundation to commemorate the anniversary of the arrival of Kunta Kinte on the slave ship Lord Ligonier on September 29th 1767. The event drew the attention of protesters from the National Alliance who displayed placards bearing the words “White Guilt Zone.” At the conclusion of the event, Chris Haley, direct descendant of Kunta Kinte, and Orlando Ridout IV, a direct descendant of the person he was sold to, led the descendants of slaves and slave holders in an act of reconciliation.
The group walked 8 miles in the yoke and chains from the center of Charleston to McLeod Plantation on James Island and on Sullivan’s Island, where thousands of enslaved Africans were prepared for sale, penitents from the Netherlands, England, France and USA knelt at the historic marker and asked apology for the role of their respective nations in the slave trade.
In Richmond, the expedition was in partnership with a number of organizations including the city’s Slave Trail Commission. A night time walk in the yoke and chains took place from where slaves were landed on the James River to the new historical marker commemorating the 1800 rebellion led by Gabriel Prosser. A second walk was arranged on the following day. One of the participants was Vice Mayor Delores L. McQuinn, who presented a Certificate of Acknowledgement to the Lifeline Expedition and said that she hoped the event would provide a step toward changing racist attitudes in Richmond. Another participant, Christopher Green told the Lifeline team, "I grew up with so much anger. ... I saw pictures of burnings and lynchings, Today I can actually say that I can put it behind me now. I can actually forgive not only you, I can forgive myself."
A controversial feature was that of 13-year-old white American Jacob Lienau from Washington State also walking in chains. “By the end of the slave trade,” Jacob explained, “up to half the Africans taken captive were my sort of age because they could pack more in the ships and they didn’t rebel like the grown ups. I want to say sorry about this, too.”
The Lifeline Expedition visit was reported nationally through Associated Press and was widely reported in local newspapers and TV stations. It was also featured on Korean TV Services (SBS). A documentary film crew captured the events for a film to be released in 2005.
The Historical Context
The history of the USA is of course profoundly influenced by the slave trade. Here are just three issues that will receive attention during the course of the Lifeline Expedition -
In the first instance, the wealth of the colonies was in large measure due to their success in the trade. The American slave trade was, like the European trade, triangular, commencing with the manufacture of rum from molasses in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. There were 63 distilleries in the Boston area alone in the mid eighteenth century. The rum was taken to the west coast of Africa and there exchanged for slaves. The slaves were then sold and frequently exchanged for molasses, which was of course produced by slaves. This quotation is typical: "It was the wealth accumulated from the West India trade which more than anything else underlay the prosperity of New England and the Middle Colonies." (Pitman in "Development of the British West Indies", p vii, 1917.) At least 934 vessels left Rhode Island ports for West Africa in the period 1730 - 1805 and Boston had 469 ships tied to the slave trade in 1749.
Secondly, it is seldom realized that American Independence is so closely linked to rivalry over the slave trade. The British were jealous of the success of the American colonists and angry that they were buying molasses from their French rivals. This trade was forbidden by the Molasses Act of 1733 and again by the Sugar Act of 1764. The resentment caused by these acts and British ships interfering with American vessels carrying molasses was a major cause of the War of Independence. As John Adams, the second President of USA said, "I know not why we should blush to confess that molasses was an essential ingredient in American Independence." (Works of John Adams vol X, page 345)
Thirdly, there is the legacy of plantation slavery in the southern states and the scars from the Civil War.
" Few people consider the fact that, in addition to being enslaved for two centuries, the Negro was, during all those years, robbed of the wages of his toil. No amount of gold could provide an adequate compensation for the exploitation and humiliation of the Negro in America down through the centuries. Not all the wealth of this affluent society could meet the bill."
(From Dr Martin Luther King's last speech on April 3 rd 1968)