18 December 2007
Julie at Virtual Journey honored me with a nomination for A Roar for Powerful Words award. Thank you, Julie. The award comes with an obligation to blog about what the recipient thinks are the three things necessary for writing to be effective and powerful. I want to think on that a little longer and will post my answers later in the week.
In the meantime, Julie also started a meme she calls the Gallery Meme and invited readers to participate. I was intrigued and will post on that today.
Here are her rules: Choose an image(s) of any kind (photo, art, or graphics—your own or attributed), then write a description, poem, or 'scene' about them as you please, and say why they are meaningful to you.
It was April of 2006, and my in-laws were visiting. We drove down to the Quarter to see the Gay Easter Parade and found the parking spaces in the Quarter and Faubourg Marigny already snatched up by parade goers. So we parked in Tremé, a neighborhood I was not very familiar with. I got out of the car and crossed the street, and this is what I saw:
How could I not take pictures of a sculpture of such power and pain? It wrenched my heart and I did not even know what it was.
Later I learned its story.
The wall behind belongs to historic St. Augustine church, a Catholic church built for free people of color and dedicated in 1842. The church served a wider congregation than its original intention, though, and had the most integrated congregation in the United States. In the center of the church, free people of color had a block of pews, and whites and other non-blacks had a separate block of pews. Charitable people of color purchased the pews in the outer aisles so that slaves would have a place to sit in church—a first in the United States. Through its history, members of the church, such as Henriette Delille and Homer Plessy, have worked to help the poor, the sick, the elderly, and the oppressed.
The sculpture itself was erected in 2004 and is called The Tomb of the Unknown Slave. It honors all slaves who died in the United States and particularly the black and American Indian slaves who were buried in Tremé in unmarked and now-forgotten graves.
The shrine contains a 1500-pound cross made from a marine chain. Hanging from the cross are shackles such as slaves were forced to wear. Surrounding this central cross are small metal and wood crosses.
Normally stark, the shrine is softened in this picture by Easter lilies.
To me, this picture contains the history of New Orleans in microcosm—racism and racial tolerance, brutality and compassion, beauty and violence, badly treated slaves and a well-to-do class of free people of color, despair and hope, all coexisting in an improbable mix that birthed the modern city that embraces its history while not hiding from the parts that were dishonorable and cruel.
To learn more about St. Augustine church and its shrine, visit http://www.staugustinecatholicchurch-neworleans.org/.
Anyone else want to take up the challenge of this meme?