Upcoming Event, March 21, 2013, 5:30-7pm: “I Have Known Rivers”: Ceremony to honor the Men, Women, and Children forced into the Middle Passage and the Struggles of Africans and African Descendants throughout the World

The College of Charleston and the Jubilee Project are proud to welcome the 39th annual conference of the African Literature Association to Charleston, SC from March 20-24, 2013. This conference will include a public ceremony event on March 21, 2013, from 5:30-7 pm to simultaneously commemorate a number of significant anniversaries in the history of Africans and African descendants throughout the world. This ceremony will include poetry readings and musical performances, and is free and open to the public. It will be held at the north end of Brittlebank Park in Charleston, SC. Highlights include poetry readings and musical performances.

2013 and March 21st anniversary events to commemorate include:

On January 1st, 1863, the Emancipation Proclamation, declaring enslaved people in Confederate-held territory to be “forever free,” came into effect. In January 1963, during the height of the twentieth century  U.S. Civil Rights movement, Charleston native Harvey Gantt became the first African American to be admitted to Clemson University. In August and September 1963, respectively, the University of South Carolina and Charleston County public schools admitted their first African American students since the end of Reconstruction. August 1963 saw two almost simultaneous events that show the length of African Americans’ struggle for full emancipation and the connection of that struggle with African liberation struggles: the march on Washington of August 28th which gave us Martin Luther King, Jr.’s iconic “I Have a Dream” speech was preceded the day earlier by the death of W.E.B. Du Bois in Ghana. By that date, 32 of Africa’s nations were formally independent with more than 20 still under European colonial or settler control.

The date of this ceremony, March 21st, has similar local and global resonance. On March 21st, 1865, the first Emancipation Parade in Charleston occurred. The parade featured over 4,000 people, including in the words of the Charleston Courier “a company of school boys” proclaiming: ‘We know no masters but ourselves,’” as well as a carriage with a mock slave auction followed by a carriage decked out as a hearse carrying the coffin of slavery. The hearse bore the inscriptions: “Slavery is Dead,” “Who Owns Him? No One,” and “Sumter Dug his Grave on the 13th of April, 1861.” Thousands of miles away and nearly a hundred years later, on March 21st, 1963, police in Sharpeville, South Africa opened fire on a crowd protesting apartheid-era pass laws, killing 69 and wounding hundreds. The massacre was a watershed event in South African history heralding the darkest decades of the apartheid era but also inspiring the resistance that would eventually lead to apartheid’s formal demise.

What these dates indicate is that, while it is appropriate to commemorate  the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, and the 50th anniversaries of key moments in the Civil Rights movement and the African liberation struggle, Emancipation is not an event but an ongoing process that must  be vigilantly defended and consolidated. In that spirit we will gather at the river on whose banks kidnapped Africans were once disembarked as chattel slaves, to commemorate the  Africans and African-descended people who have risen out of slavery, Jim Crow segregation, colonialism and apartheid, and, despite the manifold forms of racism, have survived, thrived. and enriched the world around them.

Simon Lewis

For more information, please contact Simon Lewis at lewiss@cofc.edu