Marchers Apologize For 'African Holocaust'
This month Christians will walk to mark the 200th anniversary
of the abolition of the British slave trade
By Clive Price
It was a striking vision. Former schoolteacher and rehab worker David Pott was half asleep one morning when, out of the blue, he had a clear mental picture of a serpent twisting round a pole.
"It was very vivid," said Pott, a charismatic Christian. The pole turned into the Greenwich meridian––the line of zero longitude that passes through England's historic maritime town. The snake became a path encircling it. People from different nations were walking along the path.
"The snake on the pole is a universal symbol of healing, not just in Christian cultures, but in other cultures as well," he explained. "And the meridian line is symbolic of the world. It's very close to where I live. ... I concluded that God was calling me to lead a journey of reconciliation."
That was in the fall of 1997. Pott has since become project director of Lifeline Expedition, an ambitious Christian initiative that encourages believers to participate in international walks of healing. Their latest trek is The March of the Abolitionists, the collective title for two walks commemorating the bicentennial of the abolition of the British slave trade.
The first starts in Hull, England, on March 1 and ends in Westminster on March 25, the day in 1807 the Slave Trade Act became law. The second walk starts in London on June 4. Participants will visit Bristol, Liverpool, Lancaster, Whitehaven, Plymouth and Exeter––British ports that played their part in the slave trade––before returning to the capital on July 11. Participants hope to raise funds to combat present-day human trafficking.
Events will coincide with the Walk of Witness, a public event that will follow the Church of England's formal apology to the descendants of victims of the slave trade. Thousands of people are expected to join the Archbishops of Canterbury and York on a walk through London.
Lifeline Expedition (www.lifelineexpedi tion.co.uk) has organized similar walks since 2000 in France, Spain, Portugal, the United States, the Caribbean and West Africa. Those efforts have led to dialogue with various groups, from white supremacists to African-American Muslims.
Manacled white volunteers march through city centers in a symbolic reversal of the indignity slaves suffered after being captured on the West African coast and then shipped to Britain, the West Indies and America. To date, about 100 people have participated in the expeditions. "There have been many more who've joined for days or short periods of time," Pott said. "Quite a lot have come back, and usually there's a few new people each year."
Pott shares leadership of the movement with Monette Tapa Nekomou of Martinique, who represents the Caribbean, and Joseph Zintseme, a native of Cameroon who represents Africa. Lifeline Expedition leaders say the campaigns have seen some remarkable moments.
On Lifeline's first venture into the U.S. in 2004, Chris Haley symbolically embraced Orlando Ridout IV during a stop in Maryland. Haley is a descendant of the famous slave Kunta Kinte, whose story was chronicled in the book Roots, and Ridout is a descendant of the auctioneer who sold Kinte into slavery.
Also during that trip, Jacob Lienau, a 13-year-old from Washington state, carried a yoke over his head and wore chains on his hands during a march through Newport, R.I. Lienau decided to wear the shackles after seeing a painting of 19th century African slave children.
The teenager later apologized for the part his ancestors played in enslaving children. Then he started to cry. Pott said a group of African-American Muslims looking on was "amazed" at the boy's act.
In June 2006, youth worker Andrew Hawkins, who claims to be a descendant of Sir John Hawkins, England's first slave trader, traveled from his home in Cornwall to The Gambia in West Africa, where he knelt before the country's vice-president and 25,000 Africans and asked forgiveness for his ancestor's actions.
International media has featured Lifeline's story, including the Washington Post, the BBC and Korean national television. "Because of the media," Pott said, "it reaches a very wide number of people."
The first venture in 2000 was connected with the Jubilee Campaign, which seeks to eliminate the debt of developing nations. "We got talking about reconciliation issues as we walked," Pott said. "It became clear that the legacy of the Atlantic slave trade was still very much in evidence."
Lifeline Expedition leaders believe modern challenges of racism, poverty and injustice are rooted in the slave trade, which they call the "African holocaust." In addition, it is estimated that at least 12 million children, women and men are now trapped in human trafficking, the 21st century form of slavery.
Lifeline is a close partner with Anti-Slavery International and Stop the Traffik coalition. Pott and his wife, Pam, are also affiliated with Youth With A Mission.
The idea of repenting for other people's sins has stirred debate among Christians for some time. But Pott and his companions are convinced of the need to pray "on site with insight" at historic hotspots.
They believe they follow in the footsteps of people such as William Wilberforce, whose political campaign brought abolition in the 19th century. Wilberforce himself felt compelled by guilt for the plight of African slaves. Now that guilt is being shared––openly, for all to see.