We’ve just returned from a trip overseas, to my home country of America. This time we were situated near the nation’s capital of Washington, DC, and spent some time exploring through Virginia, and Tennessee as well. Virginia and Tennessee are considered the South, and although Washington borders Virginia, it isn’t considered the south, even though it has benefited greatly from slavery. I wasn’t expecting to have the experiences or to have the illumination of America’s past, but there it was in full glory, obviously something I needed to know about.
A trip to Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello which is the plantation house on every nickel in the currency, proved to be very eye opening. Being from California, we have been removed quite a bit from the black slavery past in America’s beginnings. So heading into the Monticello was like stepping right into it. Thomas Jefferson was an early president of the USA and although he apparently had strong views about slavery being wrong, he inherited slaves like property, and only ended up freeing a small handful which historians now have put together that they were his illegitimate children with one of his slaves. Even for someone with wealth, power, and influence, he still wasn’t able to abolish slavery, could he have tried harder? Could he have changed it within his own plantation? The marketing material touched on how the slaves did have “good” lives all things considered, and had houses built that were as good, or better than the poor white people at the time. The houses were all aligned in a row so they were able to form a community within themselves. Over the course of Jefferson’s life he had a couple hundred slaves, and all I could think when I saw the bells down in the cellar area, was that they had been beaten into submission to spring up to a bell and ensure that the Jefferson household was always taken care of. The feels that swelled up in me when I read that they had better lives than most, made my stomach turn. These poor people who were captured and held against their will in order to serve their masters. They were separated from their families, they had not stability in that sense at all, and that makes me incredibly sad.
I was reading after that Sally Hemmings chose to return to Monticello after Jefferson had taken her to Paris as a slave nurse to his daughter, because in France slavery had already been abolished, because of the promise to free her children, children which she would bear later from Jefferson, and I find that to be a long stretch. I don’t know what it must have been like for Sally Hemmings but I can imagine that her will had been broken like so many other slaves, held against their will, and possibly her ideas of freedom had been distorted due to this. It’s all so sad to me.
After visiting the Monticello, with all it’s beauty and grandeur, I was left with the unmistakable grossness within me that realised all of it was possible because of the slaves, his status and wealth was only perpetuated because of that horrible system. I feel this in Washington as well after I became privy to the fact that the slaves were the ones who erected most of the monuments. They were forced to erect these monuments cherishing their oppressors. Gut wrenching.
White guilt came flooding into me, and I started to realise all of the broken families, all of the heaviness that the African Americans carry with them. Not knowing their origins, not knowing even which country in Africa they really came from, and having the pattern of slavery, even if just at a subconscious level that perpetuates from generation to generation.