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Ghanaian bishop offers apology for Africans’ part in slave trade


Bishop Charles G. Palmer-Buckle of Ghana introduced an unexpected twist into the consideration of Africa and the history of slavery in the Americas when he apologized on behalf of Africans for the part Africans played in the slave trade. “Please forgive us if in any way we contributed to what you had to suffer,” he said.

In an interview with NCR, Palmer-Buckle said his interest in apologizing to blacks in other parts of the world whose ancestors were sold into slavery stems from a 1988 gathering of priests from Africa and elsewhere. At one point in the gathering, they went to one of the “slave castles” in Ghana and when they got to the dungeon, someone suggested that an African priest say a prayer.

He asked everyone to take off their shoes, “because we are on hallowed ground.”

And then he proceeded to say, recalled Palmer-Buckle, “It was here my ancestors were sold by their own brothers into slavery.” According to Palmer-Buckle, the comment was unexpected, “and the black priests, all of us, felt a certain guilt.”

Later in the day, he said, he was approached by a black priest friend from the Caribbean who extended his hand and said, “I am your brother, Joseph.”

Palmer-Buckle said he made light of the greeting, but the other priest persisted, “I am your brother, Joseph.”

Palmer-Buckle said he once again tried to lightly laugh off the greeting, but it became clear that the other priest was serious. He said, “No, I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into slavery.”

It brought the reality home in a personal way, said Palmer-Buckle, that in the saga of the slave trade, some Africans themselves played a horrible role.

And since that day, the now-bishop of the Koforidua diocese has been trying to impress on Africans and others the necessity for an African apology as an essential element to reconciliation and healing for those whose ancestors were sold into slavery.

The day following Palmer-Buckle’s apology, during an afternoon reconciliation service, Bishop John Ricard of Pensacola-Tallahassee, Fla., spoke of his own growing connection with Africa during the past decade. He said he took his first trip to Africa 10 years ago and has returned nearly every year since to reconnect with that continent’s beauty and history.

“After several visits, I said to myself, ‘What a different person I may have been had I known this’ ” as a child.

Given the reaction, he apparently spoke for many of the nearly 3,000 in the hall when he said that one of the effects of the shame of slavery and bondage was a disinterest in Africa. He recalled that his parents and other adults of that generation were unable to connect with Africa because of the shame. He said he remembers his parents being deferential to whites and “wanting always to please.”

He added, “I think I see the shame today in the violence of our youth.”

Then referring to Palmer-Buckle’s apology, he said he wanted to tell the bishop, “on behalf of African-American Catholics, that I accept his apology,” a sentiment that brought a rousing, standing ovation.

“In accepting his apology,” Ricard continued, “we begin to travel that long road toward healing and reconciliation, so we can accept the beauty and depth of Mother Africa, so we can accept the beauty and depth of ourselves.”

Tom Roberts is editor of NCR.

National Catholic Reporter, September 13, 2002