Travel Tuesday: Reclaiming History in Richmond, One Cousin at a Time

Me at Libby Hill Park in Richmond, VA. where the view is said to so closely resemble that of Richmond on the Thames in England that it gave the city its name. Along with a great view, the park boasts an enormous Confederate monument. Photo courtesy of Jane Feldman.

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.

My CTTT cousins and me at the Confederate Monument in Richmond, VA.

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7 thoughts on “Travel Tuesday: Reclaiming History in Richmond, One Cousin at a Time

  1. Dionne, beautiful article! I ditto Joseph regarding the poem you read during the talent night…powerful! I also appreciated our time together, shared past & look forward to our future healing. We are bonded for life Sistah!

  2. Hi Dionne,
    I love this article and this site and YOU! It was so great meeting you in Richmond, kindred spirit. Our quick little conversations about the complexities of being both children of the enslaved and slaveholders are still with me. But mostly I feel just sheer joy over having met you Sister girl! Let’s talk soon!

  3. Thankyou for the information shared. It must be very moving emotionally to be toegether. Was not aware the connection of “Richmond” to the location in England. Do hope to see further writings of your experience to this trip.

  4. Thank you, Dionne, for your beautiful post here, and for revealing one more obscured truth about the domestic slave trade in the U.S. It’s so important.

  5. What a wonderful experience you describe, wish I could have been there. I have reconnected with several descendants of slaveowner (who have helped me tremedously), and I feel much the same thing. We also call each other cousin.

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