Old South Church Installation Depicts Inhumanity of Slavery

A large banner now hanging outside Old South Church depicts people packed as cargo into a ship juxtaposed against those of the faces and families of those who might be descended from former slaves, or what these people might’ve looked like before they were enslaved.

The installation, called “Middle Passage Installation of Remembrance,” includes the banner measuring 17-by-5 feet, along with a smaller banner with a map showing the Triangular Trade Route over which captive people were transported and sold, as well as the following quote from UNESCO Director General Irina: “The slave trade is not merely a thing of the past — it has shaped the world we live in, it has molded the face of modern societies, creating indissoluble ties between peoples, irreversibly transforming economies, cultures and customs across the world. The slave trade concerns not only people of African descent but the whole of humanity.”

Sound effects, including waves, wind, gulls calling, timber creaking, chains rattling, and humans humming, also accompany the installation between the hours of 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. daily.

 Meanwhile, the United Nations has designated Tuesday, Aug. 23, the International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition, while Old South Church’s Installation of Remembrance coincides with the dedication of the Boston Middle Passage Port Marker on Long Wharf on Sunday, Aug. 22, at 2 p.m.

The Middle Passage Ceremonies and Port Marker Project (https://www.middlepassageproject.org/), which was established to honor the 2 million captive Africans who died during the transatlantic crossing known as the Middle Passage, as well as the 10 million who survived to build the Americas, intends to install a marker at every port where enslaved persons were forcibly brought to shore.

Rev. Nancy S. Taylor, Old South Church’s senior minister and chief executive officer, said, “During this national season of racial reckoning, it’s important that a 352-year-old organization acknowledges this important part of our past and our church’s past, our city’s past, and our nation’s past. We need to remind people this is part of who we are as a nation, and this exhibit provides an invitation to passersby and church members to reflect on this part of our nation’s story.”

The “Middle Passage Installation of Remembrance” is the work of G(RACE) Speaks, a standing committee established six years ago that, according to the church, promotes “sacred conversations about matters of race within the life of Old South Church.”

June R. Cooper, the church’s Theologian in the City, said, “The public installation tells a story – and not an African story – it’s an American story, and what we want people to understand is that these narratives that have been buried [are now helping to] from our understanding of American history and how legacy or aftershock of slavery continues to this day. As a Christian endeavor, this work speaks to our understanding of who God is as one who creates human beings and expects us all to love each other unconditionally.”

Gathered in 1669, Old South Church in Boston continues to research, name and account for a history that includes “radical abolitionists and the first anti-slavery tract on this soil (1700),” as well as “many early ministers and members who were enslavers, who benefited from the forced enslavement and unpaid work of countless persons of African descent, according to the church.

 Since 2015 the church has held an annual Sunday of remembrance in which the names of African members from the 1600s, 1700s and early 1800s are read aloud. The names of these members (few of whom were buried in marked graves) are also etched onto brass leaves on the church’s Memorial Tree.

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