Welcome to Kim-Marie’s pilgrimage blog. Thank you for your time and interest.
I’ll post monthly blogs as I write a travel memoir, titled: Ancestral Footsteps: Honoring Africans of the Middle Passage, A Pilgrimage to U.S. Historic Transatlantic Slave Trade Ports circa 1601 – 1860s. The companion website is : http://www.pilgrimage2USslaveports.com.
About today’s post
Read about research sources, the pilgrimage purpose, and meet some of the people I met on the June 2016 sojourn through Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia, the first of three separate trips I’ll make this year.
Accounts of what transpired at the thirteen historic slave trade port sites during June are a work-in-progress for the travel memoir and will be posted later.
There are at least fourteen more states and twenty more ports to honor on this one-woman sojourn. In autumn 2016 I’ll traverse ports from Maine to Maryland. Before Midwest snow flurries are forecast I’ll resume the pilgrimage toward Florida and Gulf States.
I initially based my pilgrimage to U.S. Middle Passage ports using data from the Transatlantic Slave Trade Database (TAST), a record of almost 36,000 ship manifests whose voyages occurred between 1514 and 1866 from West Africa to South America, the Caribbean, and North America.
TAST voyage records for North America are mainly between 1651 and 1860. These historic manifests contain a wealth of information about ships and their cargos of captured and enslaved Africans. Most importantly for my interests, is data concerning where ships embarked/began and disembarked/landed in North America; and how many Africans boarded and landed in North America. The TAST Database includes slave trade port names, as well as, unspecified or unknown ports per state.
Although U.S. states and recognizable towns are named in the TAST Database, it’s important to remember that in the 1600s and 1700s, these were colonial and settler regions which displaced indigenous native peoples. In researching I often modified searches to include period place names. Interestingly, in many of the original thirteen colonies of the late 1600s and 1700s the population of enslaved Africans often equaled or exceeded the European population. Slave labor, skilled and unskilled, was used to build colonial ports, streets, and buildings.
During June’s 2016 pilgrimage I learned about the Middle Passage Ceremonies & Port Markers Project, Inc. (MPCPMP), a non-profit that for years has used the TAST database and gone further, as I have attempted to do in the past year and a half, to identify those ‘unidentified’ ports in the TAST database. MPCPMP port data is now another rich source that guides this sojourn.
I am so thankful for the existence of these two primary sources and of all the people behind the years of research and collaborations that led to their existence. Another exceptional resource I learned about in June is the International Coalition to Commemorate African Ancestors of the Middle Passage (ICCAAMP).
Purpose of Kim-Marie’s Pilgrimage
“The shuffle of shackled feet, pressing on ship planks to shoreline soils, forced marched to holding pens and slave markets, haunts and beckons me to make this pilgrimage. Their arrival upon these shores was not met with love or joyous welcome. As I trace the first footsteps of captive Africans on American soil, with my own, I’ll offer love and gratitude.
In making this pilgrimage the place of historic U.S. slave trade ports and subsequent paths to holding pens and slave markets will help me honor and invoke the essence of these African survivors of the Middle Passage.
It feels necessary to make this pilgrimage alone so the experience is organic and unfiltered by another’s perception or intuition. It feels as important to document and share this journey.” Excerpt from website. For the full version visit http://www.pilgrimage2usslaveports.com/.
A beckoning, the beginning
Monday, June 6th I flew on a Delta flight from the Twin Cities, Minnesota to Atlanta, Georgia, rented a Jeep Compass and drove to Macon to overnight and wait out Tropical Storm Colin moving through southeast Florida and the northeast outer banks, which included my destination to Savannah.
Since that stormy start, I’ve driven 1,569 miles through four states (Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia) to thirteen historic port sites in seventeen days.
Table 1. Kim-Marie’s June 2016 Pilgrimage to historic U.S. Transatlantic Slave Trade Ports
This first pilgrimage leg serves to gauge my commitment to driving and navigating alone.
Sticking to major highways was not always an option. My main route up U.S. 17 weaved in and out of coastal low country covering miles of rural territory where pine forests lined either side of the road. I drove across more bridges than I can count on my fingers and toes and probably yours, too.
From concrete and iron bridges spanning a mile across large tongues of rivers, deltas, and inlets to iron and wood short spans across less wide waters, I invited African ancestral spirits from the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor and the Atlantic Ocean to rise up and join me, to guide my pilgrimage.
Symbolically I’d depress the co-passenger window button to let whoever wanted to ride with me, come on in. But they had to be quick because precious cool conditioned air was escaping to 99.99% humidity and day temperatures that rarely dipped below eighty-five degrees Fahrenheit!
