WASHINGTON -- The challenge came from Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan, and it has been answered.
The challenge came back in March at the end of a press conference in Washington, where Mr. Farrakhan was presented with an award by the black-oriented National Newspaper Publishers Association.
He was on his way out the door after answering questions about his earlier Africa tour, which included visits to Libya, Sudan and other countries opposed to the U.S. when someone shouted a question to him about slavery in Sudan.
Reports from the State Department and a variety of respected human rights groups show slavery to be thriving in the civil war between the Islamic government in the country's predominately Muslim north and the mostly Christian and animist ethnic blacks in the country's south.
According to the human rights groups, the Sudanese government arms militias and allows them to keep the "booty" of war, instead of paying them. The "booty" includes humans, who are captured in the south and then traded in the north and elsewhere as household slaves or concubines.
At least one State Department report shows some 400 black Sudanese were sold in Libya with the apparent knowledge of its strongman leader, Moammar Gadhafi who, like, Lt. Gen. Omar Ahmed al-Bashir, Sudan's president, is a Farrakhan friend.
Cat got his tongue?
The usually talkative Farrakhan turns remarkably mute when Sudanese refugees and others ask him to use his considerable clout in the Arab world to attack present-day slavery in Africa as fiercely as he attacks Jews in the United States.
When the charges came up again at his press conference, Mr. Farrakhan rushed back to the lectern and demanded proof. "If slavery exists, why don't you go as a member of the press?" he said, pointing at the questioner. "And you look inside of the Sudan and if you find it, then you come back and tell the American people what you have found. But don't let the State Department be your official source."
Very well. Two reporters for the Baltimore Sun, one black and one white -- Gregory Kane and Gilbert A. Lewthwaite -- recently risked their lives to take up Farrakhan's challenge. Guess what? They have found proof.
They found a slave market, bought two boys, aged 10 and 12, and gave them back to their families in a Dinka tribal village. The boys were half-brothers who had disappeared along with 59 other children from the village since 1987. Purchased under a mango tree in a remote rural marketplace, they each cost $500, or the equivalent of five cows, to be bought back and returned to their overjoyed parents.
It is the sort of good deed Bishop Macram "Max" Gassis, south Sudan's exiled Catholic bishop, has been doing for years. But it was the first time two American reporters had done such a deed. They were helped by the Swiss-based Christian Solidarity International, one of the human rights groups that has been trying to draw world attention to the slavery issue.
Attention is not easy to get. Dramatic as the Sun reporters' story may be, it was not quickly snapped up by other media. American media seem to be embarrassed by such atrocities in Africa, when they give any attention at all.
I wonder, for example, how Americans would react if the slavery was going on in Europe instead of Africa.
I wonder how Americans would react if the slaves were apple-cheeked little white kids instead of brown-skinned little black kids, their hair faded into a rusty color by malnutrition.
I wonder how Americans would react, then, to the lame excuses Sudan's apologists make about slavery in that country.
For that matter, I wonder what Mr. Farrakhan is going to say now. In the past he has stood with the Sudanese government and denounced its critics, including me, as tools of Zionist or State Department conspiracies.
But the Roman Catholic bishop of south Sudan is not an Israeli. Neither is Randall Robinson, president of TransAfrica Forum and leader of the movements to help liberate South Africa and Haiti, who expressed "shock" and "disappointment" at Mr. Farrakhan's support for Sudan.
What Mr. Farrakhan has to say is important. He commands considerable respect among the black American masses, who are the last, best hope for their enslaved African cousins. We, the descendants of American enslavement of Africans, are morally obliged to reach out to today's African slaves in Africa.
Congressional hearings on African slavery in March opened a lot of eyes but did not lead to much action. The Congressional Black Caucus is considering a resolution to put further pressures on Sudan. It would be better for Mr. Farrakhan to support that move than to oppose it.
Mr. Farrakhan asked for proof. He's got it. The next move is up to him.
Clarence Page is a syndicated columnist.
Pub Date: 6/25/96