Tuesday, November 21, 2017

A Slave Dwelling Sleep-In

As part of work's "Reflect and Respect" African American history event this past weekend, I had the opportunity to stay the night in an original slave dwelling (shown above) on Saturday night. It was an experience I will not soon forget.

I had contacted Joe McGill of the Slave Dwelling Project to see about his interest in doing a sleep over a couple of years ago. However, at that time, budget constraints did not make it possible. When funds did become available for the "Reflect and Respect" event, I contacted Joe again and this time we made it happen. 

Now, I've spent many a reenactment or living history night on the hard ground in all kinds of weather situations, but something about this night was much different. After a nice conversation with Joe, and two of his board members, Prinny and Don, we made our places on the heart of pine floor boards. 

As I lay there in the pitch dark, all kinds of thoughts filled my head. I was exhausted from an early start to the day and from the day's previous events, so I thought about my sore legs, shoulders, and back. Then my train of thought shifted tracks to how the cook who once worked in that very kitchen we were sleeping in must have felt after working what was probably a good fourteen hour day (if not longer), stooping over heavy pots, sweating from a scorching hot fire, and keeping a vigilant eye to avoid catching clothes ablaze.   

My thoughts then turned to the following day's events. I ran over the schedule in my mind and wondered how things would go and if we would have good audience attendance. As those images floated away in a seeming fog, I focused back on our scene and imagined what enslaved individuals must have worried about in terms of their tomorrows. Likely they fretted over whether they would be in their present situation or if something might arise to change it drastically. Would they be sold because their owner was in debt? Would their children be sold? Would this week's rations be plenty or would they be scarce? Would the master be in a good mood tomorrow, or would he be in a furor? My concerns paled in comparison and suddenly a grateful mood washed over me,

Being thankful for my present life situation and employment condition set me to thinking about how only several generations back one's life situation could often be closely defined if one's skin was not white. Solely based on race, one's options were extremely limited or seemingly limitless. People of color were assumed to be enslaved in Virginia in the first half of the 19th century. It was up to that person to show proof of their freedom if they claimed to not be a slave.  Racial prejudice, the lack of opportunity, and the subsequent economic, social, and political limitations, not only in slavery, but through Jim Crow and up to the present has left an indelible mark on our nation. Recognizing this and educating oneself about this history is a good first step in correcting the problems of race in our country. Is it easy to process? No. Can it be emotionally exhausting? Yes. However, recognizing the legacy of slavery on America is vital.

Some people think that if we do not talk about race, racial issues will go away naturally. I am not of that mind. I think we need to seek out opportunities to talk about the past so we can navigate the present, and hopefully offer a more equitable future for the greater good of all. I feel fortunate that I had this opportunity and recommend it for everyone.

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