An Apology to Africa

February 17, 2008 at 11:40 pm 5 comments

African SlaveryBishop Catherine Roskam delivered this apology to Africa during a Service of Liberation at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine on Sunday January 13th 2008:

I am sorry, Africa.

Of all the places we have exploited-and we have exploited many – it is only from you that we have also stolen the people.

I am sorry that we took your people and held them in bondage for centuries, a holocaust of perhaps twenty million souls.

Africa, we transported your children in conditions unfit for any living creature. When they became sick or died, we threw them overboard, like so much unwanted ballast. Those that completed the excruciating journey, we sold like cattle, auctioning them off to the highest bidder.

This past summer after going to Tanzania on pilgrimage with Carpenter’s Kids, my husband and I spent two days in Zanzibar. We visited the Anglican Cathedral there, built over the site of the old slave market. We saw the tiny airless chamber below, the only one preserved to show how inhumanely the slaves were kept while waiting to be sold. We saw also the inlaid marble circle in front of the altar marking the place of the whipping post where slaves were tied one after another and whipped to see if they would cry. If they did, they brought in a lower price.

What allows such brutality to rest in the hearts of those purporting to be Christian? Where was compassion?

I am sorry, Africa. I benefit still from that brutality. The whole U.S. economy is based on stolen goods. It was built on the backs of slave labor, on the trafficking of human beings and on the precious gems and metals ripped out of the bowels of Africa over the years. The first stock sold on the stock market were African people. I am sorry.

Africa, we deprived your people of language and culture, forcing upon them new names, new language, new identities. We heinously stole their stories from them. We continued to abuse them physically, using the whip and working them to early death. We split up families, selling off children, separating husbands and wives. And to our deepest shame, we raped your women and your girl children, using some as sex slaves. And we blasphemed against the Bible by using it as an instrument of oppression instead of liberation.

Our evil did not stop with slavery, Africa. Even after abolition we continued to abuse your children. Every time black folk started to climb up the ladder of success behind us, we put a foot in their face and kicked them down. When they began to get just a taste of equality under the law, we changed the laws, or ignored them. We ambushed, beat and lynched in the name of Christ, burning crosses as warnings, turning our symbol of love and redemption into one of hatred and damnation. We would not let your people get ahead.

Bp. Sisk and I returned yesterday from a Province Two Bishop’s meeting in Haiti. Haiti was the first independent free black nation in the world. We did everything we could do to undermine its founding, for fear our slaves might get the “wrong idea” about running away to Haiti to get their freedom. Much more recently, we kept in power modern day slave drivers, the Duvaliers, who beat, tortured and killed Haitians at will.

Africa, you had a wonderful son (among many wonderful children I could name). His name was Martin. And for a brief blessed moment we had a glimpse of the Kingdom, of black and white and brown working together for justice and freedom. But we killed him too, and the legacy has been hard to hold onto. The progress we made is slipping away. Our schools are as segregated now as they were at the time of Brown vs. the Board of Education. Only the worst states are no longer Mississippi and Alabama, but New York and California, Illinois and Michigan. We white folks in the north congratulate ourselves on not being racist but we don’t send our children to school with black children. Our prisons are filled with young black men who should be in college, not jail. And for sure not all black votes are counted even today-especially today.

In 1923 white people massacred the people of Rosewood, a prosperous, self sufficient and peaceful black town in Florida. We cluck our tongues and shake our heads at this old brutality. Surely this could not happen today. But there is no outrage as the black people of New Orleans are dispersed, disenfranchised, and unable to return to their homes. Katrina ruined some of the housing, but white people just recently voted to tear down some of what was left standing, even though it was sound and of some architectural value. The foot dragging around rebuilding black neighborhoods is a scandal and a sin.

Throughout history, our church has worked both sides of this particular street, participating in oppression and also liberation. Most recently I give God thanks for Bishop Charles Jenkins and the people of the Diocese of Louisiana who have named the racism and continue to work for relief and development in the black community in New Orleans, rebuilding homes as part of a project call Jericho Road. But as you can imagine, it is an uphill battle.

And we and other developed nations still hold your continent in bondage through global economics.

So then, what of reparations, Africa? I can’t wait for something official to happen. I am too old and these things grind exceedingly slow. So I offer you this-the education of your children in Africa and here. I offer you Carpenter’s Kids and All Our Children. I offer you awareness from which I pledge not to retreat. I offer my voice to speak up for justice and I offer my ears to hear your cry and your call, lest I presume too much.

