CONFERENCE SPOTLIGHTS PAST, PRESENT AND FUTURE OF SLAVERY
bronze medallion engraved with equally weighted scales adorned the
mahogany podium. To its left stood Old Glory doing what she does
best: serving as a silent symbol of the nation's freedom. But to
the right of that flag and behind the lectern, over the course of
the evening, a distinguished group of scholars and special guests
came to bring awareness to what more than one of them referred to
as America's 350-year Holocaust.
was the opening plenary session of "Slave Routes: The Long Memory,"
a six-day symposium involving workshops, panel discussions, art
exhibitions, dance and music performances and movie screenings at
New York University, October 5-10. The idea was to take an in-depth
look at what have become the repercussions of the slave trade of
the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries.
crowd of over five hundred mostly African-American, well-educated,
middle-aged people filled Vanderbilt Hall in the law school on the
NYU campus, frequently interrupting the speakers with shouts of
"Yes" and "Teach" and "Speak." That and the absence of many college-,
high school- or younger children left the sense that the evening's
orators were gainlessly preaching to the converted. Only about 15
percent of the audience was white. The presenters spoke with eloquence,
force and persuasive power. Each conveyed a similar but clear underlying
idea -- that the slave trade played an enormous role in developing
the Western Hemisphere -- but did so from intriguingly different
Maya Angelou Stirs Listeners During Opening Session of Symposium
em' in," intoned the regal black lady in red, then quickened her
rhythm to finish the verse: "Bid em' in, bid em' in, bid em' in."
The room grew silent and no one stirred.
was Maya Angelou as auctioneer, reciting, half-singing an Oscar
Brown Jr. poem about a young girl's degradation on the slave market:
being sold to the highest bidder. ("She's young, she's ripe... 'Strip
her down Roy' ...can I get 350? Bid em' in, bid em' in, bid em'
in.") The Nobel laureate reminded the assembled that no matter how
eminent the participants or scholarly the occasion, there is no
possible talk of the Middle Passage, of origins, of distribution,
demographics or documentation, or any authentic discussion of slavery
that does not begin with the people, the slave experience.
Courtesy Aiko Ishikawa, WSN
was perpetrated in the pursuit of material wealth, fueled by greed and
the lust for power, and operated under the guise of carrying out a civilizing
mission, said to be divinely ordained..."
- Rex Nettleford -
conference is] forcing all of us to begin to grapple with the real meaning
of that experience, which yes, was a period of victimization, yes was
a period of domination, exploitation and oppression, but it was in the
context of the slave trade and slavery that we, people of African descent,
in this hemisphere made ourselves, created ourselves, laid the foundations
for everything that we have become..."
- Howard Dodson -
should never lose sight of the fact that the slave trade is and was about
- Colin Palmer -
said] 'Dad, why do [white people] beat black people?'" He shrugged
his shoulders...So I stopped asking questions. [I thought I had found]
something shameful in my past."
- Maryse Condé -
has been particularly bothersome to me that we have expended so much energy
talking about...affirmative action. Why expend so much energy defending
a thin dime when a fortune is due?"
lot of individuals supported our proposal [for the conference] and a few
said why now? Why bring up this painful subject of slavery and the slave
trade? Why now? And we said 'Why not now?'"
- Jayne Cortez -
think the best reparation we can find is to deal with the conditions of
the descendants of the slaves."
can't simply be understood as something that only needs to broken, but
also must be reconfigured...and understood..."
is important to look out [in the audience] and see graduate and undergraduate
students who have an interest in this subject, because someday you got
to take my job from me and tell some more of the truth and tell some more
of the stories that this nation has systemically discarded on the subject
for the web by Erika Roberson
and Sarah Alger