I was moved recently after reading an article titled “Down Blige Road” in Richmond Hill Reflections magazine. As “transplanted” African-Americans here in Richmond Hill, it helped us understand and get more insight into the pasts of other African-Americans who lived in, worked in and built this community.
It seems that, often, the people who have a deep history in a place don’t necessarily connect with the “transplants” who move into that same area. I think that, without any real way of getting the two together, the separation of the two seems as if it just “comes with the territory.” (Kind of like when we first decided to move here, and other African-Americans in the Savannah area told us, “Don’t move to Richmond Hill, because no African-Americans live there.”)
Yet, the article in Richmond Hill Reflection further opened our eyes to the rich history of people who looked like us and brought back some feelings of home.
Yes, they were like my typical African-American family, too. But sadly, like all African-American history, most of it has become forgotten history that never made it into our school history books. Unfortunately, we also understand why others believe no African-Americans live here.
The article talks about how, in the past, the need to segregate Africans from Native Americans for political control (land and property) created categories based on skin color. In fact, it was long-dead Dr. Walter Plecker of Richmond, Virginia, the first registrar of Virginia’s Bureau of Vital Statistics, starting in 1912, who forced Indians to classify themselves as black. Anyone who had what he thought was one drop of anything other than white blood was listed as “colored.”
At Unity in the Community, though, we are non-partisan at base. We understand, as African-Americans ourselves, the need for our history that has been forgotten to be brought more to light.
On that note, we thank Richmond Hill Reflections and the writer of this article, Leslie-Ann Berg, for being courageous in getting it published, and especially to the Blige family for opening up their hearts and telling beautiful stories of their ancestors to us African-American “transplants” here in Richmond Hill.
And though the article spoke of the Blige family conviction and how it was reminiscent of Edmond Burke’s saying, “People will not look forward to posterity who never look backward to their ancestors,” there is an older, often-forgotten African saying said simply as Sankofa, which means, “It is not wrong to go back for that which you have forgotten.”
Unity in the Community’s dream for this community is to continue the emergence of the rich history in the African-American community in this area by bringing all of the original families together for a family reunion festival. That way, African-American transplants here and in the rest of the community can hear the history that has not yet been written, going back for it before it is forever forgotten.
Butts and his wife, Sharon, are the co-founders of Unity in the Community and coordinators of Bryan County’s 2014 Unity in the Park Festival.