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The Trees Tell the Story

Updated: Jun 27


On my journey these past months I became fascinated by trees. Did you know there are trees that are thousands of years old that still stand today? Imagine the things that they’ve witnessed in the stillness of night. In New Orleans I had the opportunity to visit the “Tree of Life.” It was planted in 1740. At 284 years old this tree is older than the United States has been a country. Oh the things this tree has seen!


New Orleans has always been a hard city for me to visit. Each cobblestone marks the path my Ancestors walked in terror. The very rocks cry out in witness to the inhumanity inflicted by people who called themselves owners and overseers. I can see where the waters ran red with the blood of the captured who were labeled and called slaves. Standing as silent witnesses, the trees hold the story of each act of violence. Their limbs also stand witness to each moment of claimed joy. Times of resistance where a brief moment of revolutionary rest was taken on a breath. Moments where my ancestors closed their eyes and dreamed of me. With each exhale they watched my life unfold. I stand grateful that they chose to survive so that I could live. Where the rocks cry and the waters bleed, the trees tell the stories.

 

In this season of rewritten his stories where people long for the non existent “good ole days” I often wonder how history can be denied. How can one escape the past when the monuments of war are all around? I say leave up the monuments. Celebrate Robert E Lee and Jefferson Davis. Celebrate Lincoln, Jefferson, and the “founding fathers.” Leave up every monument as a testament to the pain of the past. There is no need to take them down. For until it is understood why they should be removed; the inhumanity remains written on the very soul of the nation. The rocks cry out in witness of those who called themselves owners and overseers. The water bleeds as evidence to those who died. History cannot be hidden when the trees tell the stories.

 

I look around and wonder how reparations could be denied when bank ledgers hold the names of those enriched from the institution of enslavement. Reparations are not a gift, they are what is owed. Banks were established. Insurance companies were paid. The United States and the other enslaver countries built wealth. The families that made up the plantocracy became rich. It is easy to say “but that was the past” when one has built a 400 year old debt. However, the payment was due when my grandmother’s father was told he would get “40 acres and a mule” but instead was given a life of sharecropping and struggle. The payment was due when my grandmother’s land was taken through eminent domain to build the school because the “white man's farmland” was more important than the community of the then Negroes who were scattered to the wind. The payment was due to my father when he joined the Air Force and was told he and his family would be taken care of; but instead he was given a terminal cancer caused by the chemicals of Agent Orange. The rocks cry out in witness to cotton and cane fields. The water bleeds from whip-lashed backs and mutilated bodies. Through it all the trees stand by and tell the stories.

 

The stories of the Africans who were brought to the Caribbean and the Americas are vast. The pain they endured from having their bodies traded is wide. For me New Orleans is the confluence of where Africa meets the Caribbean and the Americas. As I walk the paths the Ancestors walked, the very rocks cry out as witnesses to the horror. The water speaks of times it ran red from the blood of babies. But the trees tell the stories of pain, of sorrow, of resistance, of revolution, and of hidden sneaked, moments of joy. It is the trees that tell the stories.


“They ask me to remember

but they want me to remember

their memories

and I keep on remembering mine”

― Lucille Clifton





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