By Rev. Dr. Leslie Copeland-Tune
There’s something especially cruel, horrific even, about a breaking plantation…as if slavery itself wasn’t cruel enough. You see, breaking plantations are where they sent the slaves who kept trying to run away. On the grounds of this one where I’ve spent the last week, is a sign: “Whipping Post & Magnolia Tree,” marking the space where the enslaved people were beaten into submission.
Or, so they thought.
Honestly, when I arrived, I looked around and texted a friend expressing my doubts about the place. I told her that I didn’t think I was going to be able to stay here for a week. The facilities are nice enough but there’s nothing around us, I texted. A city girl on a plantation is just not a good look.
And, the remnants are everywhere, it seems to me.
The ground is unapologetic and unforgiving. It gives testimony to the bygone era and demands to be recognized. Cotton bursts through the ground and taunts me: Somebody’s gotta do some pickin’!
To which my soul shouts back, Our pickin’ days are over!
The resistance of my ancestors lives in me.
Looking out across the expansive plantation the trees are mostly around the perimeter with large open spaces. Nowhere to run. No way to escape. These are the thoughts that capture my attention. How would they get out of here?
Then there is that tree. The tree that is stripped bare. No leaves. Split on one side. Stripped of so much that once hinted at its full majesty. This tree stands out to me. This tree is haunting me and pulling on my spirit, begging to be noticed, asking me to pay attention to it. Did a strike of lightning seal its fate? Or, was it something else? For some reason, I can’t help but wonder if someone was lynched here. Somehow, that’s what I see when I look at that tree. Letting me know that pain resides in its limbs and the blood of the slaughtered saturates its roots. But, still standing and commanding my attention.
There is a rhythm to the day here. And, the train reminds me of it and helps me to mark time. The train elicits the same response from me time and time again. “FREEDOM” rings in my ears. It seems to get louder throughout the day. FREEDOM is just through the trees. FREEDOM is calling and beckoning me. FREEDOM, O, Freedom! Freedom, O, Freedom! FREEDOM is near!
Is this what they thought about as the lash of the whip tore their flesh? Is this what crossed their minds as they toiled bent over in the fields picking cotton? Is this what they prayed about as day turned to night and night turned to day?
You see, there’s no way this place quieted or quenched the resistance in the spirits of those they brought here. I just don’t believe it. Fire kept burning in them and found new ways of living, surviving and growing because the fire would not die and they were not so easily broken. I can imagine that each attempt to break them only reignited the fire even deeper in their souls. There is no breaking us! Freedom, like fire, is shut up in our bones! We are still here! We will not be broken. We. Will. Not. Be. Broken.
YES! I know this for sure. Because the resistance of my ancestors lives in me.
Special thanks to Rev. Dr. Leslie Copeland-Tune for allowing Grace and Race Ministries, Inc. to share this thought-provoking reflection, which was originally posted on her blog Mondays At the Altar in May.