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Thursday, May 04, 2006

Respectable Members of Society 


In 1839, the Colored American responded to an article in the Baltimore Chronicle. Emphasis theirs (Colored American's). Note that in 1839, importation of slaves was illegal in the United States, yet slave traders were still respectable:


"Arrest of slave Traders," Colored American, Nov. 23, 1839.

ARREST OF SLAVE TRADERS.--We regret to learn that three gentlemen of this city occupying respectable positions in society, were arrested and held to bail on Saturday upon charge of being concerned in fitting out vessels designed to be emploped [sic] in the slave trade--Balt. Chron.

So the Chronicle regrets that the scoundrels have been arrested in their career of infamy and crime! “Respectable gentlemen” quotha!-- Where is their respectability? If acts of piracy and outrage against the laws of their country and humanity entitles them to the appelation of “gentlemen occupying respectable positions in society,” why, then, society in Baltimore must take rank for respectability next to Sing Sing State Prison.



And it's fitting to bring up this story, sourced from snopes.com:


John Newton (1725-1807) first worked as a slave buyer in Africa and later moved on to a position of captain on slave ships. He continued to make his living in the slave trade after becoming a Christian at the age of 23 in 1748. A violent storm at sea brought about his commitment to Christianity, but it was escaping with his own life that inspired him to get religion, not guilt over enslaving others. (Though this event is often pointed to as "the" conversion, it really was only the first of many such pacts with the Almighty struck by Newton, each one brought about by his close shaves with death.)

Newton quit the sea (and the slave trade) in 1754 or 1755. He did not free any of his merchandise on that 1748 trip, or on any others. Though he might have become a Christian, he did not yet allow it to interfere with his making a living....

Newton most likely composed 'Amazing Grace' in 1772, athough there is no clear agreement on the date. According to one biographer, the hymn was penned along with a great many others during an informal hymn-writing competition he was having with William Cowper, another noted hymn writer. If so, that casts doubt upon this particular composition's being solely a cathartic outpouring of wonder over the Lord's mercy — there are, after all, only so many themes that can be expounded upon in a hymn, and personal salvation is one of them.

Newton began to express regrets about his part in the slave trade only in 1780, thirty-two years after his conversion, and eight years after he wrote 'Amazing Grace.' In 1785 he began to fight against slavery by speaking out against it, and he continued to do so until his death in 1807....

Newton's storm-driven adoption to Christianity didn't change him all that much; he continued to make his living from the slave trade for many years afterwards and only left the trade when his wife insisted upon their living a settled life in England. (Indeed, less than a year after his storm-driven conversion, Newton was back in Africa, brokering the purchase of newly-captured blacks and taking yet another "African wife" while there. He was hardly the poster boy for the truly penitent, at least at that point in his life.)

Newton did eventually grow into his conversion, so that by the end of his days he actually was the godly man one would expect to have penned 'Amazing Grace.' But it was a slow process effected over the passage of decades, not something that happened with a clap of thunder and a flash of lightning. In Newton's case, the "amazing grace" he wrote of might well have referred to God's unending patience with him.

Still, Newton's story give us all hope — even the greatest of sinners can ultimately and meaningfully repent, and even the most half-hearted of conversions can over time work its magic.



But before we think of slave trading as a nineteenth century cracker phenomenon, take a gander at this:


"Trafficking in human beings" is a phrase guaranteed to cause a sharp intake of breath among listeners from the liberal and affluent and concerned West.

The view of trafficking in Nigeria is somewhat different. In fact, it is seen as an everyday part of West African life.

It starts with the promise of a better life.

The parents are taken in. The children are persuaded. When they leave home they do so willingly, with some excitement, not trepidation.

The trafficker has promised a good job, a schooling, a regular income. But that is not how it works out.

One young woman told me she was promised regular work in the Nigerian countryside....

She found herself transported overland through the north of Nigeria, to Mali, then to Algeria, then Morocco.

From there she was smuggled into Spain, at night, in a small boat, and from there, on forged papers, into Italy by train.

They took her to a house in Turin where she lived with other girls, some, but not all, Nigerian like her, and under the control of a madam, also Nigerian.

She was put to work as a prostitute, something she speaks of now with a discernible shame.

After seven months she had earned enough money to pay off what she owed the traffickers for taking her in the first place.

" The streets of Nigeria are teeming with trafficked children "

When that debt was paid, her trafficker shopped her to the Italian immigration authorities and she was repatriated, home to Benin City, Nigeria with nothing to show for her ordeal....

Of the hundreds of thousands of street kids living rough in Nigeria's oil rich cities, perhaps 40% have been bought and sold at some time.

The girls most frequently sold into domestic service, or prostitution, the boys into labour in plantations, or to hawk fruit and vegetables for 12-hours a day in an open air market.

Some work as washers of feet.



Pause and consider THAT for a moment.


David Puttnam - who made Chariots of Fire, Midnight Express, The Killing Fields - knows a lot about trafficking.

As president of Unicef UK he has seen it across Asia as well as in Africa.

What frustrates him here, in Nigeria, more than the poverty that is its root cause, is the attitude that accompanies it.

"Half of you feels sympathy," he told me.

"But the other half wants just to shake the people here and say look - this is a large, wealthy, powerful country."



Now pause and consider THAT.

From the Ontario Empoblog (Latest OVVA news here)

Comments:
I shall never think of Amazing Grace the same way again.

I never knew Newton was a slave trader. Or anything of the other facts... Yes, God's grace is incredibly amazing. It saved a wretch like me.

Most people don't even realize that slavery is still alive and well in many parts of the world. Thanks for bringing attention to it.
 
And an accepted part of society, no less.
 
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