Centuries after their ancestors were freed, the descendants of slaves from a plantation in Mississippi came face to face with the descendants of their family’s plantation owner in a rare meeting, the Guardian reported.
The Prospect Hill plantation was founded by a veteran named Isaac Ross in the early 1800s. Ross migrated from South Carolina and brought hundreds of slaves along with him. Amongst those who Ross brought to Mississippi were slaves who were brought over from Liberia, slaves who were unwanted by other owners in the U.S. and freed African Americans who fought with him in the Revolutionary War who would eventually own land in the area.
Although the individuals who were owned by Ross endured the perils of enslavement, he did things out of the ordinary for a slave owner which included ensuring that they were literate by providing them with reading and writing lessons and unprecedentedly adding the slaves to his will. In Ross’ will he noted that he wanted the plantation to be sold and that the funds from the plantation should go to individuals who wanted to immigrate back to Africa.
Isaac Ross Wade—Ross’ grandson—opposed the plan in his will and did everything in his power to prevent the slaves from gaining their freedom. He was ultimately seen by slaves as a threat and they organized an uprising in efforts to get rid of Ross’ grandson but were unsuccessful. Twelve slaves were murdered for participating in the revolt, reports the source. Nonetheless, the slaves ended up gaining their freedom after an 1845 Supreme Court decision gave them the opportunity to move back to Africa. Nearly 200 slaves made the trip, but some decided to stay at the Mississippi plantation.
Like all plantations across the country, Prospect Hill harbors a very dark and complex history. However, the descendants of the slaves and slave owners who participate in the series of meetups held at the plantation say that although the experience is surreal, the gatherings serve as an opportunity for them to delve deeper into their family histories and have meaningful conversations.
“In this country, we have so much division, black, white and what have you. And things like this, if it’s put out there where you can see it, it will let people know you can have unity regardless of what happened 150 years ago. It was a rare opportunity for everyone,” James Belton, a descendant of one of the Prospect Hill slaves told the Guardian. Charles Greenlee, who is a descendant of the former slave owner, said that although the gatherings evoke strong and sometimes uncomfortable emotions the experience brings forth crucial conversations. “We are so intertwined in ways we don’t even know, and it tends to get lost because it’s not talked about,” he told the Guardian.
The reunion was hosted at a house that had been passed down through generations in the Wade family. Jessica Crawford, Southeast Regional Director for The Archaeological Conservancy, is working to have the structure restored and used as a place to host conversations about race. “There’s so much potential here, and so much willingness to see it become a place that brings people together to confront an uncomfortable past,” she told the Guardian.
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