Dogs passed: four. Finn reaction: zero. Numbers of times we crossed the street: twice.
Unidentified growth spotted: one. I found it on an oak sapling. It’s perhaps not good. Something parasitic?
We walked in front of two boys for a long block. One looked to be about twelve and wore a wrist cast (skateboarding injury, perhaps?) He told Siri to set a timer for 44 minutes. What? You can do that? Even though I knew about voice commands, it blew my mind. As soon as they split away, I told Siri to set a timer for 44 minutes. It worked. Mind blown again.
[Remedial, I know, but it just goes to show how beneficial it is to be around tweens when it comes to upping your technology skills].
The first pings of rain fell and we spied another growth we didn’t recognize (below).
Oh! I said. The enslaved used Jimsonweed to treat worms. I know this but can’t resist asking Siri to do more tricks and confirm.
Siri: Search Jimsonweed and worms.
It started to rain.
Siri: Search slave medicine worms Jimsonweed.
I didn’t get the confirmation I wanted but learned all kinds of cool stuff; how Jimsonweed has hallucinogenic properties; how there’s a history behind the name, as there is to most things.
The sidewalk was dotted with raindrops as we rounded the block to home.
Once inside, I googled the weed without Siri’s help and found what I was looking for.
The chart above is from an article about medicine employed by the enslaved. Vermifuge is an agent that treats parasites.
K and I went to Charleston five years ago to celebrate my 60th birthday (Did you say FIVE YEARS AGO?)
One of the places we toured was Boone Hall Plantation.
I was reminded of the tour this morning because as I was driving to pick up my new glasses I listened to most of an NPR interview with Nikole Hannah-Jones talking about her enormously influential 1619 Project.
In the interview, Hannah-Jones talks about the anodyne history offered in public schools. How much is missing. How Black history is American history is Black history. And how certain words either romanticized slavery or further demeaned the enslaved.
One of those words was “plantation.” It’s a word that calls to mind Tara of Gone with the Wind. It makes us think of long, beautiful live-oak-lined allees (which Boone Hall has), instead of snake-infested rice fields and all kinds of human misery. The better term, she suggests, is “labor camp.”
When K and I arrived at Boone Hall, they were setting up chairs for an outdoor wedding. I was appalled and said so on Facebook. There I was schooled by a local docent / historian who said that without the income produced by such affairs, many significant historic sites would’ve been turned into condos and golf courses. Okay, but still.
A Boone Hall employee sitting on a chair outside the first of many slave dwellings proudly announced that Boone Hall was “the second most romantic setting for a wedding in America.”
Without thinking, I said, “What’s number one — Auschwitz?”
If I’d been thinking, of course, I would have named an American setting. Perhaps Riker’s Island?
That’s it. That’s the memory.
Small add on — the first time I ever saw an eagle was at Boone Hall.
This popped up on my Instagram feed moments after I posted.
From the drafts file. July 2020. A deleted chapter followed by two paragraphs about the news.
Place: west of Wappoo Plantation, South Carolina where Eliza Lucas lived before she married Charles Pinckney in 1744.
Time: October 1739. Roughly a month after the rebellion later known as the Stono Slave Rebellion, named for the river running through the landscape of fervent hope and violent loss.
Character: Mo. An enslaved man from Wappoo.
This chapter is duplicative of others so won’t be included in my novel, whose working title has gone from Blood and Indigo to The Weight of Cloth. I often write a scene six different ways before landing on a keeper and even then, might make major changes. I don’t think this is unusual.
He stood at the crossroads ashy with fatigue. Was he even still alive? Time had gone sideways. Nights sleeping in the scrub, days making a meandering path first away, and now back. Back to what? The rebellion wasn’t just a fever dream of freedom, was it? Mo remembered the weight of Commissioner Gibbs’s head in his hands. He looked down at his tunic, saw the confirming blood. What happened to those who didn’t melt away into the shadows like he had? He did not know but had a hunch. He had a hunch that most of those brave rebels were dead and not just because hounds are ruthless and native trackers precise, but because sometimes at dawn or as the sunset and the clouds bruised purple, he could feel their spirits like butterfly wings on his cheek or shoulder. They wandered still, in other words, still seeking a way out of bondage but without a body to hold them back anymore.
Mo was rail thin. This time of year there were hickory nuts, bracken ferns, and sour plums but not much else. He’d gone from a wild and ferocious hunger that left no room for other thoughts, not even of Binah’s sly smile, to having no hunger at all, the thought of hominy nearly enough to make him wretch.
That dawn, something about the way the wind spoke to him through the chestnut trees told him that it was at last time to return home, if he could call it that.
*. *. *.
