Spanish moss blows from the majestic limbs of Southern Live Oak trees in the low country. Whimsical in stature, these trees provide a perfect image for those with an eclectic view of nature and its beauty. They decorate long driveways leading to beautiful plantation homes, cover the sidewalks of cities attracting tourists, and they stand firm in rural settings. With limbs shaped like those of an octopus’s tentacles, these trees are another attention-grabbing creation from the heavens. Their existence last lifetimes we will never see.
I pose the question to the Southern Live Oak tree: What did you see?
Historians estimate approximately half of all slaves disembarked in South Carolina’s low country. For 151 years, from 1619 through 1865, the trees surviving the development of towns and cities silently bore witness to a painful history. I recently hiked with a Native American friend in the North Carolina mountains. He remarked, “The trees are alive just as much as you and me.”
I ask again of the Southern Live Oak tree, “What did you see?” Did you see the vessels arrive from Africa and the Caribbean? What did the faces of our ancestors say as they were ushered off slave ships? You silently witnessed the indigenous Yamassee Tribe cultivate and sustain life before the European invasion; you witnessed the enslaved standing atop auction blocks, sold into oppression.
You witnessed crying children, desperate for a final glance at mothers as they were leaving with their new master. In spite of it all, you lived on to produce oxygen for the Yamassee descendants who fought the British settlers. You watched in agony, after the passage of the Indian Removal Act in 1830, as several tribes were uprooted, forced to leave their ancestral home and march the “Trail of Tears.”
You are symbols of perseverance, longevity, and strength. Your roots withstood the test of time and your branches are so weary that I will not hold you too much longer. But I must ask you, how did you feel when you watched the enslaver leave his sleeping wife after midnight for a visit to the slave quarters? Did you want to snatch him up tightly in your tentacle-like branches? Did you want to use them to squeeze out his last breath. Finally, I know you would rather cut off your strongest limb than have it used as a prop to hang my ancestors.
I realize you have experienced as much trauma as my people. Please accept my thanks for providing my ancestors with much needed shade as they worked 12+ hours each day. May God bless you, and, perhaps in a dream you can tell me more. You can answer my question, “What did you see?”
Inspired by a recent trip to the Low Country of Georgia and South Carolina. Many original inhabitants of African descent are losing their land at an alarming rate. Please let’s keep them in our prayers and support any way you can.
“Tenki Tenki” as Queen Quet of the Gullah Geechee Nation would say.