Savannah’s ‘Weeping Time’ gets national spotlight in ‘1619 Project’ on slavery

Hidden History

SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) — The Coastal Empire had some national attention in the media last week as a key piece of Savannah’s history was featured in The New York Times’ 1619 Project.

The project is dedicated to reflecting on the 400th anniversary of the beginning of slavery in what would eventually become the United States.

The anniversary fell on Aug. 20. 

Nearly two weeks after the 100-page 1619 Project was released, people are still reportedly lining up to get their free copies of the special publication.

Some of the spotlight shined on Savannah in an excerpt from the works of Anne C. Bailey, an author, historian, public speaker, and professor of history and Africana studies at SUNY Binghamton (State University of New York).

Ninety-eight pages into the project, readers can learn about the Weeping Time, the site of the largest auction of enslaved people—at least 430 slaves—in American history that occurred 160 years ago this past March, when the anniversary was commemorated in Savannah.

It happened in 1859 at the Ten Broeck Race Course, which was then located on the outskirts of Savannah.

The site now contains homes, a school, some businesses, and a marker that was erected in 2008 which acknowledges the historical event. 

Slavery is a big piece of what’s missing in terms of trying to teach this history more effectively, and it is really important, because it is foundational.”

– Anne C. Bailey, Author of “The Weeping Time: Memory and the Largest Slave Auction in American History”

Bailey, who is a frequent visitor to the Savannah area, wrote a book focusing on and analyzing this topic in 2017.

Bailey shared with News 3 her experience being involved in the important project.

Q: How did you become involved with the 1619 Project?

A: I’ve been writing about slavery, African-American history, the history of slavery and the slave trade more generally for over three decades, so this is something that I’m very passionate about.

The perspective that I bring to this is one of the contributions of people of African descent to the building up and making of America, both physically and culturally.

This is the 400th year of the arrival of 20 Africans in the then-British colony of Virginia, and that is significant. Of course, to be able to say that is to say that people of African descent have been here since the early days, and they are not a side issue; they are an integral part of the American fabric.

For that reason, I was happy when [The New York Times] reached out to me and said, “We’d like to look at this issue of auction. We’re looking at it from a broader perspective in terms of the history of slavery and the legacy of slavery,” so that is something that I really endorse.

Q: What are your thoughts on how slavery is taught in schools?

A: It’s not taught as well as it could be. I’ll say this —that doesn’t mean that there are not efforts to do so.

There are a number of non-profits which have created materials and have tried to disseminate materials; there’s even, for example, the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery at Yale University.

They’ve worked with educators at producing materials, and they’ve done that for at least the last number of years.

So, there are different organizations that have tried and are trying, and I think that’s notable enough to be commended, but I think there isn’t a systematic way to do this state to state.

A few years back, you had some curriculum in Texas that were calling slaves “workers,” suggesting that they were part of the population that was compensated for their labor.

Obviously, they were not.

[The 400th anniversary] is a good time to think about the meaning of freedom, what that looks like, and what it should look like for everybody, not just people of African descent.”

– Anne C. Bailey, Author of “The Weeping Time: Memory and the Largest Slave Auction in American History”

The whole point was that they were not compensated for almost 250 years of labor, yet they’ve made such a contribution.

So, you have some inconsistencies, and there was a push back about that, so maybe that has since changed, but the point is that from state to state, it can be very different.

The second point is I think there are a lot of significant things, and I’m not sure how well school is communicating that consistently, but one of those things is the Constitution.

How much are we really ensuring that students, at least by the time they leave high school, have a very in-depth understanding of what the Constitution was, and is, and how it’s evolved?

So, it’s not just slavery, but yes, slavery is a big piece of what’s missing in terms of trying to teach this history more effectively, and it is really important, because it is foundational.

Q: What would you say is the significance of this 400th anniversary of the start of slavery?

A: If you look back at [The 1619 Project] and look at the present, you can’t help but ask yourself, is there an ongoing legacy? What’s changed, what’s different, how are things evolving over time?

I think that is a worthy thing to look at after 400 years. Yes, progress has been made, but have we made enough?

What is there that we would like to see different from the way that we did things in the past? Can we say that people of African descent have finally been compensated for all those years of uncompensated labor? 

Can we say that the systemic and institutional racism that was part of the past is now literally part of the past? And just as importantly, can we say that it does not extend to other populations?

At the commemoration of the Weeping Time slave auction that occurred 160 years ago in Savannah, umbrellas represent the two days of rain that fell, and serve as a symbol of remembrance.

Because I think that’s really the issue, that it becomes not just an issue of black and white, but you know, there’s Latina populations, Asian populations, immigrant populations…Are we sure that we’re not repeating some of the problems of the past?

I think those are worthy questions to ask at the 400th anniversary without imposing that on the history, but just stepping back and looking at it from as objective of a perspective as you can.

Are we leaving what’s in the past in the past, or are we repeating some of the issues of the past?

I think this is a good time to think about that.

It’s also a good time to think about the meaning of freedom, what that looks like, and what it should look like for everybody, not just people of African descent.

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