I’ll be reflecting on our experiences Wednesday for a long, long time.
We made a pilgrimage to Assin Manso. This is where enslaved human beings were brought to a camp, beaten until they bled, washed in a river still in their chains, shined up with shea butter, sold, and then marched to Elmina or Cape Coast Castle.
Most enslaved people came from the northern regions. They were marched, shackled and naked, over 300 miles to this spot. The town, Assin Manso, was the largest slave market. Along the way, their captors took the weakest and tied them to trees as bait so that animals would not attack the rest. Once they arrived at Assin Manso, they were inspected for injuries and illness. Those deemed too weak or sick for sale were tied to a tree. Some died, some escaped. Many people who live in the area today are descended from those who did not board the ships.
The site is treated as a sanctuary. Visitors are invited to take off your shoes and walk the holy ground where the ancestors walked. At the river, you are invited to commune with the ancestors and ask for their help.
We shared this experience as descendants of enslaved people and descendants of Europeans, possibly European captors. I hesitated to take off my shoes, then realized my English and Dutch ancestors might have been there as well.
At the river, when we were invited to ask our ancestors for help, I asked our guide, “What if your ancestors are white?” He said the most beautiful thing. He said Africans were both victims and perpetrators. Many Europeans were perpetrators, but some fought against this evil. He said, “Think of William Wilberforce. Think of people in your family who were good. Ask them for help.”
So I prayed with William Wilberforce. And John Woolman. And John Wesley. And with my grandmothers who were as good as they knew how to be.
On July 31, 1998, the bodies of two formerly enslaved people were brought through the door at Cape Coast Castle. The Door of No Return became the Door of Return. They were brought to this spot and buried here. Madame Crystal (right) was enslaved and taken to Jamaica. Samuel Carson (left) was enslaved in the US. Both now lie in rest here.
They are surrounded by a wall of Freedom Fighters, other descendants of enslaved Africans, who resisted evil and injustice in their own day and fought for a free life for others.
People of African descent who visit here are given an African name based on the custom of naming a child by the day of the week on which you were born. They are then invited to sign the wall of return to honor their ancestors who were forcibly taken from this place.
The wounds of slavery go very deep in our world, for descendants of both captives and captors. This place is a demonstration ground for healing. Healing happens as we remember and speak the truth. Healing happens as we right the wrongs. Healing happens as we reclaim for good places where evil occurred, like our pilgrimages in Diocese of Atlanta to place markers at sites where lynchings occurred. This place gives me some hope that the wounds can be healed.