Once I made it into the lobby of the Richmond Marriott, the first person I met was the coordinator; I wish I could remember her name. She assured me that I had nothing to be nervous about, and that I would be surround by a bunch of “fun old people” (Her words not mine).
The bus came and we were all set to go. I knew that I was probably going to be the youngest person on the bus… and more than likely the youngest attendee at the conference but I didn’t care because I was there… exploring and doing something that i loved to do.
The tour was set to take us to the Shirley Plantation and the Berkley Plantation. I had never been to a real plantation before so this was an interesting adventure for me. The twisting and bumpy roads were long and filled with trees. I kept looking out of the window imaging what it would have been like to attempt to navigate through those trees in the dark to find freedom. While the scenery was beautiful it made for a bittersweet canvas of art.
We arrived at the Shirley Plantation; and as soon as we turned onto the dirt road I felt it. That lump that you get in the back of your throat along with the feeling of anxiousness mixed with over a hundred other different emotions. We passed beautiful stretches of land but then I realized that I was on an actual plantation. The rows of crops that had been planted began to show themselves. Then a field of cotton emerged flowing as far as my eyes could see. I was in such amazement that I could barely get my camera out fast enough.
There were so many miles between the fields and anything that even resembled a building like structure. There had to have been at least ten to twenty miles in between… Then we turned onto what I like to call “plantation road”. You know that scene that they show in almost every slavery movie? That long road surrounded by trees as far as you can see? There it was, right in front of me, in real life! Its one thing to see something on television or in a movie but when its right in front of your face and you can’t help but have the impact of the reality hit you… It hit me hard.The plantation was huge but the main house was a lot smaller than I had imagined. I guess I’ve watched one too many movies on the subject and expected a larger estate. Compared to your average three bedroom home of today it wins hands down. Sadly we weren’t allowed to take any photos of the inside of the house. What amazed me more than the exceptional condition of the house was that the owners of the home and plantation STILL lived there. Currently they live on the second floor and basement and leave the main level open for tourism.
The grounds of the plantation were beautiful and the house backed into the James River… Close enough to dive in
The tour was split up into two groups, the first group set off to tour the grounds of the plantation. (I.E. The stables, smoke house, ice house, kitchen, etc.) while the second group toured the actual house. I was apart of the second group…
Stepping into the doors of that house made me feel like a part of history. The doors were closed behind us and for a second I felt a little uneasy; my eyes darted around and took in every sight from the paintings on the walls to the heating vent on the ground. Everything inside was so amazing… Touring the grounds was an experience of a different kind. While the weather was great and the scenery was just as complimentary as I toured about i began to feel guilty. Guilty that my ancestors; some of whom lived on plantations just like this never had the option to feel this soil under their feet as a free person. Never had the opportunity to gaze upon the river in awe and have a chance to take in the view. However the longer I walked the more my guilt turned to pride and enveloped a sense of strength. It is because of the strength and perseverance of my ancestors that I am here today and I admire and appreciate their sacrifices….
TO BE CONTINUED…