Towards the end of the twentieth century, and despite the advances made by African Americans in the military, corporate, and government sectors, American schools remained practically as segregated as they were in 1954. The Department of Justice stopped enforcing busing requirements to force desegregation in 1981. Blacks own 3% of US businesses and are 3% of US doctors. When applying for a mortgage to buy a home, blacks have a 2:1 rejection rate even while the president of Fannie Mae, the quasi-governmental corporation set up to finance home ownership, is a black man, Franklin Raines.
Recognizing that stalemate, noting the contradictions inherent in the statistics, and wishing to start a dialogue between whites and blacks and among denominations about the persistence of the color line and its legacy, Sister Clare Carter, a Buddhist nun, and Ingrid Askew, an African- American, Massachusetts-based performance artist, "walked out on faith." They decided to organize what they called the Interfaith Pilgrimage of the Middle Passage - a march that would begin in Massachusetts and end in Africa.
From May 30, 1998 to June 12, 1999, the pilgrims walked. They
walked from Lexington Massachusetts to New Orleans, Louisiana,
visiting 215 towns and cities along the way. They took a boat
through the Caribbean and crossed the Atlantic to end their journey
in Capetown, South Africa.
It was a march. It was a group-encounter session. It was a spiritual journey. It was an exploration into the legacy of racism and slavery that binds blacks and whites in this country.
Read the co-founders reasons for going on the pilgrimage:
Ingrid Askew (PDF)
Sister Clare Carter (PDF)
See a map of slave markets on the Washington Mall (PDF)