Coming to the Table – Enslavers and the Enslaved

Slave dwelling photo

The recent success of the Reflections on Pine Street events began a dialog in Dorchester about race relations, our history and how the events of the 1960s may influence our lives today. As the Nanticoke Historic Preservation Alliance (NHPA) and the Harriet Tubman Organization plan the upcoming “Slave Dwelling Comes to Dorchester” event, we can reflect even further back in time to the 18th and 19th centuries when slavery was very much a part of the economic and social environment of this county. Well up into the 1960s, segregation was a part of everyday life for the black community as reflected in the NHPA’s documentary film “Voices of Indiantown,” a story of the African-American families of the Indiantown community around the now Handsell Historic Site, just north of Vienna.
As part of the Slave Dwelling Project weekend and in keeping with one of the missions of the project, the sponsoring groups have invited Coming to the Table, a national organization founded by Will Hairston and Susan Hutchison. Mr. Hairston is descended from a dynasty that, at its height, controlled nine plantations — encompassing upwards of 40 farms — stretching from the tidewaters of Virginia to the backwoods of Mississippi. Many thousands of African-American people worked their lands as enslaved people, making them one of the richest families in the antebellum South. Susan Hutchison was a descendant of Thomas Jefferson and kin to a large number of Virginia slave owning families.
After learning more of their family’s history Will and Susan were inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s words, spoken from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on Aug. 28, 1963: “I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.”
It was under Ms. Hutchison’s and Mr. Hairston’s leadership that a number of descendants of enslaved people and of slave owners came together to form Coming to the Table (www.comingtothetable.org). An experience was planned in which black and white descendants of ancestors linked by a slave/slave-owner relationship, a blood connection, or both could explore the history of slavery — its legacy and impact on their lives. They had a longer-term goal to create a model of healing to guide individuals and groups that continue to struggle with racism in the United States and throughout the world.
During the Slave Dwelling Comes to Dorchester event, representatives from Coming to the Table will join Joe McGill of the Slave Dwelling Project and together they will sleep in both the Bayley Slave Cabin on High Street in Cambridge and Handsell in Vienna, both known sites of enslavement. On Oct. 13 at 7 p.m. there will be a “Candlelight Remembrance” starting at the Dorchester Courthouse in Cambridge, former location of a slave auction block. Spiritual music, poetry and readings by descendants of both enslavers and those enslaved will enhance the recognition of those who once were held in bondage in Dorchester County during this inspiring candle lit evening. Open to the public, this event will conclude at the Bayley house, across the street from the Courthouse, where the living history interpreters and descendants of enslaved people, and enslavers will “sleep tight” in the slave cabin there.
On Oct. 14 at the Handsell living history event, volunteers from Coming To The Table will be featured in the “History Tent” at 11:15 and 2 p.m. as they moderate a discussion and foster dialog on enslavement and the legacy of slavery. Other activities that day will include living history performances portraying the music, culture and contributions of little known individuals who helped build our nation. A bus tour sponsored by the Harriet Tubman Organization will be available (registration online). For bus tour information call 410-228-0401.
Partners and Sponsors of this important event include the Harriet Tubman Organization, Nanticoke Historic Preservation Alliance, Slave Dwelling Project, Coming to the Table, Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Visitor Center, Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Historical Park, National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom, Dorchester Arts Center, Elks Lodge #223, 106.3 The Heat WCEM FM, Healing Hands Animal Hospital and The Drug Store, Hurlock, MD. All information at: www.restorehandsell.org.
Editor’s note: This is the second in a series of articles related to the “Slave Dwelling Project Comes to Dorchester.” Presented by the Harriet Tubman Organization and the Nanticoke Historic Preservation Alliance, Oct. 13-14 at the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Visitor Center, Historic High Street Cambridge, and Handsell Historic Site, Vienna.

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