Ancestral Footsteps: Honoring Africans of the Middle Passage
Kim-Marie Walker's solo pilgrimage to historic U.S. transatlantic slave trade ports (17th - 19th Centuries)
Today’s 42 million Black/African Americans (descendants of enslaved Africans within U.S. boundaries) share genetic roots with a very small percentage of the 12.5 million Africans who survived the transatlantic crossing. I’m a descendant of at least one of those survivors of the inhumane Middle Passage.
The shuffle of shackled feet, pressing on ship planks to shoreline soils, forced marched to holding pens and slave markets, haunts and beckons me to make this pilgrimage. Their arrival upon these shores was not met with love or joyous welcome. As I trace the first footsteps of captive Africans on American soil, with my own, I’ll offer love and gratitude.
Like many before me I weep imagining their suffering. After surviving initial capture, the forced trek to West African ports and holding pens, and the Middle Passage, what reservoirs of spirit did they draw on? Arriving upon these shores traumatized, with battered ailing bodies and shocked psyches, how did they walk upright into the unknown?
As a globe trekker and geologist I know that when my feet touch the earth I connect to eons of powerful geologic and atmospheric maneuverings inspired by the cosmos. Did the ethereal energy of this new land creep into my ancestors’ heels and toes and rise, shin to spine, to offer a sliver of grounded calm, of endurance? Or, with each step, did their feet recoil searching for the rootedness of home?
I can only speculate about their will to survive.
On this sojourn I may or may not receive healing for the centuries-old genetic trauma ghosting my bones. And yet, I know that ‘place’ is an area that is defined by everything in it. In Beloved, Toni Morrison wrote “Places, places are still there. If a house burns down, it’s gone, but the place—the picture of it—stays, and not just in my rememory, but out there, in the world.”
In making this pilgrimage the place of historic U.S. slave trade ports and subsequent paths to holding pens and slave markets will help me honor and invoke the essence of these African survivors of the Middle Passage.
It feels necessary to make this pilgrimage alone so the experience is organic and unfiltered by another’s perception or intuition. It feels as important to document and share this journey.
Guided by a wealth of archival history, published books since the late 20th century, the incredible Transatlantic Slave Trade Database and the amazing mission of the Middle Passage Ceremony and Marker Sites, Inc., I make this pilgrimage to:
Offer thanks and gratitude at port sites where Africans had no recourse but to disembark.
Conduct regional research (visit local historical societies, archives, and visit pertinent landmarks) to inform the pilgrimage.
Document how Africans of the Middle Passage are remembered in the towns and cities along America’s east coast.
Share the pilgrimage as a travel memoir, a online tour guide, and as a documentary video.
Kim-Marie Walker, an American Black woman, goes on an unprecedented quest to pay homage to America's 450,000 first Africans, at the places where they arrived, naked and traumatized, over three centuries.
Her in-progress travel memoir, Truth’s Place: A Pilgrimage to historic U.S. Transatlantic Slave Trade Ports, Part I, chronicles the 2016 two-thousand-mile road trip to nineteen of 48 documented slave trade ports along the east coast—from the lowcountry and outer banks of Georgia, the Carolinas, and Virginia, to the New England wharves and harbors of Connecticut, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire. Subsequent trips to complete the journey's remaining ports are scheduled in 2017 and early 2018, with plans to publish Truth's Place, Parts II and III.