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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
For six blocks, announcers, including schoolchildren, stood on short stepladders in the middle of Sophia, reading off more names as the stream of pedestrians--who ranged from age 3 to 70-plus--passed by. For example:
Thornton, 22, a good blacksmith, from Greenfield Plantation, Spotsylvania County.
Frances, 26, a cook and washer, 26, worth $1,000, from Fredericksburg.
Jim, 7, from Ferry Farm, Stafford.
Charles Sprow, 19, from Ellwood, Spotsylvania, enlisted U.S. Army, buried in Fredericksburg National Cemetery.
Mary Agnace Upshur, 28, from Greenfield Plantation, Spotsylvania.
Randall Ward, from Sherwood Forest, Stafford.
SHEDDING OF BURDENS
When the procession reached private parkland below City Dock, more participants were waiting, having sat through a rain shower. More than 250 people attended the two-hour program.
After being welcomed, those who'd carried stones silently placed them in the grass in front of the speakers' platform--symbolizing the shedding of the burdens of human bondage.
Organizers, led by Sabina Weitzman, plan to use these stones to create a permanent piece of public art commemorating the trek to freedom.
DRUMS, MUSIC, LIGHTS
The procession, led by re-enactors of the 23rd Infantry Regiment, U.S. Colored Troops, culminated in "Ten Thousand Lights to Freedom," a kaleidoscope of words, sights and sounds. The program began with African drumming by Chris Greene, the reading of Langston Hughes poetry and singing by acclaimed vocalist Anthony Campbell, a Spotsylvanian who performed Vusi Mahlasela's song "River Jordan," accompanied by guitarist Ronald Richard.
Jim Thomas of the U.S. Slave Song Project, an alumnus of Fisk University's Fisk Jubilee Singers, sang spirituals and encouraged everyone to join in, even if they could only hum along. Dana Foddrell-Bland gave a rousing rendition of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" toward the conclusion.
Interspersed with the music, readers with rich voices shared passages penned by antebellum people and witnesses to the Civil War that included the viewpoints of local slave owners, critics of slavery, Union officers and John Washington, the Fredericksburg slave who wrote an eloquent memoir of his life here.
Several of those historical figures wrote of the emotional pain of slavery, even for those who merely witnessed it.