Meet some of the people I fell in sync with on the June 2016 pilgrimage:
In Savannah, Georgia I met Vaughnette Goode-Walker, a fellow dredloc sister, writer/author, poet, and local historian with deep Georgia roots who lives on her ancestral land. I stayed three nights in her Airbnb guest room. Since she wasn’t feeling well enough to take me on her walking tour, Footprints of Savannah – A Complete Story of Slavery in Savannah, she recommended Dr. Amir Jamal Toure’s Day Clean Soul tour the day after I arrived.
Vaughnette and Jamal are captivating and seriously learned about African American history in Georgia (and elsewhere) and of the Gullah Geechee Nation. Vaughnette organized the June 9th Juneteenth Lecture Program at the Telfair Museum in downtown Savannah where I heard Emory Shaw Campbell, the keynote speaker. Mr. Campbell is a community leader among the Gullah people—African Americans who live in the coastal low country regions from North Carolina to Florida. Prior to this trip my portal to the Gullah was the 1991 film, Daughters of the Dust. Happily, I am learning much more about their cultural heritage.
In Charleston, South Carolina I stayed in the Airbnb guest room of Arianne King-Comer, another kindred spirit and dredloc woman who is a true “Indigo Child” and a long-time brilliant indigo and textile artist. During my five nights there she worked on several pieces of ‘wearable art’ for the Smithsonian. She will deliver one hundred pieces by this July.
- Saturday, June 11th
I attended Charleston’s 19th Annual Middle Passage Remembrance, a ceremony of three-and-a-half hours at Sullivan’s Island, South Carolina, a major port site where first Africans were imported and many, along the way, died in the Atlantic Ocean. I may overuse the word, but ‘DEEP’ is the mantra I’m sticking to for this missive.
Getting out of the car, I meet Sufia Giza and her flute-playing husband, Baba Seitu. Holding a door open to the Fort Moultrie Visitor Center, where the indoor part of the ceremony was held, was Osei Terry Chandler, a long-time radio host and producer, a presider of the event and one of the founding board members of the International Coalition to Commemorate African Ancestors of the Middle Passage (ICCAAMP).
After I take my seat the guest speaker, Ann Chinn, was introduced and my pilgrimage research became validated in a wholly unexpected way. Ann Chinn is on the Board of Directors for the Middle Passage Ceremonies & Port Markers Project, Inc. (MPCPMP). She talked about MPCPMP and showed pictures of their latest ceremony. Incredibly, in the research I’d done for the past two years I had not come across MPCPMP. MPCPMP is now an additional pilgrimage resource, alongside the Transatlantic Slave Trade Database which sparked this pilgrimage.
- Sunday, June 12th
A community activist, like so many of the people I met, my Airbnb host, Arianne King-Comer is part of an art collective of local African American artists. I visited their current exhibit, The Holy City: Art of Love, Unity & Resurrection, in downtown Charleston. It pays homage to the first year anniversary of the nine African Americans who were massacred June 17, 2015 while praying inside Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in downtown Charleston, just a few blocks from the exhibit.
I am astounded by the love-grief displayed by numerous multi-generational artists. In addition to Arianne King-Comer, I was fortunate to meet two more contributing artists, Torreah “Cookie” Washington and Georgette Sanders. The exhibit opened June 1rst and runs until July 17, 2016. There will also be a limited print edition of the exhibit. If you have people in South Carolina, let them know. More on the exhibit later, but two words? VERY DEEP.
- Tuesday, June 14th
On Chalmers Street in historic downtown Charleston I walk on what I now know (thanks to Jamal’s Savannah, GA tour) are ballast stones laid by enslaved Africans during the colonial era. These stones were used as weight for ships when they were empty or nearing empty of cargo (including Africans). I’m walking where first Africans undoubtedly walked, headed toward the Old Slave Mart Museum where I will soon meet Ista Clarke, a young man who works there. In later conversation, he describes his ethnicity as “mixed heritage”. When I ask how he can work here day after day, he sagely responds, “How can I not?”.
I am thankful for his gentle rebuke, reminding me of how imperative it is for Black folks to show up and remember; and for everyone else to show up and recognize the truth that repercussions from three hundred-fifty years of slavery’s oppression are still relevant in the 21rst century.
The museum exhibits are in the center of an actual preserved slave mart. Just five or six steps from the street entrance places you in the space where captured and enslaved Africans were auctioned and sold. That space now contains displays of a bolder truth in words, historic pictures and artifacts, and displays with facts and statistics. Harsh truths, startling facts, and thank goodness, thoughtfully placed Kleenex boxes. I have read a lot of books and seen PBS specials about America’s brand of enslaving Africans. Being in the Old Slave Mart Museum is the first time I’ve been in a public space to witness a fuller version about the commercial institution of slavery. This exhibit is not for the faint of heart. And I could nitpick about the narrative of some displays but overall, the exhibit’s story line is disturbing, as the truth often is.
