RADFORD—For 50 years, from 1810 to 1860, more than one million shackled, enslaved African-Americans were forced to march from Alexandria, through the Shenandoah Valley and southwestern Virginia, and on to the deep south to work in cotton fields.
Along the way, families were separated, hunger and thirst were rampant, and disease killed many.
To commemorate that horrific event and sound a call for racial fairness and reconciliation across the nation, the Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria and the Episcopal Diocese of Southwest Virginia are co-sponsoring the Pilgrimage for Racial Justice on August 17, 2019 at 3:30 p.m. The public is invited to attend the event at the Bisset Park gazebo in Radford near the New River,which groups of slaves were forced to ford.
The Rev. Dr. Kathy Kelly, Rector of Grace Episcopal Church remarked that “this is a unique opportunity for the people of the New River community to lament this early history together but also to celebrate the racial healing that has evolved since then.”
Kelly explained the program will consist of prayers and remarks by Dr. Wornie Reed, director of the race and social policy research center and professor of sociology and Africana studies at Virginia Tech. The rain site for the event will be the First Baptist Church at 555 W. Rock Rd. in Radford, which is co-hosting the event. After the ceremony, the pilgrimage will continue to its final stop in Abingdon, where the Right Reverend Mark Bourlakas, bishop of the diocese, will officiate.
“We will be issuing a strong call for racial justice and reconciliation during this event,” said Bourlakas. “While there have been great sacrifices by many for the cause of equality and moments of progress, race relations in the United States have never reflected the true message of God’s love.”
“The sin of institutionalized racism plagues our country and wounds God’s children,” he continued. “This prejudice runs counter to the foundations of all our primary religions in America. Seeking reconciliation for our common future, we will be employing this pilgrimage to continue directing attention to the pressing need for truth-telling about this country’s history of injustice.”
Bourlakas says Episcopal Presiding Bishop Michael Curry has called on all American churches to seek ways to build racial justice and healing and the pilgrimage is one of many initiatives of the Diocese of Southwest Virginia to answer that call.
“As we approach the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first slaves in Virginia later this year,” Bourlakas remarked, “we want to learn how we can actively grow relationships across dividing walls and seek Christ in the other. How can we repair the breach to build what Bishop Curry calls the ‘beloved community’? We are determined to find out, and to proceed toward that goal.”
In addition to launching the pilgrimage for racial justice, Bourlakas says churches in his diocese are engaged in important projects in their individual communities to reach out in faith and love to secure racial justice.
For more information about the Pilgrimage for Racial Justice in Radford, please contact the Rev. Kathy Kelly, (540) 520-9798, firstname.lastname@example.org or Sarah Carter, lakotasakota2, 540-639-4067. The Episcopal Church of the United States has more than 6,900 churches across the nation. Some 1.8 million people are baptized members of the church that is headquartered in New York City.