We often say in jest that we are going to the plantation when we really mean going to work. But a few years ago, construction workers of a new science and technology building at Savannah State University found signs of human remains.
A new discussion began about the fact that this place was a plantation, the Placentia Plantation, located in between Thunderbolt and Skidaway Road in Savannah.
The construction workers studied the dirt, and officials decided that though the “Colored Cemetery” was located somewhere in approximately 2.5 acres of the 700 acres where hundreds of men, women and children of enslaved people were buried here. There weren’t visible cemeteries on campus.
Some of us prayed for a resting place.
On Thursday, June 13, 2019, President Cheryl Davenport Dozier called together the community’s elders, ministers, professors, staff and groundsmen and women to pay homage to the enslaved people who toiled in the rice fields for hundreds of years before they were freed. She created a memorial garden. The garden is situated on the academic quad between Asa H. Gordon Library and the Sciences and Technology Building.
As far as we know, she is the 13th permanent president at the university and she created this type of official memorial for the first time. The Georgia Assembly created the Georgia State Industrial College to Colored Youth in 1891.
Thirteen other burial sites at churches, plantations and family memorials are located across Georgia are advertised. Last fall, some students at the University of Georgia wrote a resolution asking for officials to honor the enslaved people and to create a memorial there.
Perhaps, some of the descendants of Placentia’s plantation were present with alumni, friends and newcomers during the ceremony for the memorial. They lifted up a libation. They recognize that are able to study in a place that enslaved people could not. It was unlawful.
Other voices rang out: Elder Kwabena Bernard Jones, the Rev. Matthew Southall Brown Sr., Asiaunnya Bryant, Otis S. Johnson, Amir Jamal Toure, Peggy Blood, Ian Sainvil, Jessica Marsh, Andrew Okordudu, Clyde Newton, Nazil Compaore, Carolyn Vann Jordan and the Rev. Bernard Clarke. They shared inspirational words.
Dozier knew that some of us recognize the importance of history and the importance of speaking words for those of us who survived the Transatlantic African Slave Trade in the Middle Passage. Those of our ancestors were strong people, who built the pyramids and building this country. Some of us have been to the “No Return” at the shores of Ghana, Senegal, Nigeria and we’ve promised to return home to the Americas. The Sankofa, a Ghanian symbol, shows the importance of reaching back, gaining knowledge and giving it back.
I stood in gap holding a plaque of Sankofa, a picture of a bird looking backward, as our students Okordodu and Compaore shared how grateful they are that they are able to travel across the world to attend college on the site of a former plantation.
We heard the drums. Felt woven fabric. And, prayed again.
And, in unison, the group surrounded the palm trees and bushes around the mediation bench, and announced, “Aye,” a statement in Swahili in agreement.
On the Plaque: “This memorial garden is dedicated to the memory of enslaved African Americans labored and died on the 700-acre rice Placentia Plantation that was established in the eighteenth century, between the town of Thunderbolt and Skidaway Road in Savannah. The exact location of“colored graveyard” is not known, but it is believed to have been in this vicinity.This garden is in memorial to the enslaved families who were prohibited from learning to read and write but had hopes and dreams of freedom, equality, justice and education for future generations. It is fitting their final resting place is now an institute of higher education.
This article originally appeared in The Savannah Tribune.