Former National Park Service ranger Mike Allen embraces Deborah Wright (left) who along with radio host Osei Chandler and former Charleston City Council member Kwadjo Campbell organized the Middle Passage Remembrance Program 25 years ago. | Photos by Herb Frazier

Just as a ceremony to remember the African ancestors was beginning Saturday on the Sullivan’s Island beach, a tall ship appeared as a haunting reminder of the vessels that brought captured Africans to the island during the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

“Fate would have it that we are standing on the shores of Sullivan’s Island that four centuries ago a ship like that would dock here on this island,” Michael Allen, a retired ranger at the Fort Sumter and Fort Moultrie National Historical Park, said as he pointed to the vessel. During colonial South Carolina, Africans and others were quarantined on the island to ensure they weren’t carrying contagious diseases before they entered Charleston.

Today, people are quarantined during a 21th century pandemic, Allen told some 100 people who gathered on the beach. “Brothers and sisters, we arrived in a pandemic. Our first steps on North American soil was here on Sullivan’s Island,” he said against the rhythmic sounds of waves crashing on shore.

Allen was one of the featured speakers during the 25th Annual Middle Passage Remembrance Program to honor and restore the humanity of countless Africans who died during voyages to America. This is the first ceremony held since the pandemic interrupted in-person events in 2020. Ceremonies in 2020 and 2021 were held virtually.

Charleston Mayor John Techklenberg and his wife, Sandy, also attended the event. They stood with others at noon Saturday during a libation ceremony led by Yoruba priestess Osun Wonuola Efun Layo on the west side of the island at the Intracoastal Waterway at Fort Moultrie.

After the ceremony, the mayor said: “This is a powerful remembrance. In human history there are a few human tragedies that come to mind that are the most horrific. You think of the holocaust … (During) the Middle Passage millions, millions lost their lives in just that passage to America. It rates with the most horrific tragedies of human history. To have this remembrance is so important. For their lives to have meaning for us as Americans we can never forget this message.”

The remembrance committee of the Charleston Branch of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH) and the National Park Service sponsor the event.

The libation ceremony was timed with similar events in Brooklyn, Washington, D.C., Georgetown, Hampton, Va., New Orleans, Houston, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Oakland, Calif., Montgomery, Ala., Miami, Detroit and abroad. The Charleston remembrance program is a part of the International Coalition to Commemorate the African Ancestors of the Middle Passage (remembertheancestors.com).


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