“If the only prayer you say in your entire life is ‘thank you’, it would be enough.”
Sullivan’s Island is where captives coming into the port of Charleston were quarantined for a few weeks before being taken to the auction block. During the very busy slave importation years of the 18th century yellow fever, malaria, and small pox repeatedly and vengefully swept through the lowcountry. Any slave sick enough to die within the quarantine period was allowed to do so. It is heartrending to learn that a ten percent loss of cargo (read: African life) was deemed an acceptable margin in the slave trading business.
There is no memorial. Toni Morrison saw to changing that. See images of the Memorial Bench here. [Update: just learned on a website called African American Charleston that in 1999, “On July 3, a 6-foot historical marker is placed on Sullivan’s Island near Fort Moultrie to honor those enslaved Africans who arrived in bondage via Charleston Harbor.”]
Right before I went to this trip to SC, I heard a sliver of coverage about how much slaves contributed to the building of the ivy league schools in the Northeast. Maybe it was a review of the following book by Craig Steven Wilder, Ebony and Ivory: Race, Slavery, & the Troubled History of America’s Universities:
Many of America’s revered colleges and universities—from Harvard, Yale, and Princeton to Rutgers, Williams College, and UNC—were soaked in the sweat, the tears, and sometimes the blood of people of color. The earliest academies proclaimed their mission to Christianize the savages of North America, and played a key role in white conquest. Later, the slave economy and higher education grew up together, each nurturing the other. Slavery funded colleges, built campuses, and paid the wages of professors. Enslaved Americans waited on faculty and students; academic leaders aggressively courted the support of slave owners and slave traders. Significantly, as Wilder shows, our leading universities, dependent on human bondage, became breeding grounds for the racist ideas that sustained them.
[from the Amazon page selling his book].
So — for the beautiful quads that populate this neck of the woods, with their stone edifices, filigreed ironworks, brick walkways, and carved doors: thank you to the enslaved, skilled laborers. Thank you.
It sounds lame, the previous paragraph, but how much MORE lame would it be never to say thank you, never to acknowledge the contributions made? I am deciding to trust Meister Eckhart on this one.