Dana Roberts-Beckham’s roots run as deep as the rivers, streams and Live Oak trees that span the Coast.
The Glynn County resident can trace her family’s history back to the men and women who endured the bonds of slavery on Hofwyl-Broadfield Plantation in north Glynn County.
“We believe they came from Ghana and Sierra Leone. We strongly believe Ghana. My cousin did Ancestry.com and the museum on Hofwyl says that most of the enslaved people came from those places,” she said.
While it is part of a painful past, it remains a source of pride for her family. It’s a way of remembering what their ancestors withstood and a motivation for them to continue moving forward.
“We are a very proud people. We were always taught to be a very proud people,” she said.
After emancipation, the family matriarch purchased land in and around the Needwood community, not far from Howfyl-Broadfield. Many of the family’s members still call it home today. Their surnames include the Browns, Spearings, Polites and Harrisons, all of whom are strongly connected to their family and community.
“My family is very culture-oriented. We know who we are and where we came from,” she said.
Her deep devotion to her family’s history led Roberts-Beckam to be tapped to join a committee working with the Department of the Interior in Washington, D.C., and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to help plan a commemoration of the 400th year of African American culture in the United States. The cross-country program, sponsored by the National Parks Service, is titled a Day of Healing. It will honor the date that enslaved Africans were first brought to the country’s shores back in 1619.
Noted in the ship’s log as “20 and odd,” this human cargo came to the country aboard the White Lion. Due to a lack of supplies, it docked in Point Comfort in Hampton, Va. (now Fort Monroe National Park), rather than proceeding on the Caribbean, where slavery was legal. Slavery was not yet part of the colonial landscape, but it sparked 246 years of misery on American’s soil.
While slavery is a blemish on the soul of the nation, it’s something African descendants always want to remember. This weekend, the anniversary of the arrival of the first slaves will be marked across the country. Bells will ring out in churches and other faith-based venues, beginning at 3 p.m. Sunday, and will continue for four full minutes, one for each 100 years of slavery. For Roberts-Beckham, it’s a critically important observance.
“We want to tell our own story and tell it correctly. We don’t want to water down history ... it’s history, even though it hurts,” she said.
Roberts-Beckham’s church, Needwood Baptist, will join congregations around the country in the ringing of the bells. Their event, which will include drumming, spoken word poetry and singing will be held from 2 to 3 p.m. Sunday. Light refreshments will also be served.
The event will also coincide with her family’s 46th annual reunion, which proves to be very special. But she hopes to see the broader community join in the commemoration.
“We’re not ‘celebrating’ it. There’s nothing to ‘celebrate,’ but we want to remember it. It’s important for us to come together to remember our ancestors who left us songs and words of wisdom ... all of the things they did and said and cooked,” she said.
“It’s an absolute must and is a part of keeping the culture alive and keeping the culture relevant. Let’s talk about it, let’s learn about it and learn from it.”
Titania Cook completely agrees. The director of Juneteenth-Ga in Brunswick feels that coming together for this event will help the entire community move forward.
“We can do so much more moving forward if we come together in unity. A lot of the issues people are still facing today does have some relation to slavery, even though it was many, many years ago,” Cook said. “We have to come together and work together.”
Her organization, Juneteeth-Ga, is a part of a national movement to foster that spirit. The nonprofit works to promote peace and reconciliation, as well as support education and community.
They will hold a service at 3 p.m. Sunday at Emmanuel Baptist Church, 1047 Demere Road, St. Simons Island, with the Rev. John Leggett as the speaker.
“We’re so honored that Pastor John Leggett agreed to participate and be the keynote speaker. We also had confirmation that the Unitarian Universalists of Coastal Georgia on Gloucester St. in Brunswick will also be ringing their bell,” she said.
So too, will Christ Church Frederica. Located at 6329 Frederica Road, St. Simons Island, it will be part of Episcopalian participation nationwide.
The bell of Faith Chapel in the Jekyll Island Historic District will ring at 3 p.m. Sunday. An interpreter will also be present from 3 to 4 p.m. at the Wanderer Memory Trail at St. Andrews Beach on Jekyll to share the story of the final slave ship which landed there illegally in 1858.
All of the participation is critical in order to remember and avoid repeating the past, Cook says.
“We just hope that tis will be a time where everyone can come and join together. We invite everyone to come out regardless of denomination or religious background. It’s such a tragic event that our ancestors endured but it’s part of American history and should not be forgotten.”