Monday, December 31, 2007

An Even Better Reason to Celebrate

Print of enslaved Africans on "The Wildfire".

Did you know that January 1st 2008 will mark the 200th anniversary of the prohibition of importing enslaved Africans into the United States? I didn't either until I was fortunate enough to stumble across this Op-Ed piece in the New York Times:

WE Americans live in a society awash in historical celebrations. The last few years have witnessed commemorations of the bicentennial of the Louisiana Purchase (2003) and the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II (2005). Looming on the horizon are the bicentennial of Abraham Lincoln’s birth (2009) and the sesquicentennial of the outbreak of the Civil War (2011). But one significant milestone has gone strangely unnoticed: the 200th anniversary of Jan. 1, 1808, when the importation of slaves into the United States was prohibited.

This neglect stands in striking contrast to the many scholarly and public events in Britain that marked the 2007 bicentennial of that country’s banning of the slave trade. There were historical conferences, museum exhibits, even a high-budget film, “Amazing Grace,” about William Wilberforce, the leader of the parliamentary crusade that resulted in abolition.

What explains this divergence? Throughout the 1780s, the horrors of the Middle Passage were widely publicized on both sides of the Atlantic and by 1792 the British Parliament stood on the verge of banning the trade. But when war broke out with revolutionary France, the idea was shelved. Final prohibition came in 1807 and it proved a major step toward the abolition of slavery in the empire.

The British campaign against the African slave trade not only launched the modern concern for human rights as an international principle, but today offers a usable past for a society increasingly aware of its multiracial character. It remains a historic chapter of which Britons of all origins can be proud. (Read the whole thing here)

The silence in the media, both mainstream and alternative regarding this significant milestone in the long walk to freedom is both deafening and disappointing. It is also ironic given recent stories of the resurgence of the noose, Latino gangs killing blacks simply for being black and a man declaring "open season" on members of an NAACP chapter in Maine of all places (are there really enough black people in Maine for anyone to be upset about?!).

Baha'u'llah (1817-1892), Founder of the Baha'i Faith was unequivocal regarding the moral bankruptcy of the ancient practice of human bondage for profit:

"It is forbidden you to trade in slaves, be they men or women. It is not for him who is himself a servant to buy another of God's servants, and this hath been prohibited in His Holy Tablet. Thus, by His mercy, hath the commandment been recorded by the Pen of justice. Let no man exalt himself above another; all are but bondslaves before the Lord, and all exemplify the
truth that there is none other God but Him. He, verily, is the All-Wise, Whose wisdom encompasseth all things."
(Baha'u'llah, The Kitab-i-Aqdas, p. 45)

My friends and I will be marking this anniversary by watching the new Denzel Washington film The Great Debaters. You might also wish to acknowledge that there is something more to January 1st than recovering from public and private drunkeness in your own way. At the very least I encourage everyone to tell everyone about this anniversary so it does not pass unnoticed. You might even include in your New Years resolutions a resolve to redouble your efforts until racial unity and justice prevail in America.