- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 29, 2004

ANNAPOLIS — Black “slave traders” yesterday marched white “slaves” in chains from the City Dock around the downtown area in a procession aimed at fostering racial harmony.

Dubbed “A Slavery Reconciliation Walk of Penitence and Forgiveness,” the event had 24 participants — 11 of whom were children. It attracted about 150 spectators, according to city police Chief Joseph S. Johnson.

“I am a descendant of a slave owner, and I thought this would be a way of acknowledging the injustice and for others to see that I am truly sorry for the actions of my forefathers,” said a tearful Carol Palmer, 38, a Virginia resident who was confined in a yoke with three other white persons.

Geoff Sadler of Liverpool, England, agreed with Miss Palmer as he made his way around town draped in chains.

“For me, personally, I have always been angered by injustice,” said Mr. Sadler, 43.

The event was sponsored by the Kunta Kinte-Alex Haley Foundation and Lifeline Expedition, a London-based nonprofit group that aims to reconcile Africa with countries that benefited from the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Lifeline has held similar events in several European cities.

Leonard A. Blackshear, president of the Kunta Kinte-Alex Haley Foundation and a local coordinator for the walk, said he was “very pleased at the turnout,” even though the event drew far fewer than the 500 to 1,000 spectators his organization had expected.

The reconciliation walkers were met by about 10 counterdemonstrators with signs mocking their effort, reading “Kill dem racist white mans” and “kill dem evil white crackers.”

“We are not representing any group. We are just exercising our constitutional right to protest,” said a counterdemonstrator who did not identify himself.

Meanwhile, the National Alliance, a white supremacist group, distributed handbills blaming Lifeline Expedition for defending “riots and black-on-white crime,” being in “favor of affirmative action and monetary reparations” and being “hateful and destructive to white people everywhere.”

“They have a right to be here and have their viewpoint expressed,” Mr. Blackshear said. “This is America.”

No clashes or arrests were reported.

Some residents with homes along the walk route said they were shocked at the sight of whites playing the part of slaves.

“I am very conflicted,” said Nan Farmer. “It was a strong presentation as they came by, but I really felt it should have been enacted by African-Americans instead of whites … I think it would have had a better impact if it had been blacks.”

Sara Wangsness, who owns Sara-Beth’s Bed & Breakfast, said the walk was “interesting.”

“I think forgiveness is a good thing,” she said.

The City Council voted in July to waive all permit fees to help the planners defray the cost of the walk, which was scheduled to coincide with the date in 1767 that Kunta Kinte, the enslaved ancestor of “Roots” author Alex Haley, arrived at the port in Annapolis.

The participants began at City Dock, where a statue of Mr. Haley stands, and ended at Lawyers Mall in front of the State House.

Annapolis is the first of 10 East Coast cities to hold the event, which also will be held in Baltimore; Boston; Newport, R.I.; New York; Charleston, S.C.; and Richmond, according to the group’s Web site, www.lifelineexpedition.co.uk.

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