In his book, How the Word is Passed, Clint Smith tells the stories of 8 different places in the U.S. that have been touched deeply by slavery and how those places tell the story. One place he visited was the Whitney Plantation in Louisiana. It is the only plantation open for tours that takes the visitor on a journey entirely through the eyes of the enslaved people.
My wife and I are joining a group that is visiting the Whitney Plantation in a few days. They don’t call it a tour. They call it a pilgrimage. If we joined the group, we agreed to a meeting before the trip, going on the the trip itself, then going to a group meeting after the trip. A three-part journey was before us.
The pre-trip meeting was several hours on a Saturday and it was to prepare us for what might happen to us on the trip. There are emotions and spiritual reactions to a trip like this. All of that is what makes it a pilgrimage.
I have had that kind of experience visiting historical places. There have been moments I have been moved deeply in my soul. In those instances I have discovered that I first thought I was on a trip it became a spiritual/emotional experience that was truly a pilgrimage. This trip to the Whitney Plantation is intentionally set up this way by the group we are joining.
There has been one other plantation I have visited and it turned into a spiritual pilgrimage. I have visited the Legacy Museum and Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, AL, and I treat those visits as a pilgrimage. It is to walk in a sacred place. It is to have God do something deep in my soul.
When I visited the Laura Plantation in Louisiana, I was deeply moved. There was a place where I felt the weight of slavery and injustice weigh down on my shoulders and I had to stop. There wasn’t a place to sit, so I bent over with my hands on my knees and wept. The tears flowed. It became sacred ground for me. A lesson in my soul deeply needed.
A part of my soul being healed. A broken piece being restored. A burden felt in that moment from people oppressed, their voices still crying out.
Pilgrimage is to visit a place, hear the story, and understand that something mystical can happen. A spiritual energy from the past is revealed.
The pre-trip meeting for our group was to prepare us for those emotions. I sat next to a Black man in a small group where he confessed his hesitancy to go because he feared the anger that might well up in him. I was deeply moved by his honesty. Others spoke of their anxiety to learn more of a part of history our country would rather forget.
We cannot forget. We have not moved on, so we have work yet to do. We are still rooted far too much in our racism and injustice and prejudice to “move on.” We need real history. We need real emotions. We need real healing.
This is the pilgrimage I have found for myself.