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Come and See

In October 2023, I embarked on a pilgrimage without any agenda but a quest to learn about the legacy of slavery in America, my adopted homeland.

I am grateful for the invitation to participate in the pilgrimage for Racial Justice and Reconciliation from my fellow Deputies of Color, Joe McDaniel and Jill Showers Chow, from the Episcopal Diocese of the Central Gulf Coast.

Originally, I thought I would fly to Mobile, Alabama to visit only the National Memorial for Peace and Justice and Legacy Museum in Montgomery. But God’s plan for me was to witness other historic places that would open my eyes to the Civil Rights Movement I had heard and read about. My friend Jill volunteered to drive me to see the places she knew.

So for three consecutive days, we traveled 1,200 miles, through the states of Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana into the historical places in the Deep South. Our first stop was the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, developed by The Equal Justice Initiative, "dedicated to the legacy of Black Americans who were enslaved, terrorized by lynching, humiliated by racial segregation, and presumed guilty and dangerous."

On this sacred ground, the names of more than 4, 400 Black people who were killed by lynching between 1877 and 1950 are engraved on more than 800 Corten steel monuments hanging from the ceiling. During my visit, I stood there, looking at some of the names, the names of the counties and states where the racial terror lynching took place, feeling as if I was surrounded by the presence of all those lost souls, something eerie permeating this thin place where heaven and earth meet. I was so moved by what I saw. No words can express how I felt so I offered a quiet prayer for the repose of those souls as I continued to walk through the monument reflecting on what I saw through the impactful architectural design.

While I was still processing my feelings for the ordeal that the Black slaves and modern Black victims endured, Joe, Jill, and I went to visit the Legacy Museum that is built on the site of a cotton warehouse where "enslaved Black people were forced to labor in bondage." This museum traces the story of the transatlantic slave trades, the slavery in America through interactive media, first-person narrative, and data exhibits of racial injustice. As I slowly walked through each section of the truth-telling museum, I felt overwhelmed by the knowledge of the suffering of the slaves on their transatlantic journey, of the condition in which they toiled in bondage and were subjected to racial injustice. In order for me to continue my pilgrimage, I decided to defer processing my experience, saving it for later while going to the next site.

After visiting the Legacy Museum, I joined Joe and Jill in having a delightful soul food lunch at the museum restaurant. The food gave me energy for my next visit.

Jill drove Joe and me to the place where civil rights activist Jonathan Myrick Daniels was killed while in the act of shielding 17-year-old Black civil rights activist Ruby Sales in 1965 in Haynesville, Lowndes County, Alabama. He was only 26 years old. The marker for Daniels is the first historical site for the Civil Rights movement in America I witnessed. I was deeply affected.

On the second day, I attended the Sunday Eucharist at Christ Church Cathedral in Mobile. The cathedral, built in 1822 by slave labor, is the oldest Episcopal Church in Alabama. Jill pointed out to me that on the left of the front yard of the cathedral is the marker for the lynching of Richard Robertson on January 23, 1909.

My pilgrimage led me to Selma Alabama on a quiet Sunday afternoon. There as I crossed the historic Edmund Pettus Bridge, I felt so humble being able to walk on the sacred ground where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and thousands of Civil Rights activists once walked on Bloody Sunday and subsequent marches. One of the Civil Rights activists who participated in one such march was Viola Liuzzo, a 39-year-old white woman from Detroit, Michigan, who traveled to Selma after answering the call to march by Dr. King. On March 25, 1965, while driving back from a trip shuttling fellow activists to the Montgomery Airport, she was gunned down by three Ku Klux Klan members from a pursuing car. Visiting the place near where Viola Liuzzo was assassinated moved me beyond tears and sorrow. She left behind five young children.

On my third and last Pilgrimage Day, Jill and I visited the Whitney Plantation near Wallace, Louisiana. According to the Atlantic article published on August 25, 2015, the Whitney Plantation is "the first of its kind to focus primarily on the slavery institution" in America. The museum was a project funded by John Cummings, a successful white Southern trial attorney. He and his full-time director of research, Ibrahima Seck, aim to educate "people on the realities of slavery in its time and its impact in the United States today."

My pilgrimage called me to "come and see" to witness the historic legacy of slavery, to feel for those who were enslaved, suffered, and affected by the systemic racism of modern times, and more importantly, to look within to examine my beliefs, my indoctrination, and my tunnel vision to see where and how I am biased and discriminate toward others in order to make necessary changes for racial and social justice. I can only change myself internally and let my actions show my effort toward reconciliation for the social and racial justice I stand for.

On my way to Mobile Regional Airport, the Uber driver, a Black man born and raised in Mobile told me about African Town and the Cloltida, the last ship carrying slaves to Mobile. There is so much to learn about the history of slavery in America, the land of freedom I dreamed of over 70 years ago. I feel a strange connection to Alabama. In my heart of hearts, I feel a call to share my experience with others inviting them to make their own pilgrimage to the Deep South. God willing, I shall return.

Hanh Tran


Third-term Lay Deputy, Diocese of San Diego

Member, Joint Standing Committee on Nominations

Parish: St. Peter's Episcopal Church, Del Mar, California


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