My feet move freely to stand in front of used whips, metal wrist and ankle restraints, metal and wood neck yokes, and a branding iron. I have only seen illustrations and photos in books and movies of these manmade devices and of those horrific iron bits (fashioned after horse bits) used on African mouths as a form of punishment. These terroristic instruments were used daily and routinely in coffles, slave marts, and by slave owners throughout the almost four hundred years of enslavement of Africans.
With only a thin shield of Plexiglas separating me from the suffering energy still emanating from each restraint or coiled whip, reaching a state of grace seems impossible. I will slow tears to drop instead of full-on weeping. Unleashed, a pool would form to try and dissipate rising anger mixed with sorrow.
Then I remember Maya Angelou’s numerous interviews in which she states in various ways, “…what humility does for one, is it reminds us that there are people before me. I have already been paid for. And what I need to do is prepare myself so that I can pay for someone else who has yet to come, but who may be here and needs me.”
I remember the purpose of my pilgrimage is to, yes, acknowledge the suffering of first Africans to these shores, and more so, honor their passage, offer thanks to their being. I came to bow down, welcome, and hopefully, receive blessings.
So, standing before historic artifacts of terror, I ask for release from emotions that cannot serve my purpose. Sorrow and anger can inform but not overshadow the light energy I offer walking in ancestral footsteps.
Taking pictures inside Charlestons’s Old Save Mart Museum is not allowed, however, their website has a few. I wish I had had the presence of mind to verbally record some of the museum’s written displays on my hand-held digital recorder. I console myself knowing that the information here is also in published research and accessible online.
If you think you know about America’s brand of enslaving Africans, please get thyself to the Old Slave Mart Museum on 6 Chalmers Street in Charleston, SC. It will DEEPLY blow your mind and expand neuron synapses.
After almost two hours in the museum I resume a conversation with Ista Clarke. He mentions Joseph McGill of the Slave Dwelling Project. I first heard of Joe McGill through Arianne King-Comer. Reminiscent of the Underground Railroad tour experience where people stay at preserved Underground buildings, visitors stay in actual slave dwellings. McGill’s focus is to preserve America’s slave dwellings and their stories.
- Sunday, June 19th
I am en route to a port site in Edenton, North Carolina. The night before I’d read numerous reviews for Airbnb rooms and brand name hotels before choosing the Granville Queen Inn. I am gratified to meet the proprietor and B&B innkeeper, Robert Beasley. He and his wife, Eula, purchased the Inn last year. Robert Beasley grew up in Edenton, left for better life options, made good as an electrician and became affiliated with a national electrician organization.
Mr. Beasley is soft spoken with an easy-going demeanor and unassuming air. But I am not fooled. As the African American owner of a seven-bedroom historic mini-mansion set in a quaint historic residential district he is certainly the proverbial son come home.
Mr. Beasley’s presence reverberates, revitalizes, and tilts the energy away from the narrowly preserved colonial and Confederate history toward the ongoing expansion of African American history which entails remembrance of the first Africans who set foot on these shores and of the many whose bones are buried in the Atlantic Ocean.
Can you see the serendipity as I sojourned?
Folks and organizations have been on task long before my journey and I am grateful.
To all persons I had the pleasure of meeting on this first leg of my pilgrimage (the named in this blog and all the unnamed persons, from airplane seatmates to curious cashiers and the woman in the parking lot at Penn Center on St. Helena Island, SC):
Thank you for what you do, for asking about my purpose in your lands, and for treating a sojourner kindly. As I write my travel memoir I’m sure I’ll reflect on meeting each of you.
Soulful and peace-filled love and thanks to family and friends for your thoughts, prayers, and meditations for my well-being while on the road.
As I approach my sixtieth trip around the sun, full moon love to my husband who understands my desire for evolution.
Humbled by this first leg of pilgrimage to trans-Atlantic ports which delivered my African ancestors, I am enriched beyond all measure.
I am also poised to continue the journey, to learn, to honor, to welcome, and give thanks.
And so it is, Ashé (ah-SHAY).
Until next time –
Let the beauty you love be what you do. There are a hundred ways to kneel and kiss the earth. – rumi
Tuesday, June 28, 2016, Greater Twin Cities Area, Minnesota
 Conversation with Maya Angelou by Marianne Schnall, 2008. http://www.feminist.com/resources/artspeech/interviews/mayaangelou.html
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