Join Date: Jan 2012
"we don't need to feel guilty, we just need to feel sorry"
Marchers wear yokes, chains as sign of apology for slavery
By Sean Flynn/Daily News staff
NEWPORT - The sight of a 13-year-old boy with a yoke over his head and his
hands tied in chains was perhaps the most controversial image in Thursday's
"slavery reconciliation march" through the streets of Newport.
Jacob Lienau of Camano Island in Washington said he decided on his own to
wear the yoke and chains after seeing a painting of African slave children
wearing them in the 19th century, and hearing about the march.
"At the end of the slave trade, the majority of the captured slaves were aged 7 to
15," he said. "We today don't need to feel guilty, we just need to feel sorry."
Lienau and his large family, including his parents, Shari and Michael Lienau, and
their four biological children and five adopted children, are part of the Lifeline
Expedition that is visiting prominent American slave-trading ports from the
Colonial era this month. They marched in Marblehead, Salem and Boston in
Massachusetts earlier this week and in Providence on Wednesday.
"We recognize this is an unusual form of symbolic action," said a brochure the
marchers handed out to passersby. "Our hope and prayer is that this form of
apology will speak in ways that words cannot."
The marchers drew some onlookers and stares, but no hostility.
"It creates good awareness," said Vern Michaud of Wallingford, Conn., who is in
the city on vacation for a week with his wife, Trudy.
"We were not aware the slave trade was so strong in Newport," Michaud said. "I
thought it was concentrated around Boston and New York in Colonial times, and
also in the Southern ports."
David Pott, a Londoner who founded the Lifeline Expedition, cites historical
records that show at least 934 ships left Rhode Island, most from Newport,
headed to West Africa in the period from 1730-1805 for shipments of slaves.
It was part of the notorious triangle trade. The slaves were paid for with rum
distilled in Rhode Island. Most of the slaves were then traded in the Caribbean
for molasses. The molasses was then brought to Rhode Island to be distilled into
rum, and the trade cycle would begin anew.
Slaves made up the servant class of Newport in the 1700s, said Keith Stokes,
executive director of the Newport County Chamber of Commerce.
Stokes welcomed the group of about two dozen Africans, African descendants,
white Americans and white Europeans to the Common Burying Ground on
Farewell Street Thursday morning, where he showed them "God's Little Acre."
The section of the cemetery has the oldest and perhaps largest collection in the
country of markers of slaves and free Africans dating back to the late 1600s.
The children of the group bent close to the ground to read the inscriptions on the
small slate markers, such as "Ann, died at 2, June 1, 1743, a Negro child
belonging to Robert Oliver, and daughter to his Negro, Mimbo."
"What I've learned, it that this is a vehicle for stirring up people's hearts," said
Sonya Barnett, an African-American from Colorado who was marching with her
6-year-old daughter, Shannon. "Then, the door gets opened for healing," she
said. Barnett said people should know slavery existed "at the very beginning of
this country." Dutch traders sold the first Africans to English colonists at
Jamestown in 1619.
"I did not know Newport was so involved in the slave trade until now," she said.
"The only thing I knew about Newport were all the pretty houses here."
Leaving the cemetery, the group marched along Farewell Street and then went
south on America's Cup Avenue, with police cruisers in front and back of the
A prayer service was held on the harbor at the southern end of Washington
Street. The marchers later sang and danced on Washington Square.
Drivers slowed to look at the group wearing black and white shirts that said, "So
sorry," in addition to the yoke and chains.
"You can't judge your brothers unless you've walked a mile in his moccasins,"
said Shari Lienau, drawing on a Native American saying. "This gives us just a
taste of what it must have been like to be treated as cattle."
Cleverson Souza of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, said he was marching because up to
one-third of the slave trade may have gone to Brazil, brought there by
Portuguese slave traders.
"This is about restoration and forgiveness," he said. "I'm a descendent of both the
Portuguese, who were part of the slave trade system, and the Africans who
suffered as slaves."
He said that division among the races is not part of his distant past, since his
mother is of Portuguese heritage and his father of black African heritage.
Paul Tapa of Cameroon said he joined the Lifeline Expedition four years ago in
France and believes this visit to the United States is important.
Tapa Monette of Martinique
breaks into tears as she prays
with members of the Lifeline
Expedition. The group is visiting
slave-trading ports to march as a
sign of apology. (Matt
Stanley/Daily News photo)
"I am African," he said. "I don't have a problem with my identity. I know where I
am from. I know my village. But many African-Americans do not have that kind of
strong identity. They don't know where they came from."
Tapa said knowing of their contributions to the development of the United States
is important to African-Americans.
"It will give them inspiration to lift themselves up," he said. "They need to accept
the past. It's done. We can't change the past, but we can change the future."
The group submitted a letter to the Newport City Council, asking the council to
vote on a letter of apology for the city's past involvement in the slave trade. City
councils in Liverpool and Bristol in England approved such letters, Pott said.
Stokes agreed to bring the letter to the office of Mayor Richard C. Sardella.
The group then left Newport for Virginia, where they will march in Richmond,
Jamestown and Williamsburg, and then on to South Carolina, where they will
march in Charleston.
Michael Lienau is making a documentary of the marches that he hopes will be
seen on public television. He said his past documentaries, most recently one on
Mount St. Helens, have aired on public television.
Contact Michael or Shari Lienau