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History of CTW

The founding of Crossing the Waters Institute from the
Interfaith Pilgrimage of the Middle Passage  

Retracing the journey of slavery
May 1998 - June 1999

The Interfaith Pilgrimage of the Middle Passage was a 13-month walk for 60+ pilgrims who, from 1998-1999, travelled through the Eastern United States, the Caribbean, Brazil, Cape Verde, West Africa and South Africa. 


Reversing the direction of the slave ships that brought Africans across the Atlantic via the Middle Passage route, the pilgrims traced the history of slavery on foot and by boat beginning in New England and moving through the southern states to the Caribbean islands where enslaved Africans were "broken in" for plantation labor.  Finally, the pilgrims traveled to West Africa, the ancestral homeland of the African Diaspora, where the journey continued to its end at the tip of the continent in Cape Town, South Africa.

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The pilgrimage began in the Eastern United States and went through the Carribbean, Brzail, Cape Verde, West Africa, and ended in South Africa.

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This artwork by Tom Feelings became the logo of the pilgrimage.

The Pilgrimage was a living prayer for the sons and daughters of the African Diaspora. By acknowledging and embracing the terrible history of slavery and racial oppression, the journey sought to be a step in healing the wounds inflicted by this history and a purification of the hearts of all who were and are connected with this history.


In the U.S. the pilgrims stopped at sites of auctions, slave quarters, cemeteries and lynching and prayed for the spirits of those who suffered and died.  They also visited way stations of the Underground Railroad and other sites attesting to dignity and resistance in the face of slavery and racial oppression. This walk through history gave hope that in this century a more humane, compassionate and equitable world can be realized; a world where the ravages of racism no longer plague us and the human spirit is truly liberated.

The Pilgrimage, co-founded by Ingrid Askew and Sister Clare Carter, was initiated by the Nipponzan Myohoji Buddhist Order, of the New England Peace Pagoda, and open to all who wished to join.


It had an interfaith perspective and whenever possible involved the traditions to which African-Americans and people of African descent have primarily devoted themselves, that is Christianity, Islam, the traditional religions of Africa, and their forms in the "New World." 

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Left to right: Ingrid Askew, Nipponzan Myohoji monk,
and Ingrid's daughter Raina.

In this clip, CTW founder Ingrid Askew speaks of her journey on the Interfaith Pilgrimage of the Middle Passage that led to the creation of the nonprofit organization Crossing the Waters Institute for Cultural Exchange. 

To watch to the full version, visit the CTW YouTube Channel or click below. 

Press + Publications

The Interfaith Pilgrimage of the Middle Passage was featured in the PBS six-part miniseries This Far by Faith: African American Spiritual Journeys and is available on DVD. Click here to access the documentary script. 

You can watch the documentary section here or from within the CTW YouTube Channel.

Events at UMASS to mark the 20th Anniversary of 'Middle Passage' Pilgrimage

By Scott Merzbach

Daily Hampshire Gazette

May 23, 2018

AMHERST — Twenty years ago at the Nipponzon Myohoji Peace Pagoda in Leverett, more than 60 people began a 13-month journey to retrace the slave route and to experience many of the painful locations for African-Americans in the United States and on the African continent.

New England Peace Pagoda in Leverett, MA

The Peace Pagoda in Leverett
Ingrid Askew (back row, center) with fellow pilgrims and cast members in Crossing the Wate

Ingrid Askew (back row, center) with fellow pilgrims and cast members in Crossing the Water, Changing the Air

Crossing the Waters, Changing the Air

By Stephen Hartshorne

Arm Chair Travel Blog

October 3, 2011

"Askew has captured the spirit of this remarkable pilgrimage in a brilliant dramatic presentation. She strikes a perfect balance between the narratives of pilgrims who felt direct communication from ancestral spirits and those who simply learn by walking about in the world, and it has set me thinking all week about my own beliefs."

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