By Ann Miller Andrus
On a warm Saturday morning in June, 11 people from West Richmond (Va.) Church of the Brethren gathered downtown to walk the Richmond Slave Trail.
The trail along the James River follows a route that enslaved Africans walked from docked ships to slave holding jails and then to slave market auction blocks. Seventeen interpretive markers along the trail document the slave trade in Virginia from 1619 until 1865.
Walking the trail was an idea that grew out of an adult book study group—a virtual replacement for in-person Sunday school during the pandemic.
Pastor Dave Whitten organized the book group as a way for interested members of the congregation to learn about and recognize systemic racism and how to confront the inequalities between whites and African Americans in educational opportunities, housing options, employment, medical care, and the justice system. Eyes were opened with The Color of Compromise by Jemar Tisby, which provoked shame with its history of the complicity of churches in racism, and by Ibram X. Kendi’s How to Be an Antiracist, which helped the group recognize all forms of racism and how to fight it.
Dr. Benjamin Campbell’s Richmond’s Unhealed History hit close to home with its documentation of the many deliberate and insidious ways that Virginia denied equality for African Americans while assuring the survival of white supremacy through legislation, law enforcement, and custom.
While the readings often triggered discomfort, the group values the awareness gained through them. Of equal value have been the open discussions and personal sharing—even in a virtual setting—coming out of the learning process. The group is now exploring opportunities to join other white and Black churches in community-building activities.