August 20, 1619 a ship landed at Point Comfort (now Fort Monroe, VA) with a cargo of 20 Africans.
They were sold or traded into slavery.
It’s a hard story, but a story worth knowing and worth telling.
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A Hard Story
Every Tuesday morning my Toastmasters’ meeting begins with The Pledge of Allegiance.
I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands. One nation, under God, indivisible with Liberty and Justice for ALL.
I always find myself muttering, “Let it be so.”
Right after I publish this newsletter, I’ll be headed to the Manchester Docks. This is a place on the southside of the James River below the Falls at Richmond where slave ships used to dock and unload their human cargo. They would form them in a coffle. A line yoked neck to neck with tallest man in the front followed by the next tallest, then the women in the same descending order by height, then the children.
In the dark of the night, they would be marched upriver and across the Mayo Bridge and through what we now call Shockoe Bottom to Lumpkin’s Jail, a holding pen for the merchandise. They marched at night so as not to offend the sensibilities of people who might see what wretched shape these people were in after their transatlantic voyage stacked like cord wood below deck.
I’m headed to the docks today to play my role as “Slaver”. Over the years I have appeared out of the woods along the path with a whip in one hand and my Book of Common Prayer in the other incenting the folks reenacting the slave walk to move along lest I give them a taste of the lash.
The first time I played this role my bowels turned to water.
I have reprised the performance for several years now and I’m sorry to say my physical distress has diminished with repetition. Another example of how we become inured to even the most horrid experiences.
This year my role has been expanded and I will be working with an African American actor who will be my “Driver”. He’ll do my dirty work for me and I’ll be this menacing figure, he’ll be seeking to curry favor with by moving the cargo along.
Divide and conquer is a tactic with a long history of success.
It’s a tactic still used quite successfully today.
Four hundred years ago today an English ship landed at Point Comfort, a place we now call Fort Monroe, VA. It carried 20 Africans who were sold or traded into slavery.
The English colonists and then their American ancestors have created a system that has ill-used those people, their fellow Africans who followed and their descendants.
My contemporaries say, “That’s ancient history” or “my family never owned salves” or “that’s the past.” Unfortunately, it’s not.
Open your eyes, open your ears and open your minds. And while you’re at it, open your hearts.
I believe in the promise of the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, Emma Lazurus’ sonnet, The New Colossus and for that matter The Pledge.
But more importantly, I believe something Dr. Martin Luther King once said,
“The Arc of the Moral Universe is Long, but it Bends Toward Justice.”
It does not matter whether your people originally came from Europe, Africa, Asia or were already here when the New World was “discovered”; this is a difficult story for Americans to hear. A difficult story for us to accept. But a story we must embrace if we’re ever to correct the system that perpetuates injustice.
If you’re not a part of the solution, you’re a part of the problem.
I have faith in Americans.
Together we can build that City on the Hill, that Beacon of Hope.
For until all of us are free and equal under the law, none of us are.
This is another example of living the stories we tell ourselves.
Let’s tell a story worth living.
I Want to Hear from You
Drop me a line at email@example.com and let me know what stories or storytelling topics you’d like me to explore.
Til next time,