Last week five persons from BSK had the privilege of journeying to Virginia for an educational experience with Baptist News Global. The theme was “Hidden in Plain Sight,” a journey that took us on the historic path least traveled in Colonial Williamsburg and Richmond, Virginia. Baptist News Global organized this event to specifically highlight aspect of history that have gone unseen or have intentionally been covered up.
BSK student Leigh Anne Armstrong shares a glimpse into her experience during the week. She says, “The truth brought home to me on this trip was how easily (at times purposefully and at times almost thoughtlessly) the dominant civic culture, from city planners to business leaders to preservation foundations (irony!), cover over the memories they don’t care to remember. This may have happened through actual destruction of sites and artifact evidence, or by the lack of representation where the history of a country is told.” All our eyes were open as saw first-hand the hidden locations of slave schools for children, lynching trees, auction blocks and unmarked graves. It was haunting and humbling to stand on at hidden historic sites like Lumpkin’s Jail where thousands of slaves were imprisoned in the basement of the white wealthy family home who hosted parties with slave traders and plantation owners.
There were several educational insights that resonated with the group. BSK student Haydn Primrose expands upon the horrifying truth about the transition from American seventeenth century indentured servitude to life-long slavery. He states, “I didn’t realize that they were originally brought here as indentured servants. I had thought that they were always brought as slaves. That this was a huge bait and switch. Come work for a set number of years, and you’ll be free in America…which turned into come work for the rest of your years, and you’ll always long to be free.”
Truth about our American history was revealed in new ways, ways that have left a mark on all participants who came to the event. Many left the experience with similar feeling to Primrose who says, “it was a great experience that was made richer through hearing how those who are black today still live under the history of slavery.” The trip was not only impactful on how we now see history but how we see and build relationship today. How we see the past changes how we live in the present. Armstrong shares how her experience on this trip “was rich in new relationship and revelation, in tough moments and wondering how best to come alongside the hurting, and in the chance to recommit myself to the promise that every person gets to tell their story.” May this promise resonate within all of us who chose to open our eyes and see whose story and experience is hidden in plain sight.
Rev. Erica Whitaker is the Associate Director of the Institute for Black Church Studies at BSK. She is a Ph.D. candidate at the International Baptist Theological Seminary in Amsterdam.