Schooled by the Elders:

                               Things They Don't Tell Just Anybody

  Growing Up Gullah

    . . . and Other Southern Tales


                                                                                                      Read. . .


I Can Feel Ghosts
                 I was on a day trip with friends from Atlanta, Georgia, to Montgomery, Alabama, to visit the Legacy
               Museum and the Memorial Museum for Peace and Justice. A need arose within me to pull out my
               ever-present journal and write what I felt as I walked the long sidewalk from the entry gates to the
               hanging of steel monuments representing those who were known to be lynched in the United States.
               Just as present was the legacy of racial terror based on hate and ignorance by those who would kill.
               I started to write as I stared at a group sculpture at the beginning of the walk that depicted defiance,
               anger and fear of the chains around necks and bodies in all acts of being kidnapped. I felt . . . something.
               My breath caught at the back of my throat. Breathe. It was the same sensation I felt many years earlier
               when I was given an opportunity to visit the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, DC. I had to turn back.
               I could feel their ghosts. I have yet to visit the Vietnam Memorial.
               As I walked towards the hanging monuments, I wrote:
                                 I wondered if I would feel ghosts. I turned the corner into the
                              Memorial Museum for Peace and Justice and saw the statue
                              depicting an awfulness. I could not look away.
                                  I thought of why I could not share a moment at the Vietnam
                              Memorial in DC, because I can feel ghosts.
                              I step among the hanging of blacks, those lynched . . .
                              My breath is taken away . . .
                              I feel . . . I had to stop.
                              You do not feel it until you are in it, among the slabs of steel,
                              weighted down with the memory by the simple etching of a name,
                              a date, a place, knowing it is about death.
                                 Each hanging pillar of steel has a matching slab outside of the
                              memorial, waiting to be picked up and taken back to the county
                              of the killing, taking the name's memory back home.

                 As I walked alongside each monument, reading names, dates and locations, the floor began to slant
               down, on an incline, as the names began to rise above my head. Hundreds of lynchings. Too many
               monuments, row upon row with the names of only those known. The downward slant of the floor
               made the monuments rise as if I were at their deaths.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Near the exhibit end of monuments hanging above my head like bodies, I found the monument for
               Beaufort County, South Carolina. There is one name. I took a picture. I will send it to the mayor of
               Beaufort so he knows the matching monument needs to be taken home.
                 By Althea Sumpter    
               Photographs:  Althea Sumpter