Restored and United:
Lessons from a Buried Past
I had just gotten back from a healing place called Kanuga, but I was scheduled to go out again. My sister/friend Brynn met my daughter Fatima and I and off we went to Sunday school with President Jimmy Carter in Plaines, Georgia.
Brynn and I had been before, but I wanted---no, I needed to go again. On the way, Brynn told us about a place that sold peaches in every and any form, including homemade ice cream, so we got off the highway and took the back road to Lanes Southern Orchard.
I’m not big on dairy products, but I’m always up for an adventure; both were delicious. Afterwards, we decided to stay on the back roads for the rest of the trip.
We were laughing and singing with the soundtrack to Hamilton when I spotted an unusual site. From the road, I saw a cemetery like no other. Over the redbrick wall, I could make out hundreds of headstones lined perfectly together.
When we could get a signal, I did an internet search for the town and discovered a place that none of us had ever heard of.
The Andersonville National Historic Site is a memorial to American prisoners of war, but it was also one of the Civil War prison/internment camps to this nation’s Union soldiers.
We knew that we had to go back, so on our way home from a moving time with President Carter, we intentionally made our way to the memorial site. Soberly, we drove through the enormous compound, listening to a guided narration on the car’s radio. We learned that over 70,000 Union soldiers had been imprisoned there. 55,000 of them died there. We made our way slowly past the stockades down the trenches and around to the cemetery. We could not speak. Thousands of headstones were lined up shoulder width apart.
We learned of the work of a Dorence Atwater, a former prisoner of Andersonville, who kept a record of the names and numbers of the dead, so their families could be notified. After the war was over, Atwater used a smuggled second copy of his records and worked with Clara Barton, matching the numbered markers with the names of the dead.
My time at Kanuga, Sunday school with President Carter, at the historic site in Andersonville and even at the peach market, have led me to this; we are moving further and further away from our own truths. We have replaced them with the business of noise and things that look like living, but we are doing anything but.
As an African American northerner, living in the South, I don’t often want to hear about the Civil War. But as an African American Northerner living in and loving the South, I cannot walk into a Civil War cemetery filled with Union soldiers without being deeply moved. I need and want to know more.
This nation is divided in so many, many ways. I have come to see that if I want others to be united, then I need to be restored and united within my own self.
Get off to a quiet place, take a short trip, go see the history in your mind and in your own backyard, then ask yourself this question:
What do I need to see, recall, recollect and remember?
Be you, be well, be restored.
Bertice Berry, PhD.