MONROVIA – The much talked about international conference on “Afterlives of Slavery” kicks off yesterday, Monday, October 17, 2022 at the EJS Ministerial Complex, Congo Town, Monrovia with the University of Liberia as partner to the Princeton Theological Seminary, progenitor of the project playing host to a number of world class scholars drawn from renowned institutions in the Americas, Europe and Africa in what promises to a very charged academic and intellectual engagement centering on long history of slavery and its impact on global history.
The three day conference under the theme “Colonization, Christianity and Commerce: The Afterlives of Slavery in the Trans-Atlantic World” is to “deliberate and provide answers to the many arguments, questions, and concerns that are being raised relative to the impact of slavery on former enslaved African Americans and the local population they accoutered following their return to the West Coast of Africa in the 18th Century
An insight of what will be in store during the conference which is being followed around the world was provided earlier on by the two introductory statements from two lead organizers, Dr. William E. Allen, Chairman, Planning Committee(UL) and Prof. Afe Adogame, Chair, Afterlives of Slavery Conference Planning Committee, Princeton Theological Seminary, USA who scholarly introduced the conference with some interesting historical facts concerning slavery and its links to the history of African Americans , the return of some of the freed slaves and the foundation of Liberia as well as the celebration of the Bicentenary celebration in Liberia.
“We are here today to deliberate on the lives of people of African descent who, having been emancipated, relocated to Africa. Some returned to familiar surroundings, families and acquaintances. Others encountered strangers with whom their only shared trait was skin color. Our deliberations over the next three days will explore the lives of this diverse group of formerly enslaved people and of those indigenes they encountered. In this vein, the conference could not have come at a more propitious time for Liberia. Our conference today coincides with Liberia’s yearlong bicentennial commemoration of the arrival of freed African Americans in present-day Liberia. On January 7, 1822 about 200 African Americans landed and huddled on the narrow landmass jutting from the Mesurado River. Dozoa, the indigenous name of the island, would eventually become Providence Island to the African American settlers. Twenty-five years later, they founded Africa’s first Republic. Different aspects of their afterlives of slavery will be considered here”, said Dr. Allen.
He told the audience that the Trans-Atlantic World came into being in the wake of Christopher Columbus’s October 12, 1492 voyage to what would become the Americas, adding that October 12 which is celebrated as Christopher Columbus day is also been condemned by others who are opposed to the feat of the Italian explorer because his arrival spelled devastation for the Indians as he mistakenly called the indigenes. “He and his fellow Europeans who came afterwards kidnapped and enslaved indigenous Americans. Over time, millions perished from unspeakable violence, forced labor and diseases Europeans introduced, such as smallpox”, he said.
“When the indigenous people proved unsuitable for plantation labor, Europeans turned to Africa. Ultimately, an estimated 10.7 million Africans were enslaved in the Americas over more than three centuries. What they experienced was horrifying and inhumane. Thus, genocide against indigenous Americans and the enslavement of Africans are the bitter consequences of Columbus’s voyage of 1492, according to his critic.
“But to his supporters, Columbus was a hero. He, contrary to existing maritime convention, dared to sail west to find an alternative route to the east where the spices that Europe craved lay. This unparalleled achievement, Columbus’s admirers say, engendered a New World. Columbus and Europeans who followed him converted the once-isolated continent into economic powerhouses, the USA, Canada, and Brazil, for example. The indigenous American foods that they introduced to the Old World on his return spurred population growth in Europe, Asia, Africa, among others. Where would the Irish be without potatoes, the Italians without tomatoes, West and East Africans without cassava and corn? And Liberia, without dumboy, fufu, GB, cassava and fried fish gravy? This, Columbus’s supporters claim, is the legacy of the great explorer: the world he discovered saved millions from starvation and continues to enrich people around the globe.
“But our purpose here is to neither condemn Columbus nor to praise him. Instead, we are here to reflect on the afterlives of a group that descended from the Columbian era. Our analyses are intended to clarify various topics in the Trans-Atlantic World. Those clarifications should add to the body of knowledge on this topic”, he concluded.
For his part, Prof. Afe Adogame gave a brief narrative of the history of slavery especially its impacts on the blacks in the United States, their struggle and freedom as well as the return of some of the freed slave to Africa that led to the foundation of Liberia.
He also discussed the roles of earlier seminarians who fought for the end to slavery and their contributions to the repatriation of some freed slaves to Africa. He also noted the roles by other seminarians and churches to promote and benefit from the infamous slave trade.
