Planned slavery re-enactment troubles some in Annapolis

Historical race roles to be reversed in Sept. 29 `reconciliation journey'

July 26, 2004|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

A British organization that re-enacts slavery in period costume and performs street walks with whites and blacks reversing historical roles will make Annapolis its first stop during a U.S. tour Sept. 29 - a prospect getting mixed reviews from some of the Colonial seaport's officials and merchants.

Tonight the city council will consider whether to waive city fees for the one-day event, a request made by the local Kunta Kinte-Alex Haley Foundation Inc. on behalf of the London-based Lifeline Expedition.

The event, one of several visits planned by Lifeline in the fall to U.S. cities including Boston, Richmond, Va., and Charleston, S.C., is part of what the group calls a "reconciliation journey" seeking to apologize across generations for the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

To that end, about a dozen participants will walk along a planned path in Annapolis and elsewhere wearing replicas of the yokes and chains used to keep slaves in bonds.

And in a turning of historical tables, organizers said white people would take the part of slaves.

But Sven Storm, who runs a family-owned ice cream store near the Annapolis City Dock, said a procession of a dozen people dressed as slave owners and slaves, yokes and all, would not do anything for him.

"A lot of businesses are alarmed and fearful," Storm said. "I don't understand the need. ... How in the world can it be productive?"

City officials estimate that the fees for 52 metered parking spaces taken over for the event, along with police protection and street closings, would be about $2,000.

Mayor Ellen O. Moyer declined to say how she planned to vote on the fee-waiver resolution, introduced by Alderwoman Louise Hammond. But the mayor was lukewarm about highlighting the slave trade that once thrived at the City Dock.

"We're pretty special from a lot of perspectives," Moyer said. "A showcase for a variety of reasons."

The Lifeline organization was established in 2000 by a married couple, David and Pam Pott. David Pott describes a semi-religious vision that prompted him to start leading slavery walks. The group lists on its Web site planned journeys over the next decade, including a trip to Africa in 2007.

The group's Annapolis event is scheduled to coincide with the date in 1767 that Kunta Kinte, Roots author Alex Haley's enslaved African ancestor, disembarked from a slave ship in Annapolis.

The local Kunta Kinte-Alex Haley Foundation got involved when Lifeline Expedition made an initial query in March.

"Annapolis is intent upon being the best of the reconciliation journeys," said Judith Cabral, program director of the foundation, which is acting as host to the event and seeking to raise up to $75,000 to fund the slavery walk along with lectures and related educational activities.

Cabral characterized the Annapolis procession as "a historical walk through time." It would start at the City Dock, pass by the statue of Roger B. Taney - the Supreme Court chief justice who presided over the infamous Dred Scott decision buttressing the institution of slavery - and eventually end up at the statue of Thurgood Marshall, the civil rights lawyer and first black Supreme Court justice.

"The point is to understand the significance and impact of the slave trade on today's world," Cabral said.

Jerry Hardesty, owner of Middleton Tavern near the City Dock, said he found some value in the historical street scene - with a caveat.

"I'm all for the truth," he said. "But there should be some emphasis on where this thing started, with the rulers and kings of Africa. That isn't talked about."

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