Another 5:30 run ending with a quiet walk through the cemetery at the Shiloh Baptist Church. Why am I drawn here? Am I hoping for answers?
Norrece Jones began his session on Slave Narratives with a powerful excerpt from Reverend Macy. It brought me to tears- long overdue since my arrival at Stratford. Tears of regret, sympathy, pain, and amazement. We deal with a subject that deals with the most malignant side of mankind yet it also reveals the highest apex of man’s nature, those who took in a slave child without hesitation when a parent died or was sold- those who stole away in the night to spend a few hours with one they loved. I hope I can convey the goodness and humanity I’ve discovered to my students. Slavery can be a testament to the tenacity and honor of the human spirit- those who survived and offered a world of hope to their children.
Sarah Hughes talked to us about ‘Slave Women’. All I could think about was “I am woman, hear me roar!’
Edna Medford was excellent in her presentation on African American Families in Slavery. Organized, prepared, and topical. What a terrific example of a great teacher!
I am amazed at how much I’ve learned and dismayed at how little I know!
I spent a productive hour in the library selecting pictures for my slides. A full day here at Stratford Hall! Man’s inhumanity to man- how does one explain it? Perhaps the answer lies in the journey.
Tonight I walked alone in the Stratford darkness. The voices of creatures in the trees and grass were overwhelming, but I wasn’t frightened at the unidentified sounds. I was comfortable. Then I reached the fork in the road where I could travel towards Stratford or take the road that would lead me away.
I became a black woman. I turned off my flashlight and looked towards the Great House. It was lit up, and I visualized an active house…full of music and laughter and people in European dress.
But I was black --- watching. I looked towards the fork in the road. What would I do? I have a family. The slave quarters were in the distance; I visualized the lights in the buildings as fires. My family was waiting for me there. What would I do? My daughters Jeni and Alison and my son Jason were expecting me home. I had the chance to run---to be free…if I took the road that led away. They would suffer if I left. Was I willing to stay and sacrifice my humanness to the white people who owned me? They owned my body…but not my spirit or my love for my family.
I turned back to Stratford, turned on my flashlight, and walked home.
We left for the Williamsburg area
around 7:45 AM and arrived around 10:00. Our first stop was the Mariner’s
Museum, where they are currently running a temporary exhibit on the Middle
Passage. I was glad that I had the chance to see it, but I got the
sense from some of the other seminarians that it could have been a lot
better. I think that that was my initial reaction as well, but as
I thought about it, I realized that the museum’s target audience is not
a group of teachers, all of whom have an active interest in studying the
institution of slavery. Therefore, for the typical American who probably
knows very little about the Middle Passage except perhaps for what they
saw in “Amistad,” this exhibit would be informative. As great as
that movie was, this exhibit does a good job of establishing the background
information and the global context. I am glad that I had the opportunity
to see it and would take my classes to see it if it ever came to the Cincinnati
After the museum, we went to Colonial Williamsburg and Carter’s Grove. I found Carter’s Grove to be rather confusing. Why would a colonial period house with slave quarters on the ground be restored to the World War II era? I’m sure it has something to do with who lived there at the time and who owns the house today, but I was hoping for something similar to Stratford so that I could compare the two. Another thing that confused me about Carter’s Grove was the use of the term “African-Virginian” instead of “African-American” or “enslaved person” since I doubt that any free African-Americans lived on the plantation. Is this term an attempt to downplay the role that slavery played in the plantation’s history? Is it a reference to the fact that people thought of themselves as more Virginians than Americans prior to the Civil War? Is it supposed to imply that enslaved persons were somehow included in the category of Virginians? They certainly didn’t have the rights or social standing of a typical Virginian, and I think that Carter Burwell and some of his fellow Virginians like Thomas Jefferson and John Tyler who wrote about the “innate inferiority” of African-Americans would take issue with this term. At any rate, I thought the slave quarters were interesting and took several pictures to share with my students.
