Church service honours slave trade resisters
It was four years ago that the United Nations set March 25 as the Internatonal Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade.
And for the first time since that declaration Bermuda joined the rest of the world in marking the date.
On Sunday, a special commemorative service took place at the Cobb’s Hill Methodist Church in Warwick built in the 1820s by slaves working in the moonlight.
It was sponsored by the African Diaspora Heritage Trail (ADHT) Bermuda Foundation, headed by its chairman, Mrs Maxine Esdaille. Highlights included a drama written by ADHT director Mrs Florence Maxwell and narrated by Miss Ruth Thomas, entitled ‘Honouring Bermuda’s Heroes, Resisters and Survivors’.
Four resisters specifically cited were Rachael Fubler, who was robbed of her own freedom in a legal battle to free her children; Sally Bassett, who was whipped and burned at a stake; Edward Fraser, whho spearheaded the building of the moonlight church; and Mary Prince, who after years of savage whippings from age 12, had her life’s story written and published in England, where she had been taken by her Bermudian slave master.
Pastor Eugene Thompson, Sr, and his choir led the congregation in singing of such songs as ‘I Know the Lord has Laid His Hands on Me’ and ‘Heaven’, and negro spirituals, as period-dressed youngsters lit candles beside the altar honouring the resisters.
Among those in the congregation were Premier Paula Cox, former Premier Ewart Brown; Minister of Economy, Trade, Industry & Community Development Patrice Minors, former Oppositon Leader Kim Swan and ADHT Foundation directors.
In her speech of welcome, Mrs Esdaile said: “The reason behind this commemoration: Slavery and the slave trade are among the worst violations of human rights in the history of humanity.
“The transatlantic slave trade was unique within the entire history of slavery due to how long it lasted over 400 years; and the many people it affected; the estimated number of people taken from Africa during those 400 years range from a low of 17 million to a high of 28 million.”
Mrs Esdaile went on: “This violation of human rights was even more impactful because laws were enacted in many countries to shelter and enforce the practice of slavery. The transatlantic slave trade was a major but little known element in the global history.
“It has had lasting consequences on societies throughout the world, particularly those in North and South America and the Caribbean. The United Nations felt it important to break the silence about the enslavement of Africans in order to examine how it has shaped our society today.”
Regarding the ADHT Bermuda Foundation, Mrs Esdaille explained it was established in 2006, but has roots that go back to 2002 when a transnational tourism initiative, the African Diaspora Heritage Trai,l was started by the then Tourism Minister David Allen.
“The Foundation has grown up and out since then and in addition to maintaining and expanding the local trail, each year hosts an international conference in countries impacted by the people of the African Diaspora,” she said.
“Conferences have been held in Bermuda, Bahamas, Tanzania, in 2011 in Nova Scotia, Canada and this year, we will be in Barbados.
“The goal of the conferences is to assist in establishing a greater understanding and appreciation of the African Diaspora experience; to share available technical and cultural expertise and thereby foster and build a strong economic base among all peoples of the African Diaspora, hence our mission statement:
empowering people of African descent, promoting cultural integrity and achieving financial viability.”
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