During a service in Lansing, Michigan, an evangelist who picked cotton as a child explains what the apology means to her
March 14, 2023
Dozens of white clergy from churches and mid councils, elected officials and other leaders in Lansing, Michigan, recently gathered at Reachout Christian Center Church to apologize to the African American community for slavery and its aftermath. Among the participants was the Rev. Jermaine Ross-Allam, director of the PC(USA)’s Center for the Repair of Historic Harms.
Ross-Allam said that the service included a litany of repentance read by the white people who were present. For him, a powerful response to the apology came from Evangelist Annie C. Foreman of Reachout Christian Center Church, who spoke of having to pick cotton beginning at age 3. A few years later, she recalled looking heavenward and telling the Almighty, “Lord, there’s got to be a better life. I cannot live like this the rest of my life.” Sharecropping “was all my parents knew, and that’s what they did,” she said. “We didn’t go to school every day. When we went to school was when it rained.”
At the end of the year, her family would be paid in cash, the money coming to the workers inside a brown paper bag and without a receipt. One year, her father came home and told his wife, “Honey, we didn’t clear anything this year.”
“My mother said, ‘How are we going to live?’” Foreman said. Her mother put her coat on, grabbed her purse and paid a visit to the man. “When she came back, she brought home some money,” Foreman said. She then told her husband, “You’ve got to do something.” When he told her he didn’t know anything else but sharecropping, she told him, “You know how to clean, don’t you? You go up to Lansing [where some family members had already moved] and get a job as a janitor.” He did, and then a few months later returned to move the rest of the family to Lansing. “My father was afraid because he didn’t know anything else, but he listened to my mother,” Foreman said.
“I want you to know we really appreciate [your apology],” Foreman told the crowd. “You didn’t have to do it, but you did, and I want you to know I thank you all, every one of you who came up here and said you’re sorry. It wasn’t you who did this to us. It was your forefathers. But you had the courage and the decency to get up and say, ‘We’re sorry for what we did,’ and I thank God for you.”
“It was more important for me to take in the experience through her,” Ross-Allam said, “than it was for me to hear people say those words on the stage. I was overwhelmed by someone picking cotton as a 3-year-old girl. She thought she would never hear that [apology] in a church.”
The Rev. Stan Jenkins, pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Lansing, called the ceremony “a long overdue apology to the African American community of our city for the sin of slavery and its aftermath. The apology came from the national body of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).”
After the ceremony, the Justice League of Greater Lansing offered a brief presentation on its reparations endowment program. The organization has its roots in First Presbyterian Church, which has pledged $100,000 toward the Justice League of Greater Lansing’s goal of raising $1 million by the end of the year from white people to help start and fund Black businesses, mortgages and education.
“It feels like something significant is happening in the city of Lansing,” Jenkins said.
In his own remarks as part of the ceremony, Ross-Allam connected the apology to the PC(USA)’s commitment to the Matthew 25 invitation.
“Today’s living example of commitment to the Gospel is part of the reason why I could barely contain my excitement when Elder Willye Bryan (of the Justice League of Greater Lansing) reached out to me to announce what First Presbyterian and the Justice League is doing here in Lansing. The Center for the Repair of Historic Harms … and our entire denomination is inspired, encouraged and emboldened to continue to wake up to the possibilities God has in store for the world by the faithful example being set here today.”
Mike Ferguson, Editor, Presbyterian News Service
Today’s Focus: Public apology that was centuries in the making
Let us join in prayer for:
PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Edward Thompson, Senior Church Consultant, Louisville, KY, Board of Pensions
Mark Thomson, Publishing Manager, Communications Ministry, Presbyterian Mission Agency
Let us pray
Lord, you have called us and sent us to serve. Open our eyes, our hearts and our church buildings to neighbors in our midst. Bless us with the glory of your children; guide us to serve one another in the name of your Son. Amen.