I am of a generation that had only a cursive look at American African history via grade-school textbooks penned from Eurocentric perspectives. However, you're never too old to learn about one's history, or -- regardless of your ancestral/ethnic/national/racial backgrounds -- others' history. I learned through choked-back tears during Motherland Connexions' riveting tour that the complex history of enslaved African people in America -- wherein was developed an extreme form of institutionalized slavery called "chattel slavery" -- canNOT be extricated from American history. That most of my ancestors' brown, latte, tan and ebony bodies were traded for sugarcane (to create rum), spices, tobacco and cotton -- regardless of those ancestors' ages, from babies to adults -- makes me wince in psychic pain. That I am a biological alchemy of African-European-Indigenous ancestry (learned from oral history and proven scientifically through multiple DNA tests) long had created psychological conflicts (inner turmoil) due to love/hate of conquered/conquerors (i.e., Africans and Indigenous Americans raped, tortured and forced to labor without pay by English, Dutch, French, Spanish and Portuguese perpetrators of crimes against humanity). After decades of feeling shame, and being shamed, about my Blackness -- really, my Africanness -- I decided to confront the madness by reading all the books that my wonderful older brother had recommended and to begin taking excellent tours into American African history, such as Motherland Connexions' Underground Railroad Heritage Tour.Led by the charismatic tour guide and history-lover, Kevin C. in head-to-toe debonairness, the tour encompasses Pan-African history, economy and cultures so that we tour participants could comprehend the realities far back before the Underground Railroad concept -- which, as Kevin explained, was labeled much later, else the secret missions would have been discovered and ended.I appreciated how the tour was structured: beginning at the Underground Railroad Heritage Museum, to give us an overview via fascinating art, stereoviews, daguerrotypes, postcards, and myriad interactive films and exhibits. My mind was blown as I watched the precision dinner service at The Cataract House in Niagara Falls, N.Y. -- not only because of the sharp, militaristic movements but the clandestine coding that afforded enslaved Black persons their escape. As I would discover through tour guide Kevin's enthusiastic historical interpretations and narratives during this multilayered tour, timing was the key to one's escape. I wondered if the phrase "giving him the slip" dated back to the Underground Railroad or at sometime during the two centuries prior. After all, the year 1619 is the first so called "recorded" history of chattel slavery in the Americas. Remember and lest never forget: the Triangular Slave Trade, the Middle Passage, and all of the slave ports and slave markets -- some of which survived and which are grim tourism sites today). Whereas longtime travel host and tour guide writer Rick Steves got bubbly over the grand edifices of Dutch banks with ne'er mention of HOW the Dutch West Indies Company reaped in beaucoup dollars off the blood, sweat and branded and raped bodies and violated spirits of African and African-descended people FOR CENTURIES, tour guide Kevin C. is effervescent in delivering the truth of this crudely shrewd business of atrocity and annihilation.While, yes, abolitionists of many stripes helped bring chattel slavery in America to an end, I am most thankful to my direct yet distant ancestors who sacrificed their lives and who built this nation (the U.S. -- and other countries in the Americas) without pay but with much creativity and ingenuity, and who tried their best for decades to locate and reclaim kin from plantations far and wide ... always at risk of recapture.Two pivotal moments in this most excellent tour (date: 10/13/2021) for me were: standing riverside in Lewiston, New York, at the precise point where men manning ferryboats carried enslaved Black people across the Niagara River to Freedom. I leaned down to feel the grass and wanted to descend contemporarily built wooden steps so that I could dip my fingers in that historic river. Perhaps one day soon, in summer, I'll stay in accommodations in quaint, lovely Lewiston so that I could sail on that river.Lastly, the other very moving moment -- the pinnacle of the tour, for me -- was our non-rushed tour of the McClue Farm, which is the site of Murphy Orchard. The town: Lockport, New York. In "the boonies," as Kevin C. said beneath his dapper top hat. The McClue Farm's barn and magnificent brick farmhouse look as they did centuries ago. It was no cliche that we had stepped back in time! The orchard smelled sweetly of recently harvested fruit. Fruit trees were all around the property and in the distance was (is) a creek through which enslaved Black people waded and walked through in nightfall, risking drowning, bites by snakes and rats ... and capture by bounty hunters. As the late farmer-entrepreneur Cathy Murphy reminded us via her video documentary that she narrated not too many years ago (Ms. Murphy passed away five or six years ago): Enslaved people traveling through the creek waters couldn't even risk crying out from pain, lest attract attention and be caught. ... Seated in the antique barn's eerie ambience while I watched the poignant video of less than 20 minutes' duration, I silently wept behind my glasses and couldn't care less about the dustiness and faint smell of the original chestnut wood beams in the dampness of recent rain. Before and aft' the video, Kevin C. carefully escorted us 'round the barn's interior, and I could feel the souls of enslaved people who were hidden by the McClues more than 12 feet beneath a patch of barn floor that would have been covered with hay. Down there in a stone-walled "room," the transient "visitors" received subsistence, blankets and lifesaving shelter on this "stop" along the Underground Railroad -- itself an intricate system of paths from Up South to the North Country (Eastern Canada, especially the province of Ontario). I bent down to touch the stone around the escape hatch, and then I stood back up to feel the barn's chestnut wood columns. That definitely gave me a tactile experience of a historical space where, at least overnight, runaway enslaved Black people lived. (After all, they had to press on until they could be ferried across to Canada or driven across the bridge after being hidden beneath coverings on a horse-led coach.) Both sadly and rejoicedly, I contemplated my ancestors' varied fates. Musing about my own DNA test results and the population tracking that shows settlement of certain groups of ancestors in and around London, Ontario; and in larger numbers in the Canadian provinces of New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island; and Nova Scotia, I was deeply moved. Kevin C. is generous in answering tour participants' questions. So, when I informed him of my part-Gullah and Geechee heritage (I was raised eating and cooking Lowcountry cuisine for years before my maternal grandmother surrendered to my litany of questions, especially about where our obsession about Red Rice, wild rice -- all rice -- came about), he educated me and all of us as follows:
Gullah-Geechee people of the South Carolina Sea Islands and the Georgia Sea Islands were brought by British Loyalists.What an amazing, multifaceted tour experience! What a fantastic, and quite bubbly tour maestro! Merci beaucoup, Monsieur Kevin C., et laissez le bon temps rouler!!!