New York Episcopal churches apologize, explore reparations for role in slave trade

The Episcopal Diocese of New York says it is committing $1.1 million toward addressing systemic racism and is launching a reparations commission.

A jurisdiction of Episcopal churches in New York is taking action and apologizing for its role in the transatlantic slave trade.

The Episcopal Diocese of New York said it is committing $1.1 million toward addressing systemic racism and is launching a reparations commission to continue accountability and education efforts regarding the impacts of slavery, per CBS News.

The diocese on Saturday held an apology service led by Bishop Andrew Dietsche at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in Manhattan.

A plaque sits at the steps of St. James Episcopal Church, Friday Dec. 4, 2020, in New York’s Upper East Side neighborhood, acknowledging the church’s wealth created with slave labor. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

“We are ready now to begin to make tangible investment in African-American people and communities as reparation for our history of slavery. But we can’t really do that and have it be meaningful unless, at the very beginning, we stop and take a moment and accept accountability,” Dietsche said.

He said that enslaved Black Americans were forced to construct several New York churches, yet neither they nor their families were granted equal access to practice religion in them even once emancipated.

According to Gothamist, the Episcopal Church’s accountability efforts were kickstarted in 2006 when church leaders officially declared slavery a “sin” and issued mandatory directives for churches to begin acknowledgement and reflection efforts regarding the lasting impacts of the slave trade.

Per the outlet, the diocese’s $1.1 million reparations fund was created in 2019, and while it has yet to be decided how the money will be spent, suggestions have included scholarships, housing and health care efforts.

“It’s going to be a long time moving forward because you have to get a lot of people on board and it’s about cleaning up our hearts, I believe, and just to stand as one,” praise dancer Tonika Custalow-Stuart said, according to CBS News.

Rev. Michael B. Curry, the first African-American presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, recorded a video address that was played during the service on Saturday, per Gothamist.

“Now some might say that apology is not enough, and to be sure, by itself it’s not,” Curry said. “But you have been engaged in the work of unearthing our history, unearthing our story, telling stories that had not been told, telling of pain that has been borne sometimes in silence.”

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