Mount Vernon, the plantation estate of George Washington the first president of the United States of American, held the 26th Memorial Service for the hundreds of slaves who built and maintained the plantation. In addition, the ceremony honored African Americans who fought for the freedom of the U.S. Black Women United for Action, together with the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association and Howard University created the memorial, which now everyone gathers around once a year to shed light on those whose lives were captured by slavery and remember their contribution to the nation.
Families, tourists and veterans filled the seats all with their own story of slavery and freedom. Beneath a canopy of trees holding back rain, children called out the name of each slave while a drummer beat in between each name. A decidedly different twist in the story of countless slaves buried anonymously below on this hillside. Just as the broken pottery was thrown into the earth so to were the slaves who toiled for the success of Mount Vernon.
Who is Delia at the Mansion House age 14? Or, Molly who was by Washington when he died? Or Will who served Washington during the Revolution? Who were the people with no freedom? Who were the children who witnessed the violence perpetrated on their parents? Who were the children who then had children who were ripped from their arms and sold to another farm?
War heros whose names are known and unknown were also honored this year from the Revolutionary War forward. Many names are known but one gentleman in ghostly white appeared and spoke of the often nameless persons who fought for freedom from war but also slavery. “Who am I?” he said. “My name is not important. But what I fought for is… and that was freedom. Freedom for everyone. Remember that and you will know who I am.”
In 1619, twenty Africans arrived in Jamestown, Virginia as the story was told … they came to join forces with the New World for wealth and opportunity. Deceived, these twenty people from Africa became the first slaves. Massachusetts (in the North) became the first colony to legalize slavery. For almost 250 years, thousands of men, women and children were sold into forced labor across the United States of such horror words can barely begin to reveal the atrocities.
Even the founders of United States so eloquently writing and speaking for the freedom and equality of all had slaves at home, in their military regiments and in their expeditions. How is it that on one hand, one can write “All men are created equal.” while at the same time knowing their personal and national success was due to slavery.
Survival and persistence conquered evil. Belief in God and hope for a better future nurtured the spirit to continue. The Virginia State University Concert Choir sang, “My Soul has been anchored in the Lord, my Lord. Will you praise Him? Will you serve Him? Yes. My Soul has been anchored in the Lord.” As voice after voice lifted messages of hope, survival, freedom up to the sky, each slave young and old buried at Mount Vernon was given a little bit more light.
Closing the ceremony, the St. Andrews’s Legion Pipes and Drums, played “Amazing Grace.” As the bagpipes cried into the canopy of trees, one could smile knowing the song to be written by John Newton who was a slave trader himself. “Amazing Grace” revealed his conversion not only in faith but more importantly his view of slavery.
It takes one courageous person to say this anonymous burial ground at Mount Vernon is not right for those who toiled in slavery at the plantation of the first president of the United States. It takes one courageous person to say let us honor and recognize their contribution to the nation.
Revealing each name, revealing each life, brings light to those who toiled anonymously in slavery to build a nation and their contribution should be recognized and honored.
By Keri Douglas, founder and editor of 9MusesNews magazine, Washington, DC
Another perspective about the slaves, by the University of Maryland students who researched the history of slavery and published a report of their findings. Once again, as the students title the report, know your history.