The president made his remarks on Goree Island off the coast of Senegal. It was from Goree Island that countless thousands of Africans boarded slave ships bound for America.
"At this place," Bush said, "liberty and life were stolen and sold. Human beings were delivered and sorted, and weighed, and branded with the marks of commercial enterprises, and loaded as cargo on a voyage without return."
The effects of slavery weren't limited to the enslaved, however. As the president said, their "captors were corrupted" as well. "Years of unpunished brutality and bullying and rape produced a dullness and hardness of conscience" in those who called themselves "master."
National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice got it exactly right when she said slavery was America's "birth defect." Yet, throughout American history, the president said, "there were men and women who clearly saw this sin and called it by name." In one of history's greatest ironies, "African Americans have upheld the ideals of America by exposing laws and habits contradicting those ideals."
Even more inspiring is the manner in which those who were enslaved, and their descendants, overcame their oppression. The president was right when he told us that their "spirit did not break."
As a result, "by a plan known only to Providence, the stolen sons and daughters of Africa helped to awaken the conscience of America. The very people traded into slavery helped to set America free." Although their ancestors did not ask to play this role, African Americans forced America to live up to her promises and potential.
The president focused on Christianity's crucial role in this chapter of our history. In a story filled with ironies, this indeed may be the greatest. Not only were the leading abolitionists Christians, but slaves adopted the religion of their captors, made it their own, and turned it into an instrument for their emancipation. Bush noted, "In America, enslaved Africans learned the story of the exodus from Egypt and set their own hearts on a promised land of freedom. Enslaved Africans discovered a suffering Savior and found He was more like themselves than their masters."
Of course, it's considered to be the height of political incorrectness to suggest that any good could have come out of slavery—let alone to give credit to the Savior. It's far better to wallow in the status of victim. But not only does that ignore the lessons of history, it also ignores the power of redemption and leaves us powerless in the face of today's crises.
Call us here at BreakPoint (1-877-3-CALLBP), and ask for a copy of the president's magnificent, eloquent speech on Goree Island.
The heart of any good narrative is redemption, and this story is filled with redemption and hope. It's the heart of the story of the Exodus, of the Babylonian captivity, of the cross, and of African slavery. And the reason it's the heart of a good narrative—as the president so well knows—is because it is the heart of the Gospel.
For further reading and information:
"President Bush Speaks at Goree Island in Senegal," White House Office of the Press Secretary, 8 July 2003.
"Dr. Condoleeza Rice Discusses the President's Trip to Africa," The James S. Brady Briefing Room, White House Office of the Press Secretary, 3 July 2003.
Richard W. Stevenson, "Bush Opens Africa Trip with Denunciation of Slavery," New York Times, 9 July 2003. (Free registration required.)
Dana Milbank, "A Somber Bush Tours Slave Depot," Washington Post, 9 July 2003, A01.
Bill Sammon, "In Senegal, Bush denounces legacy of slavery," Washington Times, 9 July 2003.
Tom Raum, "Bush Condemns U.S. Slavery Past in Africa," Associated Press, 8 July 2003.
Kevin Belmonte, Hero for Humanity: A Biography of William Wilberforce (NavPress, 2002).
"Hero for Humanity"—In this "BreakPoint This Week" special broadcast, managing editor Jim Tonkowich speaks with Kevin Belmonte, a fellow of the Wilberforce Forum and author of Hero for Humanity: A Biography of William Wilberforce. Belmonte discusses the life of William Wilberforce, whose faith led him in his fight against slavery—witnessing its abolition before he died.
BreakPoint Commentary No. 030224, "'Follow the Lord Jesus': Black History Month."
Steven Garber, "Good Books, Bad Books: Windows into the Human Heart," BreakPoint WorldView, January/February 2003.