Returning to the source to understand the importance of Juneteenth

Personal reflections of the slave trade locally and internationally mean processing a series of uncomfortable truths.
Reporter Steve Crump took a look back at the history of slavery to understand the importance of Juneteenth.
Published: Jun. 20, 2022 at 10:02 AM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - Survivors of American slavery are no longer among the living.

Personal reflections of the slave trade locally and internationally mean processing a series of uncomfortable truths.

More specifically, it means comprehending man’s inhumanity that began on foreign soil.

Fully understanding the importance of Juneteenth requires returning to the source.

The source for this reporter is colonial slave castles that once served as lockups for captured individuals being held against their will.

Against the backdrop of the Atlantic Ocean, lurking danger came from waiting slave ships docking at places like Ghana’s Cape Coast and Elmina Castles.

Cultural curiosity attracts visitors to these harrowing places complete with dungeons for the victims of mass human trafficking.

In 1995 a Sister Cities delegation from Charlotte went to West Africa and saw what the enslaved went through first-hand. Local attorney T. Michael Todd was part of the group.

“I’m glad to be here, because it brings up part of that missing past that you didn’t know about or couldn’t really appreciate. You have to be here to appreciate what happened,” Todd said during the visit to Ghana.

Sullivan’s Island near Charleston was a key destination for slave ships coming from Africa.

And in South Carolina published ads, downtown buildings and even metal tags identifying individuals who labored for free offer poignant flashbacks.

The late historian John Hope Franklin once told me how the enslaved lived by a different set of rules.

“You had laws against the movement of slaves, laws against the movement of free blacks, laws against the teaching of slaves to read and write,” he said. “No group of slaves four or five could be together unless a white person was present.”

Teachable moments penetrate the psyche by seeing the actual shackles worn during the transatlantic journey.

They’re part of the Henrietta Marie Slaveship exhibit that visited Charlotte prior to 2000.

Past inequities connected to such a riveting display pierced the emotions of Congresswoman Maxine Waters.

“I think it’s alright to feel anger.” Waters said. “I think it’s alright to feel as if you must be committed to work harder for justice and equality.”

Spending time in places where they lived also raises awareness.

As a journalist, I’ve toured the slave quarters at Wilmington, N.C.’s Bellamy Mansion, as well as a 19th century house in Richwood, Ky.

It’s where Margaret Garner lived before carrying out a well-documented escape.

As she was captured, the runaway killed her daughter. Newspaper accounts say Garner didn’t want her child returning to a life of bondage.

It was the bondage that began for so many on the shores of West Africa, where former Charlotte congressman Mel Watt expressed admiration for such a meaningful struggle.

“I think a lot of strength we draw from this soil and this very village, and looking out over the water that our forefathers sailed over,” Watt said in Ghana during 1995.

Seeing, touching and feeling the places where they survived not only brings a personal perspective, but it also enhances one’s understanding of American history.

Related: National Park Service recognizes SC town connected to landmark ‘Brown v. Board of Education’ case

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