This last was fascinating to me, of course, someone from the generation told that there was next to nothing remaining in the U.S. of our ancestors sense of Africa.
The Savannah bus tours convened at the same place and you could sign up for or reserve a tour. That day, the delineation was clear: White people signed up for the Savannah tour. Black people signed up for the Freedom Trail Tour.
I had made the reservation for the tour a week ahead and almost missed it. Our guide was a slim, dapper man in his 40s with a command not only of the facts but imbued them with the irony of the context.
Our first stop was the middle of a narrow street where the outer wall of a building still stood. He pointed up a tiny window and said that below it a sign had once read ‘Negroes for Sale” or words to that effect.
Just steps away was the entry to a church the enslaved and free blacks had built in their spare time. We went in through the basement and walked on a floor built by slaves. There were little squares cut into the floor in a pattern. The pattern was a Kongo cosmogram which was meant to keep all evil away.
The building had once been part of the infamous Underground Railroad and the holes were so runaways had air. The tunnels from the church that led to safety had long since collapsed, our host said.
Upstairs, in the balcony were some of the original benches. The builders had carefully inscribed their African origins on the sides of each bench, but to date the marks have not been interpreted. I asked Tobaji to take a picture of every one of the benches: there seem to be four patterns that repeat with minor variations.
From there we went to the slave burial ground. One grave was fenced in brick that incorporated the Kongo pattern we’d seen in the church.
Then our guide rolled up to an area where slaves had been publicly whipped. The whip sometimes missed its mark, our guide said, showing us the places where the tree itself bore scars.
The trees had grown since the time of slavery, so we had to look up to see the marks. Unable to speak, each of us was praying silently. One of us poured libation in honor of those who had suffered there.
Not too far away, across the street from the famous Forsyth Park, our guide took us to the Candler Oak, a tree where black people were hung well into the 1930s.
Very old and near to falling down, it had been saved by the Arboretum Society in 2001 because of its age. Now on the property of the Savannah Law School, it is closely guarded as a Georgia Landmark and Historic Tree.
The next day we came back to take pictures and attempt to pour libation. A black security guard cautioned us away, saying that his encounter with us was being recorded on camera.
Nevertheless, he allowed me to take a piece of Spanish moss hanging from the tree that I put on my ancestor shrine when I got home.
Back on the sidewalk, I was looking at the tree one last time before leaving. The Savannah tour bus carrying white passengers was going by. Their tour guide was saying only that this tree had been declared a treasure by the state. Nothing about it having been the site of hangings and lynchings of black people. I quelled my outrage. What good was it going to do me?
But I thought again. “Isn’t this what we have always done?” Swallowed our outrage, swallowed our pride, fearing the act that is most human, fearing love, because we were so very vulnerable to broken hearts.
Several months later, I asked Reshawn Goods to create the flyer for Juneteenth. Her first effort had a mistake, a subtitle that read “Ritual of Resistance” instead of “Ritual of Remembrance.”
Since then I have been letting that phrase enrich itself in my mind. I am aware that there are a lot of people, including black people, who want to put the issue of slavery to rest. “All of that is behind us now, we can be who we want to be, after all we have a black president, what more do you expect?”
But I believe that in our case Remembrance is Resistance, resistance to, at the very least, the false witness borne against us these hundreds of years.
Rage is a hard emotion to carry for long periods of time, and the burden of such emotion is something I don’t think the ancestors want or expect of us.
In memory as resistance, I found a worthy vessel to hold the rage I felt on their behalf. And it has given me peace.