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Opinion Columns

Opinion: Colorado faith leaders reflect on the 400th anniversary of enslaved Africans arriving in Virginia

In late August 1619, a small group of enslaved West Africans arrived by boat to Virginia. Their arrival marked the beginning of systemic chattel slavery in the United States that would ultimately enslave millions of people of African heritage. Over the next 250 years, slavery spread beyond Virginia to other states across the nation, including Colorado. Though slavery was never officially legal in Colorado, enslaved people were forcibly brought here to work, mostly in agricultural, domestic service, and mining sectors of the economy. 

As Christian faith leaders in Colorado, we are called to reflect upon and be mindful of slavery’s legacy upon our state, nation, and the world. We mourn that the Holy Scriptures contained in the Bible were used to justify the Atlantic Slave Trade, and that the Christian Church did not speak in a unified voice against slavery. Many Christians pressed for abolition, but far too many Christians actively, or complictly, supported and benefited from the continuation of a brutal enslaving regime. 

Even after Emancipation, our nation failed to create a beloved community that embraced African Americans as equals. Our nation’s continued racism has denied African Americans the basic rights promised by the United States Constitution. The struggle for black liberation continues as African Americans disproportionately lack the necessary tools to fully participate in American society: economic self-sufficiency, adequate education, fair treatment in the legal system, health care, housing, and safety. 

Despite centuries of oppression, African Americans have shown a remarkable resiliency. Thousands of formerly enslaved people left the American South for better opportunities in the West. Often under difficult circumstances, African Americans established faith communities in Colorado — many of which are the oldest black churches west of the Mississippi River. We are grateful for their faithful example, through which our Christian faith tradition has been immeasurably blessed. 

Yet, we grieve that the Body of Christ remains broken along racial lines. We as the Church must acknowledge our role in this historical, moral, and spiritual tragedy. We must move forward in our prophetic witness for racial justice. Four centuries later, may our somber reflection and, most importantly, our actions, eradicate the vestiges of slavery that continue to poison our nation’s soul. 

Row 1, from left: Rev. Sue Artt, Rev. Joan Bell-Haynes, Bishop Jim Gonia, Presiding Elder Anthony Hill. Row 2, from left: Rev. Dana Hughes, Right Rev. Kym Lucas, Rev. Vickie Samland, Rev. Steve Van Ostran. Row 3, from left: Rev. Michael Nicosia, Bishop Karen Oliveto, Adrian Miller. Rev. Sheriolyn Curry Lasley’s photo was not available.

Signed,

Rev. Sue Artt, Conference Minister, Rocky Mountain Conference, United Church of Christ

Rev. Joan Bell-Haynes, Executive Regional Minister, Central Rocky Mountain Region, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

Bishop Jim Gonia, Rocky Mountain Synod, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

Presiding Elder Anthony Hill, Kansas District, Christian Methodist Episcopal Church

Rev. Dana Hughes, Transitional Presbytery Pastor, Denver Presbytery

The Right Reverend Kym Lucas, Bishop, Episcopal Diocese of Colorado

Rev. Vickie Samland, Western Plains District Representative, Church of the Brethren

Rev. Steve Van Ostran, Executive Minister, American Baptist Churches of the Rocky Mountains

Rev. Michael J. Nicosia, Vicar to the Rocky Mountain Region of the Ecumenical Catholic Communion

Bishop Karen Oliveto, Mountain Sky Conference, United Methodist Church

Adrian Miller, Executive Director, Colorado Council of Churches

Rev. Sheriolyn Curry Lasley, Presiding Elder, Rocky Mountain District, Desert Mountain Conference, African Methodist Episcopal Church