THE REPENTANCE PROJECT / AN AMERICAN LENT
Founded in Slavery
WEEK II / DAY II
Tuesday, February 20, 2018
Scripture / Matthew 7:24-27
“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”
Our History and Its Legacy
For all of the wisdom and foresight that our Founding Fathers had, part of the house that is the United States of America was built on the sandy foundation of slavery and exclusion. In the beginning, those who led our country refused to see enslaved Africans as brothers and sisters created in the image of God. Article 1, Section 2 of the Constitution, providing for the election of Members of Congress, stated “the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons.” Enslaved Africans were not fully human, only sixty percent, and just so they would boost the number of Representatives from slave-holding states. Thankfully, this was changed when the Fourteenth Amendment was ratified in 1868, three years after the Civil War ended. Those were during the few years of Reconstruction when African-Americans were elected to Congress, before federal troops were withdrawn from the former Confederate States in 1877. Then the advent of state laws and practices effectively prevented the sons and daughters of enslaved Africans from voting and winning votes as candidates until the passage of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts of 1964 and 1965, respectively. Even before the country was founded, enslaved Africans were an indisputable element of the fabric of this nation, from the first instance of slavery in Jamestown in 1619 through the establishment of the republic.
The inclusion of slavery in our foundation includes the building that houses our legislative branch, the U.S. Capitol, as it was built in part with slave labor. According to the Architect of the Capitol, “enslaved laborers, who were rented from their owners, were involved in almost every stage of construction” of this Temple of Liberty, dedicated to the ideals of freedom, equality, and self-determination. In research done before installing a plaque in the Capitol Visitors Center, the Architect found numerous documents referencing a “negro hire,” for $60-70 annual wages paid to the owner of the enslaved person. Enslaved laborers also helped build the White House, just down Pennsylvania Avenue from the Capitol. The very homes some of those founders lived in were built and maintained by enslaved persons, from Washington’s Mt. Vernon to Jefferson’s Monticello.
Many other institutions we now take for granted were founded and built by those who profited from slavery or those who were oppressed by it. Churches, colleges and corporations all have roots in slavery. From the Baptist and Methodist Churches to Harvard and Georgetown Universities, as well as companies like Aetna and Brooks Brothers, all have acknowledged their connection to America’s original sin.
In recent years, we have experienced the rain, the winds, and the crashing of our myths against the rocks of reality. We know that despite the goodness contained in the American house, part of our foundation is not the rock of ages; it is on the sands of slavery.
Reflection and Response
What are the institutions you are a part of and to which you belong? What about your church or alma mater or…? Do a little digging and find out their connection to slavery. See if there has been an acknowledgement or an apology.
Pray and seek God’s guidance as to whether acknowledging and apologizing to an African-American friend for the role slavery has played in your life and theirs would open a deeper conversation that could lead to healing and reconciliation. Beverly Engel, author of The Power of Apology, states, “Almost like magic, apology has the power to repair harm, mend relationships, soothe wounds and heal broken hearts.” The One who taught us to pray, “forgive our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us,” knew all about that.
Written by Max Finberg