By Robin Foster
I just made it home from my first research trip as Co-Director of Lowcountry Africana.
I almost willingly succumbed to sleep, but after retiring, my mind kept wandering through the experiences over this past week. I left home with the purpose of serving and being of some use in the challenge of helping African Americans document ancestors.
Little did I know that I would run into documentation of my own family and meet people who actually knew and respected them. I discovered my great aunt, Virginia Vance Lemon and her husband, Rev. Isaiah Rip Lemon among the names in the 1940 Charleston City Directory while hunting. It always seems like a gift is always waiting to be discovered while helping someone else. I would have been satisfied on the first day of research, but other gifts awaited me.
I have always seen the great power of community in helping African Americans resolve problems and find healing. I am truly grateful for all that Drayton Hall does to include and connect to the descendants of former slaves. I am forever changed by the oral history and stories I heard this week. I realized that the stories do not have to be my own to feel fulfillment and healing.
This is so exciting to me because it means that those who have not been able to rediscover the stories of their ancestors for various reasons, may study the life of a person who perhaps lived in the same time period or location of an ancestor. I have resorted to researching contemporaries on many occasions, and I have found that experience very rewarding. I have also found clues which later led to documentation on my own ancestors.
My experiences this week revealed and instantaneously healed places within me that I did not know warranted intervention. I keep thinking about how much more free I will feel now. I am trying to ascertain how this will affect my decisions and interactions with others in the future. It will take much reflection yet to understand the crevices of my soul which are no longer marred by the heritage of slavery, but I wonder if any of that reflection is even necessary. I do know that I relish in the joy and the teardrops that fall like the first mist of refreshing rain. As my feelings swell within me, I realize that out of all the things that occurred this week, the over-arching theme was “Healing through heritage.”
It is so powerful to walk a plantation and to witness true friendship between the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners.
It is truly powerful to see them hug and hold hands.
It is truly powerful to walk among the graves of a sacred African American cemetery preserved in dignity.
It is truly powerful to see three generations of descendants of former slaves remaining true to their legacy and making a difference today in the community.
Fourth from Left: Rebecca Campbell and family clean the Johnson family plot at Lewis Christian Society Burial Ground, Charleston, SC; Sponsored by Preservation Society of Charleston
This thing we call “Heritage” encompasses our entire community. It did so long ago, and it must do so today to live on.