In the Seminary’s early years, several of its founders and prominent leaders were entangled with slavery and even employed slave labor themselves.
Prof. Afe Adogame currently serves as the Maxwell M. Upson Professor of Religion and Society and is a leading scholar of the African Diaspora. He holds a PhD in History of Religions from the University of Bayreuth in Germany and has served as associate professor of World Christianity and religious studies, and director international at the School of Divinity, New College, at The University of Edinburgh in Scotland. His teaching and research interests are broad, but tend to focus on interrogating new dynamics of religious experiences and expressions in Africa and the African Diaspora, with a particular focus on African Christianity and new indigenous religious movements; the interconnectedness between religion and migration, globalization, politics, economy, media and the civil society.
In his opening statement, the President of the University of Liberia, Prof. Dr. Julius J. S. Nelson, Jr extended thanks and profound to the Planning Committee of the Afterlives of Slavery International Conference for the great job and said as the university hosts the event, it is expected to bring together members of the faculty and staff of UL, students, along with Liberians from all walks of life, senior policymakers, government officials as well as dignitaries and academics from abroad and the sub-region to deliberate on those fascinating topics that befits the occasion.
“Let me recognize our guests from the Princeton Theological Seminary and others from the sub-region who are in attendance. The hybrid conference also forms part of the year-long activities of the 2022 National Bicentennial commemoration, which was officially launched on February 14, 2022 under the theme, “The Year of the Return”. The UL Chairs the History Sub-Committee of the 2022 National Bicentennial.
“Several presentations are expected to be made during this three-day conference. Several Liberian and international historians and clergymen and clergywomen will take the stage to discuss Colonization, Christianity, and Commerce. We anticipate that their deliberations will be interactive with you as the audience being a major component, because at the end of the day, we all will learn from each other”, he said
The first Keynote Address of the conference was delivered by Prof. David D. Daniels, III of the McCormick Theological Seminary, USA spoke on the topic, “An African Half of the Story: African Christianity, the Black Atlantic, and the Egalitarian Tradition, 1600-1847 where he shared that many people mistakenly believe that African American Christianity started in North America and only came into existence as a response to slavery and racism in the 13 original colonies. But the roots of African Christianity do not begin in North America, but rather in Europe and Africa.
The renowned scholar said that as far back as in 1619, the year when enslaved Africans first arrived in America, there were already documented African clergy, African Christian practices, and an educated African Christian elite in both Africa and Europe. He maintained that African American Christianity emerged from developed Black Christian societies throughout Kongo, Ethiopia, and Portugal, as well as smaller Black Christian communities in places like England.
“When African Christians came to North America, some already followed the Christian traditions of church attendance, the baptism of their children, and the practice of Christian marriage.
“African Christians came already baptized, already having gone through some kind of catechism, already practicing the Christian faith, and are accepted within the Christian churches, either New Amsterdam, which becomes New York, or Jamestown within the Church of England”, Dr. Daniels said.
He further said that the Christian faith wasn’t something that these African Christians learned in North America, but rather was a continuation of their existing Christian beliefs that they had developed in Europe and Africa.
Daniels joined the faculty of McCormick Theological Seminary in 1987 and was inaugurated Professor of Church History in 2003.
He received the Bachelor of Arts from Bowdoin College, Brunswick, Maine, in 1976, majoring in religion and economics. In 1979 he obtained the Master of Divinity from Yale University. During his years at Yale, he was a Benjamin E. Mays Fellow for the Fund for Theological Education. David earned a Ph.D. in Church History from Union Theological Seminary in New York in May, 1992. From 1979 to 1983 he was instructor of Religion at the Phillips Exeter Academy in Exeter, NH.
The erudite educator has lectured at various colleges and seminaries in the United States, including Northern Illinois University, Alma College, Adrian College, North Park University, Butler university, Lewis University, and Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary. He has also lectured at the Bossey Institute in Switzerland, the Spiritan International School of Theology in Attakwu, Enugu, Nigeria, the Cheikh A. Diop University of Dakar, Dakar, Senegal, and Emmanuel College of Victoria University at the University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada.
A dance group from the Providence Baptist Church dramatized the history of slavery and its link to the establishment of Liberia to the delight of well attended conference.
The conference was moderated by Cllr. Norris Tweah, Vice President of University Relations, University of Liberia and will be entering Day two of today with more speakers and panelists taking the center stage.