It was March 2, 1859 and it would mark the beginning of a two day slave auction that would later be known as the largest such event in Georgia and likely the United States. 436 slaves were sold.
“They were men, women and children; someone’s father, someone’s grandfather,” says Kwesi DeGraft-Hanson who helped organize a local tribute Thursday in Savannah.
Near the site where the auction took place, about a dozen people gathered. At one point they opened black umbrellas and held a moment of silence. Why the umbrellas? It’s because the time of the auction has become known as the “Weeping Time.”
“Several days before the sale it was bright and sunny, but the two days of the sale, there were torrential rains. Some said God mus be crying,” says DeGraft-Hanson. “And then immediately after the last person was sold the skies cleared up, so that’s why it’s called the Weeping Time.”
The sale was an effort from the slave owner,Pierce M. Butler, to pay off gambling debts. He received over $300,000 for the sale of the more than 400 slaves.
The participants read from the original documents that list the names and ages of slaves, including newborns and toddlers. Hearing many of the names touches Karen Wortham from Savannah who helped organize the event. “It brings it to life and makes it more real,” she told us. “It’s almost like tears in your eyes when you think of what if ‘I would have been one of those people’ that was actually sold.
“We need to come together because it will heal us,” said Wortham. “It will pull everything together and like I said Savannah is not really proud of some of the the things that happened in the past but ou can’t just sweep it under the rug. We need to acknowledge it, move on and be an example to the rest of the country for standing up for what happened.”
DeGraft-Hanson telling us that ” to remember these former enslaved is to honor them and to heal us.”
“I think remembering them allows us who are living right now to connect with them but more importantly I think it’s about reconciliation,” DeGraft-Hanson said. “I always says that none of us alive today had anything to do with slavery but all of us alive today have something to do with how we still interpret it how we move forward from it. So, for me the names help us understand that they were human beings and once we’ve humanized them we can understand why we need to be civil with one another.”