Harrack Balramsingh November 30, 2000 From: Across the Divide Board

Apologise for slavery

Please allow me to extend best wishes to all those who assist in organising Emancipation programs because we need to continue to recognise the contribution of those who helped eradicate slavery.

However, history will show that that despite the end of slavery in 1838, traces of this ugly saga still exists in many countries through subtle racism in many forms. I hope that those who have always supported the institution and perpetuation of slavery will own up to their sins.

I read where The Hartford Courant, America's oldest continuously published newspaper, apologised recently for its role in the slave trade in the 18th and 19th centuries. From its inception in 1764 until well into the 19th century, the newspaper ran ads for the sale and capture of people, in effect acting as slave brokers.

The newspaper claimed that the practice of advertising for slaves was commonplace in newspapers prior to abolition. At least the hierarchy of the paper admits that they are not proud of that part of their history and have taken the honourable decision to apologize for any involvement in the slave trade by their predecessors.

The newspaper has gone so far as to call on President Clinton and the United States Congress to issue an apology on behalf of the government. I supported the call because during my many lectures on slavery, I have always made it clear to my students that the descendants of slaves deserve an open apology for the inhumane treatment meted out their forefathers.

While the paper was never pro-slavery, it did not openly embrace emancipation until the Civil War was well under way. Slave ads were an accepted practice in the country's early centuries, and are valued by historians as evidence of the abuse black slaves experienced. The Courant said some of this abuse surfaced in the newspaper ads for runaways.

In the ads, slave owners had to be honest about the condition of the property, describing scars, branding and amputations. While slaves were treated impersonally as a group, their personal descriptions were provided in the ads for runaways. Those ads have become extremely useful to scholars because they are one of the few places that describe slaves physically, their appearance, what type of clothes they wore, whether they were literate, what type of talents they had. The ads had to be effective because there was no photography, so there had to be physical descriptions.


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