AS PRESIDENT Bush winds up his five-nation tour of Africa, perhaps it's time to revisit that annoying question of whether he should have apologized for slavery.
The president started off his tour in Senegal, where he visited the slave castle on Goree Island. Several newscasts quoted Bush when he called slavery a "sin," but added that he didn't issue a blanket apology for slavery.
That apology has been a demand of some African-Americans for the past several years. Should Bush have apologized?
Let's travel to the city of Annapolis. At the end of Main Street, near the docks where slaves were once sold, is a memorial to Kunta Kinte, the slave brought from Gambia - which borders Senegal - in the 1760s. Kinte was made famous in Alex Haley's (highly) fictional historical novel Roots.
The Annapolis docks today are a tourist attraction. Go there on any afternoon, even weekdays, and you'll be hard-pressed to find a parking place. Tourists crowd Main Street and the docks. What better place to pose the question about an apology for slavery than within mere yards of the Kunta Kinte memorial.
Thomas Lumpkin is a 45-year-old African-American from Queenstown in Queen Anne's County. He works the nightshift as a custodian for the county board of education. Lumpkin acknowledged he doesn't follow the news much. When he gets home, he hits the bed, gets some sleep and then rises to prepare for work.
Lumpkin also acknowledged that he didn't know Bush was in Africa. (Several dock visitors said the same, and didn't seem to care much where Bush was.) But he was clear on his position about a Bush apology for slavery.
"If he didn't have anything directly to do with it," Lumpkin said, "it's kind of hard to make an apology."
When asked if it was akin to your cousin burglarizing somebody's house - and then the victims demand that you apologize - Lumpkin nodded.
"That doesn't seem like it's going to cover it, because [the innocent party] didn't do it."
Mike Jones was sitting on the dock sipping a cool drink when the question was put to him. The 36-year-old St. Mary's County resident seemed more concerned with what's happening in 2003, not what happened in 1803.
"I don't think that was the purpose of the trip," said Jones, who is white. "It was something else people could say he should do. As for whether he should have, I don't have an opinion one way or another."
Jones, who teaches algebra and statistics at a public high school in St. Mary's County, said he was more peeved by the constant testing the state requires school systems to give students.
"Why can't they just let us teach?" Jones asked.
Ah, if only this column were on that topic.
Like Jones, 41-year-old Roger Rose of Upper Marlboro in Prince George's County had his mind on what's happening today, not centuries ago.
"I don't think Bush had anything to do with slavery," said Rose, who is black. "He could do more today."
Asked to elaborate, Rose went on to express his dismay with the tax plan the president - and his party - favor.
"The Republican Party's position is to give to the rich and then hope they'll give to the poor. It doesn't work that way."
Rose added that Bush should have had a member of the Congressional Black Caucus with him on the trip and that the president could be just a bit more supportive of affirmative action.
"There are a lot of places today where blacks are not wanted," said Rose, who works for Amtrak. The president would also, according to Rose, do well to meet with the CBC.
"I think it's quite arrogant to think you know what blacks want without meeting with them," Rose said.
We can bet Bush doesn't get Rose's vote next year. But to return to that business of an apology: Anybody notice how the apology-seekers tried to bust Bush's hump on the subject, when he was standing within yards of Senegal's President Abdoulaye Wade?
If Goree Island's House of Slaves was the last place about 2 million Africans saw before they were taken to the New World, then it's clear some Africans must have been involved in the slave trade. Most were involved willingly, some eagerly. In fact, when Europeans - the British, in particular - tried to end the slave trade, one African king urged them not to do it. The trade, the king announced, was ordained by God.
It looks like any demands for an apology for slavery should be spread around a bit.