July 2020. I know I promised a rant, but one that wrestles with how to speak up as a white person, and when, and what that might sound like just cannot be published the day after George Floyd’s memorial.
I watched much of the eulogy by Reverend Al Sharpton yesterday — did you? Powerfully moving, as was Kamala Harris’s seven minute statement to the Senate about Rand Paul’s idiotic attempt to limit her and Cory Gardner and Tim Scott’s bill to make lynching a federal crime.
SoulCollage card c. Trayvon Martin’s death in 2012
During a Keynote presentation entitled, What Americans Can Learn from Germany’s Racial Reckoning, Susan Neiman asked, can you imagine if a comparable monument existed in Washington DC to memorialize the victims of slavery?
It took fifty years for such a conscious attitude to emerge in Germany, but we’ve had more than four hundred. Only now do the monuments to the Confederacy start to come down. Only now are state flags being revised to eliminate references to chattel slavery.
In Germany, it is illegal to display a swastika. If only confederate flags were equally taboo here (or swastikas, for that matter). If only an Anti-Lynching law could pass in the Senate!
Thanks to Bryan Stevenson, of course, we now have what’s casually referred to as the Lynching Memorial down in Montgomery, Alabama. The National Memorial for Peace and Justice. It goes a long way to recognizing the reign of terror (aka Jim Crow) and its many, many victims. I love the way the project collects soil from the sites of violence for the museum and erects markers at the site of the killings, often with surviving family members present.
The soul jars (an autocorrect for “soil” that I’m gonna let stand) are more akin to another memorial highlighted by scholar Neiman : the Stumbling Stones. These are small, engraved plaques located at the entrance to homes in 1200 cities through Europe and Russia. There are 70,000 in all.
A Guardian article compares the large memorial in central Berlin with these smaller, localized remembrances:
If Eisenman’s large monument, set in the governmental heart of Berlin, emphasises the scale and political culpability of the Holocaust, the Stolpersteine [Stepping Stones] focus on its individual tragedies.
Each stone is engraved with the following: Here Lived — the name of the former resident, their date of birth, and their fate. Some list internment, suicide, or exile, but most of them list deportation and murder.
On this side of the Atlantic, smaller American memorials to the victims of enslavement can be found here and there, with more springing up all the time. While these can never take the place of a national monument, they do matter. I know of at least two.
For example, Boston just recently erected a monument honoring those who were kidnapped from Africa and shipped here for sale. I visited The Middle Passage Memorial on Long Wharf and wrote about it here.
There’s also the African Burying Ground in Portsmouth posted about here after a trip to New Hampshire specifically to see it.
But again, let’s contemplate what it would be like if our country had the will, the sense of justice, and the dedication to righting the wrongs of the past such that we created a significant memorial in our Capitol.
It’s unthinkable right now.
I don’t want to end on such a hopeless note, so let me cite a few recent examples of reparations or even, moves toward reparations.
From KQED. One Way To Close The Black Homeownership Gap: Housing As Reparations (full article here):
Cities like Asheville, North Carolina and Evanston, Illinois have taken steps toward reparations in recent months. In Evanston, $10 million collected by the city in cannabis revenue would be used to offer African American residents $25,000 to put toward a down payment on a home.
In the case of Evanston, a suburb of Chicago, the city decided to address its history of discrimination via unfair housing policies, such as “redlining,” a practice in which lenders refused to insure mortgages in and near predominantly Black neighborhoods. So, yes, this is not reparations in the way many people traditionally think of the term — i.e., direct cash payments to Black descendants of enslaved people that attempt to correct the effects of systemic racism — but it’s likely that this program will still take some first steps toward remedying housing inequity.
Labor Day seemed an appropriate day to visit the new display marking the Middle Passage down on Long Wharf, Boston. It is yards from the Atlantic and the site where Africans were unloaded from ships and sold.
I took a lot of pictures, so that I could read later. Why? Parking fees were obscene. I set my timer for 35 minutes, determined not to pay more than $18. But we didn’t really want to pay even that, so we didn’t dally. Made it back in under twenty minutes. High fives at the parking pay kiosk.
Most of the business along Long Wharf these days is tourism.
Almost all of the marker’s text was devoted to highlighting local luminary African Americans, like Phyllis Wheatley (blogged about here). I expected the narrative to reveal the horrors of the slave trade, so this surprised me a little. Did you know, for example, that the Guinea ships could be smelled from four miles off, so vile was the hygiene and carnage? Or that a loss of life in the neighborhood of ten percent was an acceptable margin in terms of turning a profit?
If you read my Facebook post on this yesterday, you’ll have seen the LONG laundry list of ways that the North profited from slavery, pictured below.
Next time we go, I’ll bring flowers and we’ll look for on-street parking.