Grief by Mili Mehari


WHAT: Downtown Fredericksburg has a plaque that identifies a former slave auction block.

WHERE: Corner of William Street and Charles Street

I imagine that history is always in pain, fearful of being forgotten. Not necessarily for forever, but in the moments between the first sentence of this essay and the second, did you remember her?

On an October day that I do not remember well, a friend and I were in Downtown Fredericksburg. Walking, giddy with laughter, in aww of the buildings, the people, and of our joy. We were waiting to cross the street when we read the sign, the block did not give itself away at first sight. Regret was one of the first emotions I felt, like I had done an injustice to a people that have long been wronged here. I thought I was forgetting their life, I had to assure myself that it happened, that enslavement was real.

I do not want to let myself imagine the bodies that were once in this space. Black American bodies have too often been the source of regret, sorrow, and hope—but it’s like they can never just be. Even as I stood there and took a picture, I could only think that I did that because I wanted to keep some evidence. In my minds mind, I think I thought they would take it away. It amazed me to see both chaos and calm on that street. I expected too much of the world, I wanted it to hurt and to stand for a moment of silence with me.

It’s a wonderment the stump is still standing there. I wish I could say something poetic like, the ancestors refuse to let it erode the way their bodies have from this earth. I want to create hope, weave it from my memory of that plaque, of the bodies that looked like me on that stump. But this is too much, relying on the dead’s sorrow for strength, this is wrong. So I walk away, feeling useless. I don’t know what to do with pain that has no silver lining.

For the rest of the day I am conscious of what was here before me, I am fearful of forgetting. The beautiful and historic buildings were witness to what happened here and they were unable to stop it, but here I am hundreds of years later, thinking I will one day learn to reverse time.

It is late October and the wind is blowing, the traffic light is red and I have to continue walking. But everything feels like it is a lie, I know people know of slavery, but are people conscious of it as they walk, as they blink, as they drive. This poignant sense of reality is heavy, is constantly having to critique thought, I laugh and feel bad for forgetting for a moment. I walk past a festival, pause to admire the grandness of the event, and I let myself wonder, and this too occurs to me is a privilege.

In the midst of remembering, I wonder who will practice the act of remembering me.