Question: Who would label oneself a wretch?

Answer: John Newton, the writer of the song “Amazing Grace”, English poet, clergyman and former captain of a slave ship.

Sullivan's Island

Sullivan’s Island

Today I had the privilege to participate in “Remembrance”. This annual event collectively honors the millions of enslaved Africans who perished during the Middle Passage, the torturous transatlantic slave ship voyages from Africa to the Americas. This commemoration is held on the second Saturday in June every year at some of the numerous ports around the world, including The Virgin Islands, Panama, Brazil and Ghana.

Appropriately, the event was held at Fort Moultrie on Sullivan’s Island, SC, which is often referred to as the “Ellis Island” for African Americans. Research has revealed that 40% of the 500, 000 people who would be enslaved in the United States were shipped to the port of Charleston. At the Fort Moultrie visitor’s center we viewed the documentary “The Language You Cry In” which chronicles how a song sung by a formerly enslaved woman was traced back to a village in Africa. We were then intellectually stimulated by a husband and wife team of experts who specialize on the middle passage.

Drum Processional

Drum Processional

This was followed by a processional led by African drummers where, before dipping our feet in the Atlantic Ocean, the crowd was reminded of the pest houses that dotted the island. Pest houses were used to quarantine Africans before they would enter Charleston.

The processional was then led back to the Fort Moultrie dock. There we prepared the offering of fruit and flowers for the ancestors. Prior to the pouring of libations, we were entertained by African drumming and dancing. The pouring of the libation had to occur exactly at noon so that it could be synchronized with other worldly locations performing the Remembrance ceremony. That was followed by more speechifying which included world famous artist Jonathan Green who reminded the participants of the importance of rice and how it factored into slavery the United States economy.

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Offering to the Ancestors

Then it happened, before we could take the offering to the Fort Moultrie dock, the heavens opened up. Every one scattered like rats leaving a sinking ship. I personally do not know if the offering made it to the water but I did think about choices. The enslaved would have had to get permission from an overseer or a slave driver before they could seek shelter from lightening and the rain.  We on the other hand were free to leave at any time.

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Toni Morrison Bench

Amazing Grace

John Newton

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,

That saved a wretch like me.

I once was lost but now am found,

Was blind, but now I see.

 

Artist Jonathan Green

Artist Jonathan Green

T’was Grace that taught my heart to fear.

And Grace, my fears relieved.

How precious did that Grace appear

The hour I first believed.

 

Through many dangers,

toils and snares I have already come;

‘Tis Grace that brought me safe thus far and

Grace will lead me home.

 

 

Dr. Ade Ofunniyin

Dr. Ade Ofunniyin

The Lord has promised good to me.

His word my hope secures.

He will my shield and portion be,

As long as life endures.

 

Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail,

And mortal life shall cease,

I shall possess within the veil,

A life of joy and peace.

 

 

Offering to the Ancestors

Offering to the Ancestors

Yes, when this flesh and heart shall fail,

And mortal life shall cease;

I shall profess, within the vail,

A life of joy and peace.

The following stanza was written by an anonymous author, often replacing the sixth stanza, or inserted as the fourth.

When we’ve been there ten thousand years

Bright shining as the sun.

We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise

Than when we’ve first begun.

Chorus:

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,

That saved a wretch like me.

I once was lost but now am found,

Was blind, but now I see.

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