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On June 1, a historic document was added to the annals of the African American fight for freedom. A letter was sent to the honorable James E. Clyburn, Chairman, Congressional Black Caucus. The signers were distinguished members of the black clergy throughout the United States.
Last week, I cited the fact that black pastors had engaged in a 21-day fast to bring national attention to the genocide and slavery in Sudan. But this letter, by black members of the clergy, is intended to stir black members of Congress to do something about the horrors ignored by all nationsincluding the United States and its maximum leader.
Some members of the Congressional Black Caucus are already part of the new abolitionist movementwhich includes schoolchildren across the nation and the American Anti-Slavery Group. Congressman Donald Payne of New Jersey, a former chairman of the Black Caucus, and Eleanor Holmes Norton, District of Columbia delegate to Congress, have spoken with great power and in extensive detail about these atrocities, but their outrage has been ignored by the press and the president.
After reporting on the terrifying facts of slavery in southern and central Sudan, the pastors' letter declares:
"We African American pastors from around the nation write to ask the Congressional Black Caucus to come to the front of this battle. As the descendants of African slaves, we must not rest until those now held in bondage are freeduntil the African villages in Sudan are protected from murderous slave raids, until the Sudan air force is made to stop bombing African schools, churches, and hospitals."
The pastors asked the Black Caucus to meet with the president and demand that he tell the nation and the world that this country will finally act to help free the slaves. The pastors also urged the Black Caucus to meet with Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who has said that the anguish in Sudan is "not marketable to the American people."
On Sunday night, June 18, the secretary of state was the guest of Jesse Jackson on his regular Sunday program on CNN (5:30 p.m., eastern standard time). Jackson asked her about various human rights crises in Africa, but neither had a word to say about genocide and slavery in Sudan.
A few days before the interview with Madeleine Albright, I spoke again to a longtime friend of Jesse Jackson's, Pastor Chuck Singleton of the Loveland Church, near Los Angeles. He was the lead signatory on the African American pastors' letter to the Congressional Black Caucus.
A few months ago, Singleton had been confident that his friend would break his silence about Sudan. But over time, Singleton's faith in Jackson on this issue has lessened. Now he told me, "I'm still pushing it with him. I still have a degree of trust that he will respond. And I will tell him what he ought to say:
" 'Slavery is wrong. Everybody should be free. This is so simple and basic to the teachings of the Bible and the American tradition of freedom.'
"Jesse," said Chuck Singleton, "must spur justice and righteousness on."
When the Reverend Jacksonthe president's ambassador of democracy to Africaaccompanied Clinton to that continent, he witnessed Clinton's apology to the people of Rwanda for failing to have done anything to stop the genocide there. But Sudan was not included on the trip, as both Clinton and Jackson turned their faces away from the slavery and killings in that nation.
By contrast, on June 8, Senator Jesse Helms, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committeeand hardly a stalwart of civil rights in this countryjoined other officials who met with Barbara Vogel, a fifth-grade teacher from Denver. Her students have been persistently active in raising money to successfully free slaves in Sudan, as I've noted in previous columns.
Barbara Vogel and 24 of the children had come to Washington, hoping to meet the president so they could ask him why he has not joined them in liberating slaves in Sudan. Clinton was too busy to see them. Performing at fundraisers is a more pressing presidential concern.
But Jesse Helms listened to the children and their teacher, and as they told of what is happening to black children in Sudan, tears came into his eyes. He pledged that he will schedule a full hearing by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on slavery and genocide in Sudanand he will ask these children, in addition to members of the Clinton administration, to testify. Moreover, Helms said, he will ask for full television coverage on C-Span so that the rest of us will also be witnesses to this testimony.
I know Brian Lamb, the head of C-Span, and I cannot imagine his not televising these hearings.
The Senate hearings, I expect, will also focus on a scandal underlined by the black pastors in their letter to the Congressional Black Caucus. They want the president "to appoint a special coordinator for [delivering] food and medical aid directly to villages and areas that Khartoum [the National Islamic Front government in the north] wants destroyed. U.S. food and medical aid have been blocked by Khartoum because the United Nations' 'Operation Lifeline Sudan' allows Khartoum to dictate to humanitarian agencies who shall and who shall not be fed. This policy of forced famine has resulted, according to U.S. agencies, in the deaths of tens of thousands."
The black pastors' letter to the Black Caucus ends: "We believe these actions and recommendations we make to you represent the interests of Africans in Africa's largest nation and express the duty of those of us who are the descendants and the brothers and sisters of these besieged and beleaguered people."
Have any of you reading this column seen anything on this issue in the mainstream newspapers or on broadcast television and cable operations? Not only Clinton and the Reverend Jackson remain silent as this holocaust continues.