On Wednesday, January 15, 2014, in commemoration of the 85th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birth, descendants of some of America’s most prominent African American Legacy Families joined U.S. Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, Congressional members and staff, and representatives of Dalit Freedom Network in the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center’s Congressional Auditorium, in Washington, D.C., to sign “The Declaration of Empathy,” which addresses the modern-day oppression and enslavement of the Dalit people of India. The Quander Family (descendants of the slaves of George Washington) joined together with descendants of Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Banneker, among others, in a spirit of unity and solidarity to assert that African Americans and fellow Americans should oppose the modern-day enslavement of the Dalits and declare empathy with their plight.
It is fitting that event occurred just beneath Emancipation Hall, where a plaster model of the Statue of Freedom resides (see the image above). This model is a replica of the bronze original that, since December 1863, has crowned the dome of the U.S. Capitol building. Notably, a slave named Philip Reid was instrumental in the molding and casting of the Statue of Freedom, and without whose help the Statue may never have been completed. It is also worth noting that on January 1st, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which made the eradication of slavery an explicit goal of the Union war effort, and was a step towards outlawing slavery and conferring full citizenship upon ex-slaves.*
By hosting this event on the birth date of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the conveners were able to magnify and draw upon the courage and conviction of the historic human rights champion. During a sermon given at Ebenezer Baptist Church on July 4, 1965, Dr. King reflected upon his journey to India, and acknowledged the parallel between African Americans and Dalits, stating, in part, “Yes, I am an untouchable, and every Negro in the United States of America is an untouchable.” Through declaring empathy with the oppressed and downtrodden of India, participants of “The Declaration of Empathy” signing event hope to further the possibility that slavery, in all of its aspects, will someday be dredged from the human reality, for once and for all.
This “Declaration of Empathy” signing event will be regarded as a milestone in the history of the contemporary abolition movement. Join the movement; and, DECLARE EMPATHY by signing the OFFICIAL PETITION.