The Shameful Truth About Slavery

by Brian J M Joseph

There is an African proverb that goes like this “If you are filled with pride, then you will have no room for wisdom.” With the recent 27 April Slavery Reenactment at the River Antoine Estate (which was part of Heritage Month celebrations), the aspect of the reenactment created a stir that evoked much resentment and anger in the minds of many Grenadians.

Marcus Garvey said and I quote, “A people without knowledge of its past is like a tree without roots” end of quote. I think it’s very important to know where you came from in other to know where you are going. In my honest opinion, I don’t see anything wrong in revisiting the past, slavery wasn’t the black man story, but it became part of OUR STORY because it was imposed on us by the Europeans.

Reading from the history books and experiencing it is totally two different things. I believe experience is the greatest teacher. I’m happy that the students got an opportunity to be part of the reenactment aspect of slavery.

I believe it was Soren Kierkegaard who said and I quote “There are two ways to be fooled. One is to believe what isn’t true, and the other is to refuse to accept what is true.” Despite the horror stories and the atrocities that were committed by our oppressors, the reenactment aspect is just a reminder of what life and living conditions were like under slavery. Blacks and people of mixed ancestry are supposed to stay silent about what transpired during slavery and must never speak about it, because some folks are uncomfortable with it.

Many of us who are history enthusiasts knows that OURSTORY goes way beyond the European history books and slavery. Exposing the naked truth can create a lot of controversy and bitterness with our oppressors. No one is going to speak about the Catholic and Anglican churches’ role and how they benefited immensely from the profit of slavery. The record of the Anglican Church was no better than that of the Roman Church. The Abolition of Slavery Act of 1833 provided for £20 million to be paid to the enslavers. Let’s not forget they were compensated with millions being disbursed as ordered by the parliament of England.

It makes you wonder, why those entities were part of the enslavement process and up to this present day, no one has questioned the role and involvement of the churches during and after slavery. What has the black man and his families gained from out of those terrible years of oppression from their enslavers? The record of the Anglican Church was no better than that of the Roman Church. It was the universal opinion of churchmen that God had ordained slavery, and clergymen had no qualms about owning slaves themselves. Anglican slave traders were often extremely devout and widely respected by their fellow Christians. It never occurred to them, or to their priests or ministers, that slave trading might be immoral. The most famous English slave trader, Sir John Hawkins, named his slave ships Angel, Jesus and Grace of God.

In 2006 the Church of England offered its apology for slavery, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, urged the Church to share the “shame and sinfulness of our predecessors.” The Church’s missionary arm, the Society for the Propagation of the Faith in Foreign Parts, owned the Codrington Plantation in Barbados and slaves had the word “Society” branded on their chests with red-hot irons. The Church of England has apologised for profiting from slavery (no amount of apology will ever be able to undo the wrongs of slavery.)

There have been many woeful cries over the decades calling for reparations for the families of blacks and people of mixed ethnicity, but those cries have fallen on deaf ears. Survivors of the Jewish Holocaust were compensated, and monumental museums built to showcase the atrocities that took place.

How many Grenadians know that a lot of history pertaining to our country is archived at Oxford University in London and National Library of Jamaica? The National Archives should be seeking for those historic documents to be given back to Grenada, instead discombobulated persons are stirring up trouble over an aspect of reenactment of slavery. They should be fighting the Anglican Churches asking them to give back the millions that were received in compensation for slavery. I guess some folks are only passionate about one thing and that’s publicity.

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