This week England acknowledged 200 years without the slave trade. The church in England is considering some kind of reparations for the slave trade and a church in East Lancashire held a special service marking this important moment:
Church and civic leaders marked abolition at an Ecumenical Evensong and heard a sermon from Archbishop Gomez. He said: "I am pleased to give thanks for the abolition of slavery 200 years ago. The trade of slaves deprived between five and 20 million of their dignity, their freedom and ultimately their lives, something which is beyond imagination for us."
I can read over 250 online articles on this subject in contrast with next to no coverage when it comes to our own history of abolitionism. Why is it that in a nation that prides itself on freedom and equality we do not focus more attention on certain dates? There is rarely any acknowledgment of the Emancipation Proclamation, Thirteenth Amendment or other Reconstruction Amendments. Instead we engage in debates as to whether Lincoln intended to free the slaves or whether Reconstruction was a violation of states’ rights. Perhaps we are ashamed of our history given that Emancipation and the end of slavery eventually led to Jim Crow. To look at our history is to be reminded that freedom and civil rights do not always move inextricably in a more expansive or progressive manner, but sometimes takes a turn in the opposite direction.
We do not necessarily have feel shame when looking at our national past as it is filled with brave men and women who worked tirelessly to bring about social and political change. Sometimes the federal government worked to undermine that process, but at other times it did act admirably. We can acknowledge those moments without becoming too self-congratulatory and in a way that provides perspective on how far or how little we’ve traveled since.