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Hampton History Museum

Posted on: May 12, 2022

UNBURIED: Remembering the Tragedy of the Middle Passage - Monday, June 6, 7 pm

Chadra Sankofa Image Square

“UNBURIED: Resurrecting Memory, Confronting Morality and Remembering the Africans & the Massacre on the Middle Passage”
By Chadra Pittman, Founder & Executive Director of The Sankofa Projects 

Lecture begins at 7 pm
Doors open to view the galleries at 6 pm
Museum members free, non-members $5

Join the Sankofa Projects, and partners the Hampton History Museum, Fort Monroe Authority, and Fort Monroe National Park for Remembrance 2022 on Saturday, June 11, 11 am, at Outlook Beach on Fort Monroe. 

For nearly three decades, the foundation of Chadra Pittman’s sacred and scholarly work has been rooted in exploring the grave injustices inflicted against humanity. She resurrects memory, honors Ancestors, and gives voice to the lives and untold stories of the marginalized and Africans across the Diaspora. Years before September 11th consumed the lives of thousands at the World Trade Center, Pittman worked there as Public Educator and Media Coordinator for the New York African Burial Ground (ABG) Project. She lectured on the findings of the 419 Africans exhumed, debunked theories of a benevolent North noting the 10-20,000 bodies in the full African cemetery and provided scientific updates on the brutality of slavery evident on the skeletal remains, exposing the horror that these bones would tell. Pittman spoke of the hardships, the cruelty and lack of humanity for the Africans worldwide and she and the ABG team gave voice to a story, which was buried for centuries under asphalt and America’s amnesia. 

In 2012, she shifted her focus to the UNBURIED; centering her work around honoring the millions of Africans who perished on the Middle Passage of the Transatlantic Slave Trade. These Africans, who drowned in the Atlantic,  whose bones settled at the bottom of the floor of the Atlantic Ocean never received a proper burial are the focus of her work. Pittman has long contested that “The history of slavery remains incomplete if you do not tell the truth of what happened on the massacre which occurred on the Middle Passage. Lasting 5-12 weeks at a time, the Middle Passage was a treacherous journey for the Africans and referred to as the “largest and incontrovertibly most  inhumane forced migration in history,” according to the United Nations.

So to only speak about what happened to Africans once they disembarked the ships is merely  part of the story. What about the ones who never made it off the enslavement ships alive? What about the Africans thrown into the Atlantic Ocean and left to drown, who became delicacies for the sharks? What about the ones who jumped into the Atlantic, resisting a life of enslavement? While history remembers the “twenty and odd” Africans who disembarked the White Lion in 1619 which set the stage for chattel slavery in British North America, these African Ancestors of the Middle Passage are as Pittman calls them, “the Africans that the world forgot!”  For the past 10 years, she has worked diligently to ensure they are never forgotten again.

Following in the tradition of Toni Cade Bambara who spearheaded Tributes to the Ancestors in Coney Island, New York in 1989, Pittman brought Remembrance to Virginia, to fill in this missing piece to the annals chronicling slavery. To date, Sankofa’s Remembrance is the only Middle Passage ceremony in Coastal Virginia acknowledging this untold history and Remembrance is the funeral these Africans never received. Annually, members of Sankofa and the community gather at Buckroe Beach to remember these Africans, standing upon soil which was once illegal for African Americans to gather on during Jim Crow,  honoring the Ancestors of the Bay Shore community. Sankofa’s Remembrance gives the community a safe space to gather, touch this history,  mourn, remember, attempt to heal, honor the journey & expose this inhumane  chapter in American and International history. 

After two years of a global pandemic, we will gather again however, this year the Sankofa’s 11th Annual Remembrance ceremony will be held on the grounds of the National Monument of Fort Monroe. With the recent designation of Fort Monroe as a UNESCO Slave Route’s Site of Memory, relocating the  Remembrance ceremony to the Fort seems incredibly appropriate from a historical, cultural, and spiritual perspective as “memory work” is the foundational work of The  Sankofa Projects. At Remembrance, we will share the complete and full story of the African American experience on the sacred grounds where Africans disembarked in 1619 and where thousands of enslaved Africans, known as the Contraband, walked to their freedom during the Civil War. 

In this lecture, Pittman will take you on a journey back through time over the past 10 years of Remembrance, sharing photos and other archival artifacts of the ceremony. Foundational to her work, and in the spirit of Sankofa, Pittman will reach back to a time existed  before slavery took hold, explore the horrific journey of the Middle Passage which carried bodies across the Atlantic and the discuss contemporary issues around race, body autonomy and the “aftermath of slavery. (Saidiya Hartman) She will resurrect memory through enslavement archives, confront the morality which allowed for slavery to exist in the first place, and travel from the continent, the castles at Fort El Mina to the  Contrabands of Fort Monroe, from the NY African Burial Ground to Black Wall Street to  Bay Shore Beach & Resort to the treacherous journey across the Middle Passage. Pittman calls  upon the courageous work of Ancestors Zora Neale Hurston, James Baldwin, Audre Lorde, Frederick Douglass and Olaudah  Equiano, exposing the neglected narratives of the enslaved and freedom fighters Pittman’s works to ensure that these Ancestors, the inhumanity they experienced, and their untold story are etched in our memory for generations  to come. 

It is Chadra's hope that The Sankofa Projects will inspire others to reach back and reclaim their history and  culture, to begin conversations and elicit activism around "righting the wrongs of the past" as Anti-Lynching crusader Ida B Wells suggestsWe must remember the millions lost in the Middle Passage, we must tell the full and complete story of slavery, and we must recognize as Archbishop Desmond Tutu reminds us that “our humanity is bound up in each other’s.” 

This talk is presented in partnership with the Fort Monroe Authority and Fort Monroe National Park.

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