Growing up in New England, the South was the bad guy. Those bad, bad slaveholders, which they were, who pilfered the lives of other human beings.
I never thought about my historic New England neighbors who made the masts and built the ships for snatching slaves from African shores (I’ve learned that the term enslaved people is preferable to slaves).
That’s what a Southern author went on about in a book I bought on my first trip south, to Murfreesboro, Tennessee, more than twenty years ago. Sharing that modicum of slave-holding responsibility was eye-opening to my high school students (I liked to make them think).
Earlier this month I spent more than a week in Savannah, Georgia, with Maine friends, and in Charleston, South Carolina, with my daughter. It was time to visit southern history.
Spreading the responsibility for the inhumane, greed-induced economic institution of slavery doesn’t make it any less wrong.
And no group is homogenous, as we tend to label with ease. Not even slaveholders.
Take the Grimke sisters, whose story inspires and terrifies in the historical novel, “The Invention of Wings” by Sue Monk Kidd.
Last Saturday, my daughter and I took a Grimke Sisters tour around Charleston, South Carolina. Our excellent guide grew up in Charleston, but until adulthood hadn’t heard of the sisters who grew up in a slaveholding family and at a young age disdained the South’s “peculiar institution.”
I knew very little about the South, except that eating at Mrs. Wilke’s Boarding House in Savannah was a must.
I didn’t know that the first Underground Railroad “station” prior to the Civil War was in St. Augustine, Florida, a Spanish-Catholic colony.
I didn’t know that Georgia’s founder Gen. James Oglethorpe prohibited rum, Catholics, lawyers, and slavery until 1750, when he returned to England following his silk plantation’s failure.
I didn’t know that Savannah’s First African Baptist Church was built by freed African-Americans and slaves, who were given permission by their plantation owners to walk three miles, helping to erect the original church in 1773.
I didn’t know that more historical plaques exist in Savannah and Charleston than in New England, or for that matter, anywhere else I’ve been.
I didn’t know that I would witness throngs of folks getting their photo taken in front of a Confederate statue or flocking into the Daughters of the Confederacy building.
And so much more…to be continued.
One thing I do know, now I’ve visited all fifty states!