The above picture was taken this weekend in Richmond, Va where I joined people from all over the country to participate in the first national gathering of Coming to the Table. CTTT is an organization that aims to address and heal the historical harms of slavery by bringing together the descendants of slaves and slave owners and, through our personal narratives, tell a more complete story of our country’s history. To get to historic Libby Hill Park overlooking the James River from the Richmond Hill retreat center where we were staying, our group of roughly 70 had to walk past the church where Patrick Henry famously proclaimed, “Give Me Liberty or give me death,” never minding that he owned slaves. We had to stand in the shadow of a monolithic statue of a Confederate Soldier that towered above us while we listened to the story of the city’s past.
The plaque that I’m leaning on explains how Richmond may have gotten its name. But what the plaque doesn’t say is that the area had belonged to Native Americans for thousands of years when Europeans arrived and that it was once the largest slave trading post outside of New Orleans. Before photographer Jane Feldman took this picture, our CTTT friends, the children of slaves, masters, and sometimes both, gathered for a healing ritual at this site. Could there be a more perfect place for us to acknowledge our complicated connection to each other as the descendants of both slaves and slave owners and try in some small personal way to heal the strain of that legacy while clasping hands, and calling the names of our ancestors out into the middle of our circle?
As a memento of our time together, CTTT member Chandler Dennis distributed a brilliant bumper sticker that read, “Creating Peace, One Cousin at a time.” (Whether we’re actually blood relatives or not, CTTT members often call each other cousins, because, in the big picture, we’re all related.) I’d like to think that more specifically, we’re reclaiming our history, one cousin at a time.
So, after our momentous weekend together, I’m motivated to spread the word and invite more people to the table. Bring your cousins.