Friday, February 12, 2010

My Cousin’s Apology

Carolyn and Lowell Houts are fine people, and I am proud to say they are my cousins. (Their mother was my father’s oldest sister.) Carolyn (b. 1942) is returning to the States this year, retiring after thirty-four years of faithful service as a Southern Baptist missionary to Ghana. Lowell (b. 1945) is an ordained minister who for several years now has been a counselor affiliated with the Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center in Iowa.
Last month Lowell visited his sister in Ghana for the first time. Carolyn recently sent us an e-mail sharing some about Lowell’s visit and telling about a “special incident” at Cape Coast Castle. The castle was built for other purposes, but it came to be used in the trans-Atlantic slave trade. You probably remember that President and Mrs. Obama and their girls visited there last year.
Carolyn wrote that a young man named Eric was their guide at the castle, and then she tells about a very moving experience:
At the end of the tour, Lowell said that one reason he wanted to go to that castle was to apologize that our forebears had slaves. He said that an ancestor had [two young sons] whom a teenaged slave killed.* Then the slave was killed.”
Carolyn goes on to relate how Lowell “asked Eric if he would accept his apology that our forebears had been a part of the triangle of slavery. Eric extended his hand to shake Lowell’s and then they embraced. It was a powerful moment. Eric mentioned that his boss was watching us so we walked over to where two men stood. Eric told a summary of the story Lowell had told and the man also shook hands with Lowell. His boss, Mr. Blankson, had been the guide when Pres. Obama had visited Cape Coast Castle in July. He has written a book about the castle so was there to sell his book and he autographed a copy for Lowell.”
I am proud of my cousin, and I appreciate his apology on behalf of the Seat family.
*Hartwell and Rebecca (Stokes) Seat were married in 1775 and lived in Virginia. Their first two sons were Henry (b. 1777) and Miles (b. 1781). According to family records, they were killed in 1786 by the teenaged slave Lowell referred to. Two years later, the Houts siblings’ and my grandfather Littleton was born. In 1844 he was the first Seat to move to Worth County, MO, where our parents grew up and where Lowell lives now. There is no record of the Seats who came to Missouri having slaves, but we do know that Hartwell Seat continued to own slaves after he and his family moved from Virginia to Davidson County, TN, in the early 1800s. (I wrote some about these matters in my posting on Nov. 13.)

Here is a picture of the Cape Coast Castle.


  1. I received a couple of quite different responses to this posting. One TF wrote, "I know your are proud of their apology and its acceptance by Ghanaians. Would that we could find more ways to ask forgiveness for our forebears as well as ourselves."

    But another TF wrote this in an e-mail:

    "I don’t particularly like being cynical, but sometimes I am. Those people apologizing for their ancestors have good intentions, but I am reminded of a reply I once heard a Native American (less correctly known as an Indian) give to something of that sort: 'You’re sorry? So? What purpose does that serve? To make you feel a little less guilty? Big deal. F you and your apology.' The well intentioned man was shocked and hurt. I talked to the Native American afterward (I knew him a little from prior contact.) He said he was just sick of having white Europeans trying to make themselves feel better when it did nothing for the descendants of victims. He said 'Treat me like a man, deal fair with me and my kids. That’s all you can do with me or anybody. Apologize to the dead if you end up where they are. Ain’t worth a s--- to me.'"

    This is certainly an interesting comment, and I, too, have had some question about what it means to apologize for people of the past. But I am happy to say that Cousin Lowell also is the kind of person who does treat the descendants of former slaves like real human beings and does deal fairly with them and their children.

  2. I did not write on this the first time I read it. It just seemed too personal. However, I will make a try at the responses Leroy received above.

    Sometimes, when I tell my wife I am sorry, I receive a very gracious reply, because we both sense we are working something out. However, there are other times when she catches me wanting cheap grace, and I hear about it! I think the two responses above echo this split.

    What is genuine repentance when we are dealing with world-historical events? How do we get to where "sorry" actually means something? Then there is the "Love Story" advice that "Love means never having to say you're sorry." Many meanings are hidden within one word. Perhaps if we work on peace and justice first, "sorry" will find a place, later.

  3. Yesterday I was happy to receive an e-mail message from Cousin Lowell, and I want to share a part of what he wrote:

    "I have worked with many survivors of childhood abuse over the years and am aware that an apology by the abuser(s) would make a tremendous difference in their recovery of self/self esteem. Admittedly, this is different than a generational apology but I believe that apology opens the door to a change in relationship between persons/families/peoples. Perhaps the problem in the apology cited by your TF was timing. When I offered apology to our Ghanaian guide at Cape Coast Castle, he had opened the door through his presentation. When I offered apology for our family's role in the slave trade by being slave holders, he responded by saying, 'Europeans did not capture those sold into slavery. That was done by fellow Africans. My tribe lived along the river where those being sold received their last bath before being offered for sale. My tribe is guilty also. We tell this story so that the atrocities of the slave trade will never be repeated.' In that moment, in that place, there were two men determined not to repeat the sins of our forefathers."