On March 13-14, Outdoor Afro Charleston journeyed back in time to connect to the experience of enslaved Africans in America and to learn how they survived and endured by living off the land and close to the earth.
By Outdoor Afro Charleston Leader Porchia Moore
As the stars shined above us, our group gathered closer around the fire circle, building a warm community among each other. In the background we heard the gentle sounds of peacocks, crickets, and the restoring music of Sea Island Gullah spirituals. In these life affirming moments, we laughed, shared, and remembered our ancestors. And we experienced the beauty and power of connecting to nature and our history.
For the last two years, I had been wanting to participate in the Slave Dwelling Project, an organization who’s mission is to identify and assist property owners, government agencies and organizations to preserve extant slave dwellings. As a former resident of Charleston County, I had avoided the plantations because I felt that experiencing the space as a tourist and viewing the land as a place of entertainment would not be nurturing to my soul. While the beauty of these green spaces always called me, I could never fully connect because the tourism paradigm was incongruent.
When Outdoor Afro Leader Adrienne Troy-Frazier, in collaboration with the Slave Dwelling Project, organized an evening program at the Magnolia Plantation and Gardens, I knew this was a unique opportunity for my family. It offered a counternarrative with an inclusive perspective which was wholly inclusive to the struggle of my ancestors life on these lands. While the beauty of these plantations is undeniable, I wanted to connect with the land in a way that allowed me to respect their lives and celebrate how their survival inherently connects with my modern day vibrancy and successes–because of them I can!
Our experience at the Magnolia included many important traditions including sharing a warm dinner feast with family and new friends.
In addition, Joseph McGill, organizer of the Slave Dwelling Project lead us in creating and discussing oral histories. Through re-enactment and narrative, McGill discussed the history of the land and the Africans who worked there. As the fire dimmed, we said our good nights and headed to the dwellings, understanding that the reflections shared that night would blanket us in our sleep.
The next morning, we woke up exhilarated by the natural beauty, including the lush green grasses and the bright pops of blooming flowers. Our group did a nature walk around the grounds, taking in the swamp water cypress, moss and alligator. We also saw all of the large nests in the trees of migrating egrets and herons. It was not lost on me that the the reason that I and my sons could enjoy this brilliant greenery and vibrant wildlife was because of the stewardship of our ancestors.
As Adrienne closed the program, we read the names and micro biographies of abolitionists and freedom fighters, many of whom, had a connection to the Magnolia Plantation. Having spent the night in very bare, small spaces, knowing that enslaved Africans had slept each night on bare wooden floors as they worked the land made me appreciate how far we have come and how brave and majestic it is to come from such a people.
I left this Outdoor Afro event proud to be black. Feeling both free, magical, inspired, and honored to be a people who survived and who, even in bondage, connected with the land with the purpose of survival using their indigenous knowledge and skill to sustain their lives under these conditions and carry us all onward. The healing aspects of this outing were immeasurable.
Photos by Adrienne Troy-Frazier