Sunday, February 25, 2007

Al Sharpton's ancestors were owned by those of Strom Thurmond

This stuff could not be made up. No way.

In a revelation that will stun the nation, the Rev. Al Sharpton, one of America's most powerful black leaders, has unearthed a shattering family secret - his ancestors were slaves owned by relatives of the late South Carolina Sen. Strom Thurmond.

It is an ironic twist of fate that inexorably links one of the most vocal civil rights activists and an icon of Deep South segregation.

I can't even begin to imagine what its like to have a family legacy in slavery - either as slaves themselves, or slave owners. But here we are with two of the more famous political personalities in American politics (though Strom finally, finally, finally had the good sense to go away and die). The article is interesting not only for its bizarre factoids and involvement of these two political celebrities, but also in Sharpton's personal reactions to the news of his family's roots. The facts are important, but the human story really rounds out our understanding.

I was listening to an NPR program a couple of weeks ago. The person being interviewed said that as recently as 250 years ago, 3/4 of the world's population were slaves - or their equivalent. Thankfully, that is no longer the case. However human trafficking is still a serious affliction. Accounts of women being sold as sex slaves (Cambodia and Eastern Europe) and of migrant workers being bound to employers due to massive debts (see here, here, here.

Another slavery topic was in the news recently. Both houses in Virginia's legislature expressed "profound regret" over that state's role in slavery. This is notable, as Virginia is the first state to officially apologize, although both Maryland and Missouri are considering doing the same. Also notable is this measure passed unanimously in both of Virginia's legislative houses!

I'd call this another chip in the wall. There is still a long way to go towards fully ending racism in our country. But Virginia is taking a good first step in attempting to reconcile past actions. Perhaps South Carolina would like reconsider the state flag.

No comments: