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'To Freedom' event gives modern-day audience chance to reflect on slaves' courageous journey out of the South during the Civil War
Date published: 5/7/2012
BY CLINT SCHEMMER
It's the names that you can't forget.
Fielding Lewis, 13, valued at $1,000, from Boscobel, Stafford County.
Rose, 32, from Grafton Farm, Stafford.
Kitty, 35, a washer and ironer, from Fredericksburg.
Willie Ann, an infant, from Grafton Farm, Stafford.
Jacob, with one eye, 55, from Boscobel, Stafford.
Nancy Smallwood, from Princess Anne Street, Fredericksburg.
Lizzie, a delicate girl, about 17 years old, from Princess Anne Street.
For those present at "To Freedom: A Celebration" this weekend, the names of the Virginians who passed from slavery into a new life beyond the Rappahannock River in 1862 are unforgettable.
They make history real.
They also give scale to what happened here in the spring and summer of 1862.
More than 10,000 formerly enslaved people from as far south as Chesterfield, beyond Richmond, crossed the river into refuge behind Union lines.
Of that multitude, the names of only 237 are yet known to researchers.
But the people who gathered in downtown Fredericksburg on Saturday honored all of those people who trekked here 150 years ago, as one speaker put it, "in search of the full promise of freedom." And in the course of the evening, every single name was read aloud.
In Riverfront Park, Paula Royster of the national Center for African American Genealogical Research welcomed participants and marveled at the Civil War refugees' courage and determination.
"Can you imagine walking from Richmond or Culpeper, Dahlgren or Stafford through the woods at night with no shoes or light, in the rain?" she asked listeners as a few raindrops fell.
"Have you ever wanted something so badly that you would turn away from everything familiar to you to run to something untested, with no guarantees? Would you? Could you?
BEARING OF THE STONES
Then, after a prayer led by the Rev. Hashmel Turner, people came forward to pick up rounded river stones to carry down to the river beyond City Dock--each associated with a card with the name, age and known details about one of the 10,000-plus who fled to freedom.
"Here is where they came in search of the American dream that had been built on their backs, with their hands, generation after generation," Royster told participants before they set off down Sophia Street. "This it the place where the Constitution truly became a living document."