From Carter’s Grove, we checked into our hotel. We quickly descended on the historic area to visit the William and Mary bookstore and Paul’s Deli. After dinner and drinks at Paul’s, we met other seminarians at Chowning’s Tavern for colonial music, colonial games, and colonial ale. When we decided that we’d had enough of the 18th century, we decided to return to Paul’s Deli. Around 12:30, I decided that I needed to get back to the hotel so I left by myself. Somewhere along the way, I took a wrong turn and got completely lost. Around 2:30, I stopped at a Super 8 and asked for directions—the nice little old lady whose cigarette break I interrupted gave me a map and called the Governor’s Inn to get directions. Southern hospitality at its finest. It turned out to be a forty-five minute walk to the Governor’s Inn and I crawled into bed around 3:15.
I was up later that morning around 9:00 and had checked out of the hotel around 10:00. Dehydrated with sore legs, I walked into the historic area to figure out what I wanted to do in the seven or so hours I had before the bus picked us up. I did the obligatory shopping for the family and fiancé, and then hit the Capitol Building for a very interesting tour. I especially liked the last interpreter who gave us a ton of information on the House of Burgesses. After that, I took the shuttle to the visitor’s center with Donna and Carol, walked around there for awhile, and then took the shuttle back to the historic area. As I was on the bus, I noticed a lot of the same things that I saw in the dark only twelve hours before. Then I realized how far away I was from the historic area and the hotel and felt really dumb. I retired to the grassy area behind the powder magazine to read a new book before the bus arrived, but spent about the last forty-five minutes of the wait in the nearby men’s room seeking refuge from the thunderstorm that had descended upon Colonial Williamsburg.
I found Williamsburg interesting and unique. I think a lot of what they are trying to do deals with the culture and lifestyle of the 1770s, and I think they do it well. I just prefer to study and learn about the politics of that time instead of the lifestyle. When I have kids and when they are old enough to not be a nuisance in public, I will probably take them to Williamsburg, though without the nocturnal walking tour. I’m glad that I had the chance to see Williamsburg and will definitely come back.
It seems good to be “home”. What a great trip, despite the rain. I didn’t see a lot of the historical buildings in Williamsburg, but had a lot of fun shopping with friends. I enjoyed the Other Half Tour, and was proud that I knew some of the information presented through my experience at Stratford Hall, and was glad to learn more! “Home”, I do miss my family, and the ache in my heart to hold my little boy threatens to grow everyday. I miss my daughters, but they are young adults and I know they can now make it without me. What if I had come to Stratford under different circumstances? What if I had come here against my will? My heart bleeds for those mothers who were torn from their families, separated from their children. I can only just imagine their pain. I do somehow understand how those who survived did it. I’ve learned a new word here at Stratford, and I’ve personally been taught it’s meaning through my experience here and because of that I have come to know not just the meaning, but also the importance of “fictive kin”!
July 25, 2002
I began the day walking to the
beach. It is so beautiful and yet I could not forget the African
elders who sacrificed so much as I walked along the rolling road.
Did they get enough to eat? Were they warm enough in inclement weather?
Were they beaten badly in both the physical and psychological sense?
At one point during the day the discussion of sexuality cropped up. It amazes me how uncomfortable people become when dealing with this issue! The side- stepping only raises my ire. We were regarded as chattel and we were raped whether it was overt or covert. I can remember saying as a young naïve teenager that I would do anything I had to do to make sure my children were fed, clothed and had a roof over their heads. That was an easy statement to make when I was young and childless. I have been fortunate enough to not have to resort to desperate measures for my daughter. I can only wonder what it would be like to have my master threaten to sell my daughter or my mother if I did not acquiesce to his wishes! So understand when I become angry that I am questioned about whether it was rape. Understand when I become angry when I am told that I wasn’t used for breeding. Understand when I am angry that I am portrayed as the aggressor as a 13-year-old little girl even though the subject I am supposedly pursuing is my 45-year-old master. Understand I am angry, and I AM ANGRY for all black women carry the hurt, sorrow, pain and scars of our enslaved sisters. YES, I AM ANGRY!