The Black Eagle Swoops Into Sudan


When you call Joe Madison’s number at the station that originates his widely popular syndicated radio show, the message says, “You’ve reached the extension of Madison, the Black Eagle.” That’s how he’s known to his listeners and friends.

Madison has become a pivotal figure in the rising abolitionist movement to free slaves in Sudan. In missions to southern Sudan, he and others have helped to liberate 7366 slaves.

Because of his long, active record in the American civil rights movement, the reach of his radio program, and his forceful personality, Madison has a lot of credibility in black communities around the country—as well as among members of the Congressional Black Caucus.

It is largely because of Madison that Jesse Jackson has finally broken his long silence on Sudan. On April 20, Jackson said, “Our continued ignorance [of slavery in Sudan] is immoral, and our government must stop paying lip service to this crisis and instead take realistic and meaningful action to end the human suffering.” George W. Bush’s condemnation of Sudan is also partly due to Madison’s momentum.

Madison started using the sobriquet “Black Eagle” when he cohosted a program with Ollie North, a conservative whose views are hardly consonant with Madison’s. North proclaimed himself “Colonel North”; since the eagle is a formidable American symbol, Madison added it to his ID.

He later found out that there was once a black American aviator known as “the Black Eagle”—Colonel Hubert Fauntleroy Julian, who was much admired during the Harlem Renaissance. Julian was a soldier of fortune who flew with Emperor Haile Selassie’s Ethiopian air force and was renowned for his remarkable daring in the air.

Then a listener to Madison’s radio show told him that an artist had just finished a portrait of an actual black eagle, a recently identified species that lives in Africa and is one of the largest eagles in the world.

Madison started flying early as a paladin of civil rights. When he was only 24, he was named the executive director of the Detroit NAACP; later, for 14 years, he was on the NAACP’s national board.

On April 13 of this year, Madison, the Reverend Walter E. Fauntroy, and Michael Horowitz of the Hudson Institute were arrested in Washington after they handcuffed themselves to the front of the Sudanese embassy.

Madison had told me weeks before that he was going to organize the kinds of civil disobedience that finally forced the U.S. to impose sanctions against the apartheid government of South Africa.

Afterward, Joe Madison told me that he and the others arrested would not ask for a dismissal of the civil disobedience charge. “We want a trial,” he said, “and we have a new ‘Dream Team’ of lawyers representing us—Johnnie Cochran and Ken Starr. I want to put slavery in Sudan on the record.”

In his statement at the Sudanese embassy, Madison spoke of his most recent trip to Sudan, on which he was accompanied by Reverend Fauntroy and Charles Jacobs, the head of the American Anti-Slavery Group. Madison said:

“[The redeemed slaves] had trekked through mud, heat, flies, mosquitoes [on the long route from the north]. It was a scene that could have been staged for the movie Roots, except it was real. It was as if someone had placed me in a time machine and sent me back 400 years to an African slave trade, and I was witnessing the slavery of my ancestors. It was surreal.”

Amid “the soft murmurs of the voices” of the rescued slaves, Madison listened to what they had gone through:

“A 13-year-old boy, Yak Kenyang Adelu, had been a slave since he was eight. He had all his fingers on his right hand cut off because he refused to clean a goat pen. And Arek Kiir had her throat cut and her breast burned because she refused to give up her baby to a slave master.

“These stories and the faces of thousands of slaves in Sudan will be with me for the rest of my life. I promised . . . them I would return to the United States and encourage African Americans in particular, and all Americans in general, to use our power to end slavery in Sudan.

“When we were in southern Sudan, the slaves and their families didn’t ask us if we were conservative or liberal, Republican or Democrat, Muslim or Christian. They simply asked for help to end slavery, unite their families, and end the terrorism and torture throughout their land.”

The American Anti-Slavery Group’s Charles Jacobs was one of the first to alert Americans, including me, to genocide and slavery in Sudan. Jacobs spoke to some of the liberated slaves. He told them, “I am a Jew. My people too once were slaves—in Egypt.” The Jews became free, and this will happen in Sudan, he said.

Before he chained himself to the front of the Sudanese embassy in Washington, Joe Madison quoted Frederick Douglass: “The slave is part of the human family. Slavery is a system of such gigantic evil that no one nation is equal to its removal. It requires the humanity of all of us and the morality of the world to produce [the end of slavery].”

But the nations of the world have been silent, as has Kofi Annan, secretary general of the United Nations—the man who could have stopped the holocaust in Rwanda in 1994, but was also silent then. The New York Times heartily endorses the desire of this “calmly elegant” man—the Times‘ description—for a second five-year term. And how much actual reporting has the Times done about slavery in Sudan?

No, neither “the morality of the world” nor The New York Times will free the slaves. It’s up to us.

Sudan has just been named to the UN’s Human Rights Commission. Meanwhile, a recently liberated slave tells of how her baby’s throat was cut by one of the Arab raiders, and after being gang raped, she was forced to carry the child’s head en route to the north. At one point, she was ordered to throw the baby’s head onto a fire.

The United Nations is of no use to the blacks still enslaved.

Archive Highlights