“I think of the oft-touted phrase about being “the descendant of stolen people living on stolen land” meaning that I am indigenous, but not to this place. I am considered indigenous to land that has not been touched by my own ancestors for eight generations or more. My belly understands what it means that I could only be a guest in that place, as well as this one.”
Toni Morrison describes rememory as a thing :it is not the act of remembering, but the thing whose historical perpetual existence “out there, in the world” is non- subjective and indestructible. Pilgrimage in the footsteps of ancestors is a way many black people engage rememory of community and freedom
This is the fourth of four essays in July about the complexity of the relationships black people hold to land. This interview reflects the ways farming and gardening as a relationship to land has communal and social implications for black people, implications that are overlooked by the dominant culture and its policymakers.
Before there was Memorial Day, there was Decoration Day. Decoration Day is the American Day of the Dead, a ritual of consecration originating in the action of African-Americans who walked toward freedom, in gratitude. Decoration Day is an African American holiday dedicated to building acts of memory, justice and repair. It is the annual commemoration of a complex relationship we hold with the history of this land.
You got people here? is often the first question I heard when The Black Land Project spent last week in Macon County, Alabama. Our interviews focused on a region just south of Tuskegee called The Ridge, a series of small communities (Creek Stand, Warrior Stand, Roba, Hurtsboro) along a geological elevation of soil too poor for commercial farming, but rich in game and pine timber. The Ridge is a place where having people – knowing who you are in the lineage of this place — is how people define themselves.
Everybody across America now knows what many health and political figures have known since 2014: adults and children in Flint, Michigan are quickly being poisoned by water filled with lead. Many people are looking for someone to convict, to hold responsible or to blame.
What most people do not understand is how this disaster has happened
This week, the Black/Land Project will be conducting interviews and writing in Macon County, Alabama.
Macon County is home to many black land stories: enslaved African-Americans brought to clear and settle colonial Alabama, and their freedmen descendants (of which this writer is one); the HBCU Tuskegee University; and the black churches where people were rounded up for the infamous U.S. Public Health Syphilis study. Those stories exist at a crossroads, intersecting with homeland of the Mvskokie (Muscogee) Creek peoples. A classic novel of the Harlem Renaissance, Ollie Miss, is set in rural Macon County, where the Black/Land Project will be working.
Although the Black/Land Project uses narratives to understand the story of how black people self-define their relationships to land and place, we are not an oral history project. We are interested in oral narratives about the past and present because they help us to articulate the trajectory of black futurity.
This blog tracks the Black/Land Project through our travels. It shares themes from our interviews, and the questions we wrestle with about race, land and landscape, place-making and self-determination. In partnership with our Offerings page, this is where we share what we are learning.
Many black travel narratives focus on racism, ignorance or exotification. Other damage-centered stories focus on forced movement or displacement. When we only hear and tell these kinds of stories about black movement across land, we showcase narratives of black bondage. One impact of these narrow appraisals is it keeps black people in the same place, preventing us from experiencing the freedom that moving can also bring.