An Albatross of a Memorial to Slavery
People wonder why race remains an issue, why the United States seems to move forward so slowly. Well, does this memorial of guilt strike anybody else as bizarre?
More than 240 years ago, John and Moses Brown financed a slave ship bound for Africa. They also poured money into Brown University in Providence. Slaves worked on the first building, now University Hall.
Yesterday, Brown University said it will recognize its slave trade past through a new memorial modeled on monuments and sites in New York City, Montgomery, Ala., and Liverpool, England.
But the memorial may not be built on the Ivy League school’s Providence campus.
Both Newport and Bristol played major roles in the slave trade, which continued into the early 1800s, long after the state outlawed it. Many reminders of the trade — former auction sites, Colonial homes and Newport’s slave cemetery — remain, Brown’s Commission on Memorials said.
“It may be appropriate, in memorializing Rhode Island’s role in the trade, to look beyond Brown’s immediate neighborhood,” the commission said.
One repudiates atrocities that are generations old by behaving differently — by correcting the patters of thought that led to them. Fixating on old sins serves to keep them alive and wreaking their harm.
As I browsed for this article on Projo.com, my eye happened upon another about violence in Providence. As a direct and practical matter, the two stories are unrelated, but culturally, it seems to me that erecting public monuments declaring “this is what your country thought of you” can only contribute to a subculture of deliberate isolation, feeding a well of anger.
Build monuments to the good and hopeful, to the noble sacrifice. We must never forget, but if we’re to heal, our memorials should be living examples that the prejudices of the past no longer apply.