I recently got married (yes it finally happened!) and our honeymoon was in Charleston, South Carolina. Everyone that knew where we were going for our honeymoon kept telling me how much I was going to love Charleston. One person even said, “It has that NOLA vibe.” I couldn’t wait.
When I began looking for places to visit while in Charleston, old plantations and plantation houses kept popping up. I knew slavery roots were dug deep there—in fact, as the African American Heritage Site of Charleston says:
“South Carolina's Lowcountry holds a major place of importance in African-American history for many reasons, but perhaps most importantly as a port of entry for people of African descent. According to several historians, anywhere from 40 to 60 percent of the Africans who were brought to America during the slave trade entered through ports in the Lowcountry.” (http://www.africanamericancharleston.com/lowcountry.html)
Yeah. I am Northerner. I grew up in Boston, Massachusetts and most of my ancestors lived in New England and most, were against slavery. So, visiting—let alone vacationing—in a place that was the entry port for human beings to become property--- didn’t quite sit well with me.
Don’t get me wrong, I love the South. We are hoping to eventually buy a house and permanently stay there in the future; but I know its longstanding history with African Americans, and while many of my kinsfolk in the North fought against it--- you can’t just ignore that part of the immorality that occurred in the South during the 1700’s to the 1800’s. It happened. You can’t erase it.
I felt extremely compelled to visit slavery sites and cemeteries when I was there. For two reasons. One, being raised in the North, we were taught about slavery. We were taught the history of it and the abolishment of it--- but I don’t think any of us really understood what it was to be a slave. A great quote that comes from a “Woman of North Carolina”:
“Northerners know nothing at all about Slavery. They think it is perpetual bondage only. They have no concept of the depth of degradation involved in that word, SLAVERY; if they had, they would never cease in their efforts until so horrible a system was overthrown.”
Yes. She is correct. We didn’t know and still perhaps, do not. After visiting Charleston, I learned how naïve even I was. We were never taught the WHOLE depravity of slavery. Reading and watching about slavery—it’s not the same until you stand in a place where people were sold as household items.
The second, and the most personal reason that I had to visit slavery sites, is because I am a white woman who practices Vodou; a religion that was brought over from Benin in Africa to the Americas via the slave trade. Now before I go on, let me just say this. I understand cultural appropriation and why there are many who find it hard when a non-person of color is practicing a religion that has its roots in Africa--- I did to. I was called multiple times by the Lwa to serve, and I always ignored Their call. I repeatedly told myself I could not practice Vodou because I was white. But for six years the Lwa kept calling—and I eventually decided that they were not going to stop until I listened. So, I did. I became a part of a Vodou House (my Mambo is also white and was born into a family who practiced Vodou. She has also undergone initiation in Haiti). I traveled to New Orleans to learn more about Vodou and to meet Sallie Ann Glassman, a highly respected Mambo who has done amazing work for both the community and Vodou itself. I will always and forever be a servant of the Lwa and I will always be a student—there is so much to learn!
Yes, I am a white woman who practices Vodou--- and let me say this: I NEVER FORGET HOW THAT SPIRITUALITY ENTERED AMERICA. I always acknowledge those who came from Africa—lived through hell—and are still fighting for their equality and freedom. I light a special candle for them on one of my altars- “I light the light that they have made. I light the path they have set; may I follow it in their wisdom.”
When our plane finally began its decent into Charleston, my first thought was “a land built by the hands of slaves.” Its all I could think about. And as a medium and empath, I could feel a lot of unsettled and sometimes angry spirit energy. I told my husband that I was not sure how I was going to like it there and was having thoughts that maybe we picked the wrong place for our honeymoon. But alas, we always heard good things about it and had family there—so I just kept my thoughts to myself.
Now, most people who know me know that I am a huge history fanatic. And while ancient history and anthropology are my favorites--- I love Civil War history. I spent one-year absorbing everything I could about the Civil War. Funny thing was…. most books…most documentaries—gloss over slavery. They’ll mention it in passing, but then it always reverts to the white history and the battles— “There were Africans forced into bondage and servitude—but what about that major battle!” Additionally, I have visited a lot of Civil War sites and most of them—they never really acknowledge the history of the black people who were bought and sold and traded like cattle. It’s almost like, they don’t want to really look at the dirty and degrading part of history which, ironically, was a major part of the Civil War and all those famous battles.
On our second day there, I was surprised to learn, Charleston doesn’t sweep it away --- it’s there—front and center. They make no attempts to hide it. I began to learn about the Gullah—Sierra Leoneans who were brought specifically to work in rice fields. About those who escaped to Florida. And…… about that slave market.
I stood in a spot where public auctions were held outside for the purchase of slaves. They were held outside until some people started to complain that it made the city look bad--- not because you know, they were selling kidnaped Africans like material items--- but because having half dressed men and women up for sale made the city look bad. The auctions needed to be inside now—so auction houses were created. That was when we visit the Old Slave Market on Chalmers Street. One of the major auction houses for slaves to be purchased.
At one point, there were 40 auctions houses on a 4-6 block stretch of city street. Ok, let me remind you—we are talking about auctioning off PEOPLE--- not antique furniture. I can not tell you the swell of emotions that emanated from me being inside a building where human beings sold other human beings as property. Where human beings were locked up in the same stocks as the cows and horses until they were ready to go up for sale. Where human beings would be chained and locked up until they were auctioned off. Where mothers would be purchased, and their children bought by different masters or traders and never to be held in the arms of their mother again. Families torn apart—and maybe, if they were lucky—they could buy their children back if they were good servants. Buy your own children back??? What the actual fuck?!
To see with your own eyes the chains and whips that were used to hurt human beings just because they disobeyed or because the master tied one on at ye old pub and had some aggression he needed to take out; where these HUMAN BEINGS were forced to work 16-18-hour days with maybe one or two days off a year. I felt so much standing there. I felt anger, sadness and a whirlwind of other emotions swirling around that I can not put into words.
Yes, Northerners and white folk will never understand what was involved in SLAVERY. My experience being in Charleston left me numb. My heart broke for all those souls who were treated so disgustingly; who were taken from their homeland, separated from their families and then sold off like cattle.
And I believe, beyond a reasonable doubt, that this is the reason racism still exists--- because so many whites want to erase- sweep under the rug and mostly IGNORE what happened to African Americans. I often wonder what the worlds reaction would have been if Germany did the same after the holocaust?? We get angry and roll our eyes at holocaust deniers-- we know and acknowledge what happened there. It’s easy to acknowledge that horrible part of history- and yet it’s so easy to discount the 12.5 million slaves that were stolen (10 million survived the Middle Passage) and forced into a life of slavery. Why is that?
Thankfully, I did learn that Gullah were able to maintain their African heritage and thrive in a small community in the low country of South Carolina. And that there is a small Yoruba village in Sheldon, South Carolina—Oyotunjii (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dbb4SeX6f-g) which works to maintain African culture and history.
And while most people by little chachkies on vacation- I bought books. Books written by former slaves and books about being a slave; and books about trying to attain some freedom and dignity in the face of pure evil.
I study African Dance, serve the Lwa, practice African American Folk Magic—and have many black friends—but I will never know nor experience what they go through daily in a world still full of racism--- nor what their ancestors had to do to fight for a very simple and yet powerful cause---Freedom and Equality. Two words that seem so obvious as a human right—and yet are so easily taken away.
This link has the names of some of the slaves that were sold into slavery in Charleston.