The horrors of the transatlantic slave trade even today brings many African-Americans to tears. The slave trade is sometimes called the Maafa by African and African-American scholars, meaning “holocaust” or “great disaster/calamity” in Swahili.
At the New Mount Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church, 4301 W. Washington Blvd., a slave ship is depicted in a large glass mural, etched on stained glass with a large African Christ-like figure.
The glass window is called “Maafa Remembrance 2000,” a memorial to the suffering and deaths of countless African men, women and children in the holocaust of the transatlantic slave trade from the 15th through the 19th centuries.
Pastor of New Mount Pilgrim M.B. Church, Rev. Marshall Hatch talked about the large glass mural that overlooks his entire church:
“The window has been in place since 2000. It was dedicated the Sunday before Christmas. The artist, Tom Feelings, has since passed away. He was a major artist and actually did children’s book illustrations and won an award for a children’s book he illustrated with Maya Angelou. I was at Harvard in 1999 when I ran across his book, The Middle Passage: White Ships Black Cargo, and I saw this drawing in his book, and he had actually sketched the middle passage. He felt that just using words to describe it could be disputed, but he felt if he sketched it to bring about the kind of passion of the agony, then that could not be disputed.
“We actually flew him here for the dedication. Cong. Davis was here, Danny’s father was here, and it was a powerful event. The three generations of the Botti family do these kind of windows for Catholics. Dominick Botti, who was 46 years old when he passed, actually painted those [slave] characters, and then he passed while packing that window to be brought down here to be put in the Sunday before Christmas of 2000. The big deal with the window now is this past year was the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade.
“I was in London this past year for the Abolition of Slave Trade Act [anniversary] in Britain and of course the movie Amazing Grace came out [based on the life of William Wilberforce, the anti-slavery pioneer who, as a member of Parliament encouraged members to end the slave trade in the British Empire], so Wilberforce, who fought to abolish slavery 200 years ago that was celebrated as a crowning achievement in London. He was the first one to use the slave-packing scheme to fight against the slave trade. He showed how they packed the slaves in with a drawing scheme that slavers used and to show the inhumanity. The abolitionists picked it up and they used it to fight against slavery in America. The Black Renaissance Movement in Harlem kind of picked up that same piece in the 1920s. The black consciousness movement of the 1960s kind of brought up the slave ship thing as the commemoration of slavery. Then Spike Lee popularized it in the ’80s with his Forty Acres and A Mule production company and put it in his movies at the beginning. So going into the 21st century the slave-packing ship is the memory, the global memory, of the Atlantic slave trade.
“The fascinating thing about that window-we didn’t know what we were doing when we created it. We were just replacing windows because the others were falling out, and we sold those windows and got enough money to redo the outside and create a window. As it turned out, a sister came here named Dr. Sherrill Finley. She taught at Harvard this year and was a doctoral student at Yale a few years ago, and she came here and did her research on the icon of the slave trade all over the world. She came here to New Mount Pilgrim as the last chapter of her dissertation. Why? We didn’t know it at the time, but this is largest display of that icon in the world. It comes 25 feet across. So the New York Times did a story on it, she did her presentation on it, we get calls from universities because it’s all on the Internet, and it’s kind of like a Black History piece. So right here on the West Side is the largest display of the slave ship icon in the world, right here at New Mount Pilgrim.”