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ANNAPOLIS — The City Council last night voted to waive all permit fees for a planned September “slavery reconciliation walk,” where whites, instead of blacks, will march through the streets in chains to promote harmony between the races.
“We don’t know what the blank check will be,” said Mayor Ellen O. Moyer, a Democrat, who voted against the waiver because there is no price tag affixed to it. “If there had been a cap on it, I would have felt a whole lot better.”
The Sept. 29 march, which some reports have called a re-enactment of the slave master and slave with the roles reversed, sponsored by Lifeline Expedition, a British organization, was approved last night in a voice vote.
The event is expected to bring between 500 and 1,000 people to the state capital. While most of the people walking — whites in chains and blacks as the slave traders — will be from London, the event organizers said they would welcome Annapolis residents who want to join. As of now, however, they expect 20 participants in the march.
Organizers asked that the fees be waived because they are trying to earn money to bring the people to Annapolis and didn’t want the added expense of paying about $2,000 for parking spaces, five police officers to work security and numerous street closures.
The event is scheduled to coincide with the date in 1767 that Kunta Kinte, the enslaved ancestor of “Roots” author Alex Haley, arrived at the port in Annapolis.
A statue of Mr. Haley sits on City Dock, which the marchers will pass.
“We want to make it very clear that what we are doing is not a re-enactment of slavery in any way,” said Leonard A. Blackshear, president of the Kunta Kinte-Alex Haley Foundation and local coordinator for the event. “It is a re-enactment of Europeans walking in penitence and Africans walking in forgiveness.”
“This is going to be an exciting event,” said event organizer Joyce Hunt, who is a black. “There is nothing to be fearful of.”
The council has waived the fees for similar events in the past.
Alderman George Kelley Sr., a Democrat, who is black, said that once the event was fully explained to him, he favored it.
“You can’t just get over [slavery]. You need to talk about it,” he said.
But longtime resident Glenn Sappington disagreed.
“Americans worked toward stopping the slave trade,” Mr. Sappington,, told the council. “I don’t think putting whites into chains and marching them up the street helps us to heal. … We don’t need to have this kind of thing here in Annapolis.”
Scott Bowling,, was concerned that a hate group could ride the event’s coattails into town and demand the same treatment.
“It sets a dangerous precedent to say we are going to waive these fees,” Mr. Bowling told the council.
He was visibly upset after the council made the decision.
“I gave my opinion, and they voted, and that is all you can ask for in the democratic process,” he said.
Annapolis is to be the first of 10 East Coast cities with similar events. Baltimore; Boston; Newport, R.I.; New York; Charleston, S.C.; and Richmond also are listed for march dates, the group’s Web site www.lifelineexpedition.co.uk says.
(Posted on July 28, 2004)