For as you know, I too am a racist, dear Africa, but I hope I am in recovery a day at a time. My eyes have been opened to so much by my black friends both here and in Africa, who by the grace of God have risked telling me the truth. Then I was able to see Martin’s truth more clearly, and Malcolm’s also.

I have been called to repentance and I do repent and I pledge amendment of life, so help me God.

The Rt. Rev. Catherine S. Roskam
Bishop Suffragan of the
Episcopal Diocese of New York


Entry filed under: Africa, Global Village, Human Rights, Identity, Justice, Peace and Justice, Race and Culture, Ubuntu.

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5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. satrajit  |  April 15, 2008 at 5:04 pm

    Excellent piece and most touching

  • As i write this, my hand trembles with the physical torture and famine i have been subjugated to through my christian “masters” of the united nations.

    There is no god. christianity is the biggest hoax ever played upon mankind. There is no almighty, benevolent god, for “He” is ultimately responsible as the sole creator of the universe for all of this pain i have experienced. If he did not intend this evil, he is no longer almighty, and therefore no longer god. A mosquito in the night may bite a child here, and he will then catch an affliction that can make him catch a cold fever and vomit his own lungs. There is no god. There is no mercy in the world. You do not know of pain, I know of pain, and it is like that all over here. It was because of the separations drawn by your European countries. There has been war and chaos between tribes and over the christian religion ever since, and still you must visit us. Still you insist on exerting control over us, and giving us blessings, and trying to convert us.

    Please, do not do this. Please, do not worsen it. Please, do not continue the crimes committed against us, those which cannot ever be compensated for. Please, let we the African people to live only in the chaos required for us to live in. Please, do not try and save us.

    If I can keep one African from converting, maybe if I can keep one more missionary from ravaging my homeland, then I can do more. Maybe one day, there will be no more Christianity, and we can all live in peace under the sun, or if there be, our creator.

    Let us not torment and plague the world with our own twisted thoughts and abuse power. As my great friend had said, “the white man has come, and in our hands they have placed their burden, and our hands are burned from the treachery of the beliefs from which they promised salvation”. That was before you came. That was before he was hung in a tree for converting to christianity, just because he was told it was good.

    You say that there is heaven and we will all be saved. At what cost? You must not know of the pain in Africa. You believe because you don’t know of the pain. No god could cause this. No god.

    And there are some who say the evil in the world is to glorify god. So that god may overcome the evil, and glorify HIMSELF.

    So he has done a very bad job of overcoming it. What evil has he stopped? He himself was vengeful to Noah, sending a flood after his children so as to destroy them. Should he glorify against his own self? Then he has made a mistake. Then he is not omnipotent and almighty. He is no god. This is a good thing, I would not want such an evil being as my creator.

    Please, listen to my story, and do what is right for the people of Africa.


  • 3. To Africa. « Crispy Quips  |  May 19, 2008 at 4:35 am

    […] not often that one finds religious quotation on Crispy Quips, but the other day I found a beautifully written piece by Bishop Catherine Roskam concerning western relations with Africa and the situation that much […]

  • 4. S.W Pringle  |  July 10, 2008 at 7:53 am

    If one bellieves in an Almighty God, nothing is done without Him.

    Africans helped to capture and sell slaves too.

    Some five hundred million decendants of slaves live in countries all around the world today. Though most still live in poor conditions and continue to suffer degrees of discrimmination, those conditions and discrimminations are infinitely better than those in most of Africa. Dafur is the most recent example.

    Tens of millons of slave descendants receive educations much of Africa can still only dream of. Tens of thousands, especially in the fields of sports and music are multi-millionaires.

    It must be remembered that for 80 generations, after the fall of Rome. all of Europe served as serfs under the whip and whom of their over-lords. Millions were martyred on the cross. Hundreds of thousands were cruelly tortured to death duruing the Inquisition.

    In the long hard road of evolution, all of mankind has suffered and struggled and eventually triumphed. We still have more Ages to go through.


    It is good to atone for the past wrongs we all have done.
    It is wrong to be morally righteous if one does not take in the entire sweep of human history.

    It is arrogant tto believe we are masters of our destiny.

    We repeat> Beneath the appearance of all evil there is always Divine intent.

    The moral of life is that there is no gain without pain. Africa is no exception and is not without her own guilt.

  • 5. Buck  |  August 18, 2008 at 4:30 am



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