Mississippi, the birthplace of American music and the site of 581 documented lynchings, the most of any state in America. My great-grandmother fled at the height of Jim Crow in the 1950s. This April, I traversed an integrated Mississippi. But the land remains suspended in antebellum antiquity. The plantations stand intact. Confederate flags line the highways.
I drove up from Louisiana, following the river north. As I hit Mississippi soil, something inside me quaked. I was returning to the land where my ancestors were enslaved, lynched, and raped. I felt myself embodying my ancestors’ memory as I peered out the car window, arrested by the state’s beauty — an endless sea of green pines and wisteria, cast in twilight. But it is beauty steeped in Black blood.
The Mississippi River, named after an Ojibwe word meaning “great river,” beckoned me. Its muddy waves breathed and bled past the shoreline, alive with the spirit of my ancestors. I stood before the river thinking of those who used it to escape slavery. Those who were murdered attempting escape. Those who drowned. Standing transfixed, emotions burgeoning, the words of Toni Morrison came to me: “All water has a perfect memory and is forever trying to get back to where it was.”