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.
Jacob Lienau of Camano Island in Washington said
he decided on his own to
wear the yoke and chains after seeing a painting of
African slave children
wearing them in the 19th century, and hearing about
"At the end of the slave trade, the majority of the captured
slaves were aged 7 to
15," he said. "We today don't need to feel guilty, we
just need to feel sorry."
Lienau and his large family, including his
parents, Shari and Michael Lienau, and
their four biological children and
five adopted children, are part of the Lifeline
Expedition that is visiting
prominent American slave-trading ports from the
Colonial era this month. They
marched in Marblehead, Salem and Boston in
Massachusetts earlier this week
and in Providence on Wednesday.
"We recognize this is an unusual form of
symbolic action," said a brochure the
marchers handed out to passersby. "Our
hope and prayer is that this form of
apology will speak in ways that words
The marchers drew some onlookers and stares, but no
"It creates good awareness," said Vern Michaud of Wallingford,
Conn., who is in
the city on vacation for a week with his wife,
"We were not aware the slave trade was so strong in Newport,"
Michaud said. "I
thought it was concentrated around Boston and New York in
Colonial times, and
also in the Southern ports."
David Pott, a
Londoner who founded the Lifeline Expedition, cites historical
show at least 934 ships left Rhode Island, most from Newport,
headed to West
Africa in the period from 1730-1805 for shipments of slaves.
It was part
of the notorious triangle trade. The slaves were paid for with rum
in Rhode Island. Most of the slaves were then traded in the Caribbean
molasses. The molasses was then brought to Rhode Island to be distilled
rum, and the trade cycle would begin anew.
Slaves made up the
servant class of Newport in the 1700s, said Keith Stokes,
of the Newport County Chamber of Commerce.
Stokes welcomed the group of about
two dozen Africans, African descendants,
white Americans and white Europeans
to the Common Burying Ground on
Farewell Street Thursday morning, where he
showed them "God's Little Acre."
The section of the cemetery has the
oldest and perhaps largest collection in the
country of markers of slaves and
free Africans dating back to the late 1600s.
The children of the group bent
close to the ground to read the inscriptions on the
small slate markers, such
as "Ann, died at 2, June 1, 1743, a Negro child
belonging to Robert Oliver,
and daughter to his Negro, Mimbo."
"What I've learned, it that this is a
vehicle for stirring up people's hearts," said
Sonya Barnett, an
African-American from Colorado who was marching with her
Shannon. "Then, the door gets opened for healing," she
said. Barnett said
people should know slavery existed "at the very beginning of
Dutch traders sold the first Africans to English colonists at
"I did not know Newport was so involved in the slave trade until
now," she said.
"The only thing I knew about Newport were all the pretty
Leaving the cemetery, the group marched along Farewell
Street and then went
south on America's Cup Avenue, with police cruisers in
front and back of the
A prayer service was held on the
harbor at the southern end of Washington
Street. The marchers later sang and
danced on Washington Square.
Drivers slowed to look at the group wearing
black and white shirts that said, "So
sorry," in addition to the yoke and
"You can't judge your brothers unless you've walked a mile in his
said Shari Lienau, drawing on a Native American saying. "This
gives us just a
taste of what it must have been like to be treated as
Cleverson Souza of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, said he was marching
because up to
one-third of the slave trade may have gone to Brazil, brought
Portuguese slave traders.
"This is about restoration and
forgiveness," he said. "I'm a descendent of both the
Portuguese, who were
part of the slave trade system, and the Africans who
He said that division among the races is not part of his distant
past, since his
mother is of Portuguese heritage and his father of black
Paul Tapa of Cameroon said he joined the Lifeline
Expedition four years ago in
France and believes this visit to the United
States is important.
Tapa Monette of
breaks into tears as she prays
with members of the
Expedition. The group is visiting
to march as a
sign of apology. (Matt
Stanley/Daily News photo)
African," he said. "I don't have a problem with my identity. I know where
am from. I know my village. But many African-Americans do not have that
strong identity. They don't know where they came from."
said knowing of their contributions to the development of the United
is important to African-Americans.
"It will give them
inspiration to lift themselves up," he said. "They need to accept
It's done. We can't change the past, but we can change the future."
group submitted a letter to the Newport City Council, asking the council
vote on a letter of apology for the city's past involvement in the slave
councils in Liverpool and Bristol in England approved such
letters, Pott said.
Stokes agreed to bring the letter to the office of Mayor
Richard C. Sardella.
The group then left Newport for Virginia, where they
will march in Richmond,
Jamestown and Williamsburg, and then on to South
Carolina, where they will
march in Charleston.
Michael Lienau is
making a documentary of the marches that he hopes will be
seen on public
television. He said his past documentaries, most recently one on
Helens, have aired on public television.
Contact Michael or Shari
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