WRITTEN BY BRISTOL MAYO | BRISTOLMAYO@GMAIL.COM MARCH 24, 2018
DARROW, La.- “They tried to bury us, but did not know we were seeds”. In unmarked graves along the Mississippi River, slaves from the Monroe and Bruslie Plantations were scattered about the grounds, full of untold stories of strength, endurance, and hope. Beneath the Sugarcane fields and shade trees, they lay there waiting to be showered by the love of their descendants, searching for them through time. Listening to the call in their hearts and spirits to make the pilgrimage into the forgotten history of America and discover their tangible past.
Kathe Hambrick, founder of the River Road African Burial Grounds Coalition, heeded that call, and the fruition of her efforts gathered descendants of Slaves and Slave Masters alike to Tezcuco Plantation, not far from the burial grounds.
Here we were, on the lawn of the “Big House”, celebrating the lives of those Slaves cast aside by the indifference of the institution of slavery. Where our ancestors may not have been able to say the prayers, prepare their bodies, or show any emotion for their loss at all! The sentiment in that space danced from heart to heart, so new and vibrant! Like meeting a long lost family member for the first time. There are so many stories to share, so many songs to sing, and so much dancing to be done! Some attendees visited the burial site at dawn, following traditions and giving sacrifices to pay homage and prepare the spirits for the celebration to come. Maybe the Black people from long ago had to celebrate the life of the deceased in this manner, under the cover of darkness to protect their own lives. But when the light came, the drums announced the beginning of the ceremony, so that we could all get in rhythm with one another to lift this praise to our ancestors. We no longer had to suffer in secret! Negro Spirituals were sung in the way that has always brought us through our tough times. Libations were poured and The Elders lifted their voices as we sat in awe of their history. We brought our children to be a part of the story so that they could run into the future and carry word that the Ancestors actually existed! And in these hallowed grounds, they lay smiling, knowing that their efforts gave birth to the possibility of a better future.
We mourned their suffering and sacrifice for us, understanding what they had to endure to give us this chance to honor them. The very wind and humidity graced us, just as it had the Slaves from the Plantations, and we made peace with the words we would never hear, the embraces we could never feel, from the names we may never know. Those things no longer mattered. Mrs. Hambrick and her team had given us the reality of our past. Folk tales and fireside stories became real history, and as we visited the Monroe Burial site, looking out over the Sugarcane I could see those Black faces toiling under the sun. Being there, in their space, was surreal. My strength was revived knowing that my people had already endured the worst, and their blood that courses through my veins is prepared for the fight forward.
Bridging this gap in history is so important for the healing of the Black Community. Plantations can no longer be viewed as these monuments to the “Gallant South”. "A plantation was the scene of a crime against humanity, and there is nothing fine about owning people,” said Ingrid Palmquist, a descendant of the owners of Tezcuco Plantation and member of the River Road African Burial Grounds Coalition.
Historic discoveries such as this are ground breaking in the work of preserving a history meant to be forgotten. We do not mean to destroy what is known, but we have a right to our own past. And if the heavy weight of slavery continues to hang around the neck of America, unattended, we will all be choked to death under its weight. We must all breath in the truth of our history so that the stagnant stench of racism can be cleared from the air, and our ancestors can finally find peace in their rest.