One Plantation, Two Sets of Eyes

Two pilgrims reflect on their experience of Durham’s Pilgrimage of Pain and Hope, specifically on the visit to the Stagville Plantation.

The most significant part of this experience was visiting with people in my faith community an old plantation community that over the course of its existence held around 3,000 enslaved people. I also really enjoyed learning about people in the city’s history about whom I had not yet known. The most striking aspect in many of the stories was the theme of resiliency in the face of setbacks. It gave me a sort of hope that the circumstances and setbacks I feel in my own life can be overcome.

The experience of walking on that plantation as a black American woman unexpectedly caused me to long for lament over US slavery and its legacy in the lives of black and white people and in the collective conscience of all Americans. I did not expect to feel angry at the church of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries for its idleness and complicity when the Atlantic slave trade was booming. I did not expect to feel angry with God for allowing the slave trade to occur. But most deeply, I did not expect to feel weariness as I reckoned with the reality that although many strides have been made for the equity of black Americans, many indicators show us that there is still so far to go. We still have to cry “Black Lives Matter” to bring to light ongoing injustices in some of our communities, and when we did, we received tremendous pushback from many in the church. The pilgrimage as a whole, but especially the visit to the plantation, caused me to unexpectedly long for the American church to see clearly how the legacy of slavery is affecting us still and to repent from pretending that everyone is playing on a level playing field.

This pilgrimage reminded me that change is slow and sometimes arduous. Even though I am angry at the institution of slavery and its legacy, I can be hopeful because slavery as my ancestors knew it did in fact come to an end. Jim Crow and the terror of the KKK did come to an end. I left the pilgrimage with weariness in one hand and hope in the other. I am not sure I expected either.

—Vanessa Hines

 

I wandered through Stagville Plantation with unclear expectations. I had signed up to be a pilgrim, yet I had never been on pilgrimage. I had associated the word with an outward journey towards a place. Having lived in the Durham area for years, I wanted to experience the city’s history in a fresh and meaningful way. I wanted to know who had walked these streets before me, and what it means for me to walk them today. I wanted to be confronted with uncomfortable truths about my city’s past that slave quarters and museum displays would be all too willing to divulge.

Even so, I assumed that such revelations would remain outside myself, piercing the collective soul of Durham but evading my own. I have memories of being in Durham as a Duke undergrad that I am not proud of, yet I was not fully aware of how they are part of a larger consciousness of race and privilege that continues to wound the city today. While I have since awakened to these concepts intellectually, I did not realize that I harbored within me a reservoir of resulting pain that had been untouched for years.

I was lying on a pew in Duke Memorial Church when the waters began to surface. We were asked to reflect on how the story of Durham connects with our own stories and the story of God in Scripture. The red velvet cushioned my legs like a holy embrace as words of lament poured onto the pages of my journal. I have been a part of the violence in this place. Forgive me, Lord, for this trespass.

On this Pilgrimage of Pain, God moved me to repentance.

Yet tears can also be a sign of expectancy. In our surrender we are able to access new possibilities for the Lord to work. Over the Pilgrimage weekend, I came to see myself as a child who has finally given the Father more space to heal and transform myself and my city.

On this Pilgrimage of Hope, God moved me to restoration.

I now have eyes to see Durham not as a place to be feared or dismissed but rather as a place of connection and of life. The Father’s hands are in this city, welcoming his prodigal child back into his arms. Stay for awhile. Reconcile. Let me teach you how to be here with me.

—Katie Anderson

 

Read the full story from the Durham Pilgrimage of Pain & Hope here.

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