I recently read the book “Gather at the Table: The Healing Journey of a Daughter of Slavery and a Son of the Slave Trade” which, provided me insight to my research giving me ideas and new directions I could take but more importantly a very intimate portrait of two people on a journey together.
I will not go into a deep book review here, you can find plenty of those on Amazon but I do want to talk about why I read this book and what I hoped to gain from the reading. In the first third of reading I came across a quote, which struck me to my core, “An African proverb says: ‘You are not dead as long as someone remembers your name.’” (p.78) This project originally started out being called “They have names” as a way to give names and voices to those slaves who lived in St. Cloud, MN and were deprived of both. I have read and re-read this passage many times and I cannot get around how powerful one’s name is. Being able to not only have their names listed but constructing their stories, keeps them alive and weaves their story into our history in a more significant way.
The epicenter of my research is based in St. Cloud, MN-the least diverse place I have ever lived. However, the history of St. Cloud is both complex and messy, as it is with the US in general. Thomas DeWolf and Sharon Morgan went through a process of exploring the physical places where slavery took place and thus a psychological journey at the same time. They provided each other a safe space to explore, ask questions, and argue about the repercussions from the legacy of slavery.
Through reading this book I became more aware of the feelings I was dealing with as I research the slaves from St. Cloud. Confronting the existence of slavery in a free state is paradigm shifting and I had to confront my own notions of how I thought history had been divided and the reality so many lines being blurred. While some people were abolitionist’s they were, at the same time, complicit in the genocide of the Native Americans in the Minnesota Territory. Sharon expresses why this is such a difficult process, she says, “Injustice piled on injustice piled on injustice, over and over again, century after century, all over the world. I know we have to move on, but damn! It is hard-harder than anything I have ever tried to do.” (p. 88) This quote resonated with me because I feel like we have never reconciled as a country about these injustices and we, as a country, should accept our history as complicated as it was resiting the urge to sanitize it.