By MARSHA DEAN PHELTS, Florida/Georgia Star
The Inaugural Memorial Ceremony in recognition of the more than 2 million blacks who died at sea after being sold into slavery headed for the Americas was held on the International Day of Remembrance, August 23, 2012 at the Fells Point Pier in Baltimore, Maryland.
Here ceremonies at dawn and dusk were held in remembrance of those who perished at sea over three and a half centuries from the 1500-1870 period. The realization for a Memorial Ceremony of our African ancestors was a driving force that compelled Ann L. Chinn more than half of her life. Through research Chinn followed the path of 86 named and documented slave ships that made countless crossings that trafficked blacks through what has infamously become known as the Middle Passage.
Though thousands more slave/cargo ships plied the Atlantic crossing, however; Ms. Chinn’s project targets 175 known slave ports in North, Central and South America as well as the Caribbean and Europe where African slave labor developed the American Continents.
Until the Inaugural Memorial Ceremony at Fells Point, Maryland these unnamed human sacrifices by the millions had been forgotten in history. They were never honored nor had memorials been erected in recognition of their stolen lives. The seed of action for Remembering Ancestors was planted in Ms. Chinn’s heart, on her birthday, 39 years ago, February 1, 1973 during a phone conversation with her friend, Toni Morrison, 1993 Nobel Prize winning author. In their girl talk, Ms. Morrison lamented that she was haunted by the numbers of Africans who had died in the crossings of the Middle Passage and never ceremonially recognized. These two friends talked of our ancestor’s belief that without a burial they would never be reunited with ancestors.
Chinn recalled their conversation in which Toni stated, “There is no place where I can go, or where you can go, and think about, or summon the presences of, or recollect the absences of the ones that made the journey.There is no small bench by the road, there is not even a tree scored and initialized that I can visit, or you can visit, in Charleston, or Savannah, or New York, or Providence, or the Ohio River, or better still, on the banks of the Mississippi.”
This conversation along with haunting thoughts of the bones of millions who were tossed or desperately jumped overboard and 50 million more pitch black African people who were sold like livestock never left Ann’s consciousness, she had to do something.So Chinn began to call upon friends and scholars to develop a Middle Passage Ceremonies and Port Markers Project, Inc.
Honorary Board Members include: Charlayne Hunter-Gult, Chair; Shirikian Gerima, Michael Blakey, David Eltis, Vincent Harding, J. Fletcher Robinson and Randall Robinson. Advisory Board members include: Charles E. Cobb, Jr., Chair, Joanne Braxton, Teresa Doke, John W. Franklin, Faye V. Harrison, Lea Jefferson, Rudy Lombard, Brynda Johnson Moragne, Niani Colom-Omotesa, Bernice Johnson Reagon and Corey Walker.
The goal of the Middle Passage Ceremonies and Port Markers Project, Inc. is to work with locals and beyond to remember all who perished and those that survived the Middle Passage. Ceremonies and Historical Markers will be placed at each of the 175 ports in North, Central and South America, the Caribbean and Europe where our ancestors arrived to remember all who perished during those terrible ocean crossings, insuring that the broken circle of living and dead is repaired, and that we who are living are healed. Since the Inaugural Ceremony in August in Baltimore (where several from Jacksonville were in attendance) and Annapolis, the third Middle Passage Remembrance Ceremony for Ancestors at Sotterly Plantation on the banks of the Patuxent River in Southern Maryland was held on November 12, 2012.
In 2013 ceremonies for the four Middle Passage Slave Port Sites in Florida will be held in Pensacola, Fort Clinch on Amelia Island, St. Augustine and Key West known as the last Middle Passage Port where the cargo of mostly Angolan children died in passage. More next week.
“If the Atlantic were to dry up, it would reveal a scattered pathway of human bones, African bones marking the various routes of the Middle Passage. But those who did survive multiplied, and have contributed to the creation of a new human society in the Americas and the Caribbean It is a testament to the vitality and fortitude of the Africans that ten to twenty million lived through the heinous ordeal that many consider the greatest crime ever committed against a people in human history.” John Henrik Clarke.
Marsha Dean Phelts will be exploring the history of The Slave Trade in her indepth and thought provoking four part series. You’ll only find it right here, in the Florida and Georgia Star....Subscribe to our Print Edition!