Yesterday I took a trip to Richmond, VA, where I listened to two stories about life. The stories were very different and were a lot to process. I haven’t written anything on this blog for three months, I did not want to contribute to the cacophony of words which has devolved into a contest of bitterness and hate.
My trip yesterday helped me to understand a little more about the origins of our national division. In the morning, I listened to a VA scholar extol the virtues of Robert E. Lee and explain that Lee’s country was actually Virginia, hence the Confederacy, which justified all that he’d done. There were more words in his very academia-oriented talk but that’s my Readers Digest version. And, he notes, because Lee was a noble southern hero, the monument pictured below was a fitting memorial to him. The memorial was built in 1890. Slavery was not the reason Lee fought, the speaker said, rather his reason was Virginia. And other Confederate leaders were much like him. The speaker told us these statues were not put up because of Jim Crow activities, the timing was completely coincidental. I looked at the statue…I thought of the 360,000+ AMERICAN troops that had died because of him and others like him. And then I thought of the 258,000 southern troops that had died under his command. More Americans died in the Civil War than died in World War I, World War II, Korea, and Vietnam combined. Imagine the families they left behind.
That afternoon, I listened to the stories of African people who were snatched from their families and villages and then put on ships in tiny spaces, into a disorienting chaos of bodies crammed together: sweating, breathing, urinating, defecating in a space smaller than your bathtub… And, then the voyage ends and they are dropped off into horrible, dehumanizing conditions in Richmond at the Manchester Docks. Chained together, auctioned as chattel, treated as property, like a sofa or chair, or cow. I am reading Barracoon: The Story of The Last Black Cargo by Zora Neale Hurston and so my imagination was running in overdrive.
I was reminded at the end of the day, that these stories were about many things, but mostly, they were about human suffering. How true. I think the Civil War was an event that America has not recovered from psychologically, philosophically, or politically. Sadly, some people see this division as an opportunity to exploit emotions which continues the cycle of suffering. Slavery was in America since the birth of the nation and was a critical component of the economic development of our nation when it was young. The horror and terror of enslavement and the divisions in our country’s soul sparked the human tragedy of the war and the national acrimony in the century and half since it ended. I pray we find a healing path.