By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
I have heard their groans and sighs, and seen their tears, and I would give every drop of blood in my veins to free them.
former slave Harriet Tubman, a conductor on the underground railroad
Victoria Ajang, a native of Southern Sudan, testifies that she twice escaped Sudanese government slave raids and now lives in Kansas. 'I am here by myself, with only my children,' she says. (The government in the north of Sudan is the National Islamic Front.)
She told her story to Congress on May 27 of last year. Ajang and the American Anti-Slavery Group are urging American pension and mutual funds, along with cities and states, to get rid of their stocks in Talisman Energy, a huge Canadian oil company. Talisman is a partner of the Sudanese government, which is deeply involved in the enslavement of black Christians and animists.
"The dispute over oil," Victoria Ajang begins, "first became an issue of life and death for me in 1983. That year the government began its program to pipe oil from our land in the south up to the north. Students in my town were quite upset about our resources being diverted by the government, and so they held a protest march outside the local school. But the government would not tolerate this.
"On a summer night, the government militia forces suddenly swooped in on our village. We were at home relaxing, in the evening, when men on horses with machine guns stormed through, shooting everyone. I saw friends fall dead in front of me. While my husband carried out our little daughter Eva, I ran with the few possessions I could grab.
"All around us, we saw children being shotin the stomach, in the leg, between the eyes. Against the dark sky, we saw flames from the houses the soldiers had set on fire. The cries of the people forced inside filled our ears as they burned to death. Our people were being turned to ash."
Ajang and her family jumped into a river at the edge of town, and escaped. She continues her story:
In another village, "it was a Sunday evening, the 25th of July, in 1992. At that time, I was pregnant with my fourth child. After services, we gathered on the church grounds for singing and drumming. But then suddenly armed forces and government militias attacked. They were shouting, 'Allah Akbar! God is great!' This time it was impossible to grab anything, except the hands of my children. All around us we saw people who had been dancing just minutes earlier, now lying dead outside the church.
"Unlike the raid in 1983, I fled with my three children in one direction, while my husband ran off in another direction. I have never seen or heard from him again. My aunt, Laual, aged 45, was dragged off by soldiers, along with her three grandchildren. I know that my aunt died soonafter being repeatedly raped by the soldiers. I know this because her grandchildren not only saw her die, but also witnessed her rape. My neighbor, Batul Adam, was captured as well. Her beautiful daughters were taken captive and given to northern masters.
"There is a powerful ideology that drives these slave raids. In the government's mentality, all blacks are 'abd'slaves. Whether Christian, Moslem, or animist, we should be slaves forever. We are inferior beings who must submit or be killed."
Jesse Jackson has not joined this new abolitionist movement, although he was instrumental in gathering public support for the divestment campaigns, insisting that governments, cities, and institutions stop doing business with South Africa under apartheid.
Jackson knows about slavery in Sudan. I have left messages for him with his staff, but my calls have not been returned. We know each other. We first met at the Voice, and later he asked my advice on how to defend himself from charges by Jewish groups that he was anti-Semitic. I gave him suggestions. At the time, I told him about a prosecutor, Ed Carnes, a death-penalty zealot and an expert at throwing blacks off juries in capital cases. He was being nominated for a seat on the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. Jesse hadn't heard about it. He went on to hold a press conference protesting the appointment, but our intervention failed.
Around Christmastime last year, I spoke to a close friend of Jesse Jacksonthe Reverend Chuck Singleton, pastor of the 10,000-member interdenominational Loveland Church in Cucamonga, near Los Angeles. Jesse Jackson has often preached there, and Singleton has accompanied Jackson on some of his rescue missions abroad.
I asked Singleton why his friend remains silent about the genocide and slavery of blacks in Sudan. "I have asked Jesse," Singleton told me, "and he says his plate is too full."
Too full to even say something? When he has weeks available to spend in Decatur, Illinois, working to get a few expelled black students back in school?
Reverend Singleton said to me: "With the power and influence this man has in the world, he can do more. I believe he soon will."
Victoria Ajang and many thousands of slaves in Sudan are waiting. Ajang is now Midwest Regional Director of the Anti-Slavery Group.