Report on the Legacy of Slavery in the Diocese of Chicago
February 08, 2017
An in-depth historical report on the legacy of slavery in the Diocese of Chicago since 1835 is now available in both English and Spanish on the diocesan website. The report, commissioned by diocesan convention in 2009, was prepared by the Task Force on the Legacy of Slavery and includes historical research conducted by Dr. Johari Jabir, associate professor of African American Studies at the University of Illinois, Chicago.
The report represents the work of many people, says diocesan Antiracism Commission member Rory Smith, but it is just the beginning of diocesan efforts to address the legacy of slavery.
Smith, who along with the Antiracism Commission was involved in the final stages of editing the report and in introducing it at diocesan convention last November, says that the document provides an opportunity for congregations in the diocese to spend 2017 talking about how the legacies of slavery and segregation are active in their local communities. The report recommends that each congregation undertake its own conversations and that each deanery meet before this year’s diocesan convention in November to hear reports of these conversations.
“By vote of convention, we have committed ourselves to this work,” said Bishop Jeffrey D. Lee. “It is the right thing to do, and never more so than now.”
The Antiracism Commission hopes to release this spring a study guide that congregations can use to guide conversations. It also offers antiracism training and resources. Bishop Lee is urging congregations to participate in a diocesan-wide Lenten book study on “Living Into God’s Dream: Dismantling Racism in America” by Catherine Meeks, the chair of the Diocese of Atlanta’s Beloved Community: Commission for Dismantling Racism. He and members of the Antiracism Commission traveled to Atlanta last spring to meet with Meeks.
In the report’s introduction, the Task Force emphasizes that these conversations are essential to racial reconciliation. “It is the firm conviction of this Task Force that our Final Report to the Diocese of Chicago simply sets out the painful stories of this legacy so the baptized members of this Diocese might enter into a period of truth telling,” it reads. “As the theological section of this Final Report makes clear, any service of apology on the part of the offenders can come only after the hard work of truth telling occurs.”
Although talking about painful history may be difficult, Bishop Lee encourages Episcopalians to take the risk. “In my convention address, I mentioned that successful congregations have a commitment to hosting and sustaining conversations about things that matter,” he said. “The conversation about the legacy of slavery and how we can heal racism in our communities matters as much as any conversation we will ever have, and I hope that this year, we address ourselves to it with all of our hearts.”