The tale goes like this: an African slave ship ran ashore at what came to be known as Igbo Landing, St. Simons Island, Georgia. As the sun was setting over the water, the slaves, Igbo people from Nigeria, debarked the ship, stood on the shore, turned around, and walked home across the water. While this story is commonly referred to as African American Folklore, the events were substantiated by contemporaneous writings by white overseers in 1803 Georgia. However, the overseers did not see the Igbo walk across the water; they saw a mass suicide whereby dozens of people, rather than be enslaved, walked into the water and drowned. There simply were not enough crew to stop them. As my UC Berkeley professor, Ula Taylor, poignantly said, "What were they going to do, shoot them?"
It is hard to find words to describe what the Igbo people did that day. Beautiful, defiant, desperate, and brave spring to mind. I can tell you they were not alone. On the Middle Passage, enslaved men and women were kept locked-up below deck because of their proclivity to take any opportunity to throw themselves overboard to their deaths. Even more gut-wrenching, women searched for small windows of opportunity to throw their babies and small children overboard. Imagine what sustained horror would have to face your child for you to do such a thing. No really, think about it, I will wait.
It speaks volumes that this particular story did the difficult task of permeating slave society, where open communication of such things was punishable by violence. And it speaks volumes about hope and the human spirit that the slaves sent the Igbo home in their retelling of it.
And then we'll walk right up to the sun
Hand in hand
We'll walk right up to the sun
We won't land.