Wil­liamson County slaves hon­ored

Slips of pa­per with slave names on them burned in ‘send­ing home’ cer­e­mony.

Austin American-Statesman - - METRO & STATE - By Claire Os­born cos­born@states­man.com

Ken­neth Hoke-Wither­spoon stood read­ing a list of names to about 100 peo­ple qui­etly gath­ered out­side on a cam­pus mall at South­west­ern Univer­sity on Tues­day even­ing.

“Milla, age 4 years old,” said Hoke-Wither­spoon. “Ann, a 5-year old. Jo, age 30 years old.”

As he read more than 40 other names, he passed the slips of pa­per they were writ­ten on down a line of peo­ple, in­clud­ing Ge­orge­town City Coun­cil Mem­ber Rachael Jon­rowe, to a small fire where the pa­pers were burned.

The peo­ple whose names were read were African-Amer­i­can slaves sold in Wil­liamson County in the 1850s, Hoke-Wither­spoon told the crowd. Their names were be­ing burned “so their pain may be cleansed with fire and their mem­ory hon­ored as we sing their spir­its up to the heav­ens, as we send their spir­its home,” he said.

The “send­ing home” cer­e­mony was Hoke-Wither­spoon’s idea.

A play­wright who lives in Ge­orge­town, Hoke-Wither­spoon, 66, said he be­came in­ter­ested in the is­sue when he was work­ing un­suc­cess­fully with oth­ers last year to place a his­tor­i­cal marker out­side the Wil­liamson County Court­house ac­knowl­edg­ing slav­ery.

A plaque al­ready there says African-Amer­i­cans were the largest eth­nic group among the pi­o­neer set­tlers and made up more than 19 per­cent of the county’s pop­u­la­tion by 1860.

That plaque isn’t true, Hoke-Wither­spoon said.

“Slaves were not pi­o­neers who packed up their be­long­ings and moved to Wil­liamson County in search of a bet­ter life,” he said dur­ing the cer­e­mony. “They were the same as other chat­tel the white pi­o­neers brought with them.”

Mickie Ross, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Wil­liamson Mu­seum, a his­tory mu­seum in Ge­orge­town, said the 1860 cen­sus showed slaves were 20 per­cent of the county’s pop­u­la­tion. She said she couldn’t

say for sure whether there were any African-Amer­i­cans in the county in the 1850s who weren’t slaves.

A group of county gov­ern­ment lead­ers ap­plied for the plaque in 1970, Ross said.

Hoke-Wither­spoon said he found the record of the slaves — first names only — on a Texas Archives web­site that lists the bills of sale for slaves in Wil­liamson County from 1850 to 1858. The ac­tual bills of sale are avail­able for the pub­lic to view in two large books called “Bonds & Etc.” at the county clerk’s of­fice in Ge­orge­town.

Once he knew the first names of the slaves, Hoke-Wither­spoon said, he “felt com­pelled to give them the dig­nity of the truth of the con­di­tion of their lives — and to honor their spir­its home with prayer, cer­e­mony, rit­ual and song.”

The cer­e­mony started Tues­day with a brief in­tro­duc­tion from South­west­ern Univer­sity Pres­i­dent Edward Burger and a song from the choir of the Unity Church of the Hills in Austin. Min­is­ters from lo­cal Methodist and Uni­tar­ian churches, as well as a rabbi, prayed at the event.

“For­give the cal­lous cru­elty of our fore­bears,” prayed Chuck Free­man, a min­is­ter for the Free Souls Uni­tar­ian Univer­sal­ist Church in Round Rock. “We treated our fel­low hu­man be­ings worse than we would our an­i­mals.”

Three South­west­ern Uni- ver­sity stu­dent or­ga­ni­za­tions, SU Phi­los­o­phy, Em­pire and Ebony, spon­sored the event.

One of the peo­ple who at­tended, Ge­orge­town res­i­dent Chuck Collins, said the cer­e­mony was “beau­ti­ful” and that he liked that it was done with peo­ple of many dif­fer­ent faiths.

“Weirdly enough, I found it up­lift­ing,” he said. “It could have been very bit­ter.”


Tony Dahl, a mem­ber of the Unity Church of the Hills Cel­e­bra­tion choir, passes slips of pa­per con­tain­ing the names of Wil­liamson County slaves from 1850 to 1858 to the fire af­ter they were read aloud in a “send­ing home” cer­e­mony at South­west­ern Univer­sity in Ge­orge­town on Tues­day.


Ken­neth Hoke-Wither­spoon reads the names of slaves sold in Wil­liamson County from 1850 to 1858 dur­ing a cer­e­mony at South­west­ern Univer­sity in Ge­orge­town on Tues­day. Par­tic­i­pants burned pieces of pa­per with the names of slaves in or­der to send their spir­its to heaven.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.