Part 2 of the interview with Peggy King Jorde, by NJ Urban News writer Alexis Collins..
NJ Urban News: What were some things you did while on St. Helena’s island?
Peggy King Jorde: I got to meet the [monarchy-appointed] governor of the island, who was not elected by the people, but who makes decisions… And I met members of the community. I went there to assess what was actually on the ground, and I found that the culture was slightly different from our own. There was an effort to distinguish themselves from the African American community. They were very proud to be British citizens, which was fine. Still, there was a challenge regarding identity as people of color, but distancing themselves from the African American experience. It was compelling. I felt like even if folks of this island could not identify with this burial ground. I can identify as a descendant of enslaved people because this was part of the journey. Though the burial ground I was focusing on was during a period that was later than the slave trade, it still served as a middle passage site.
NJ Urban News: You then traveled stateside and made stops in Charleston, Montgomery, Savannah, St. Helena in South Carolina, and your hometown in Albany, Georgia. What was it like documenting that part of the journey? What did you see and learn?
Peggy King Jorde: Part of it was for me to have the filmmakers and have Annina see and learn what I knew, so as an African American who had already worked on the New York Burial Ground and what was unveiled there, and then me being a Southerner in New York and saying, “okay, what I have always known from my home state,” and the conditions for the African American experience in the state of Georgia. I remember being on the island of St. Helena and there always being this conversation because it was very touchy and very sensitive. I’m an outsider. As a consultant, you never want to tell a community how they should feel and what they should be doing. You want to lay out examples and provide insights on what you’ve learned.
In fact, we’re all connected to this larger construct of the Transatlantic Slave Trade. Come and take a look because the area I come from in South Georgia grew cotton, which was king, and much of that cotton was picked and prepared to be sent to Britain to build its textile industry. Stories like that were critical to making the filmmakers, and folks need to understand that this is a continuum. It is part of a more extensive history.
NJ Urban News: What do you hope to see the U.S. and other countries do in the future to ensure the proper protection and preservation of African Burial Grounds?
Peggy King Jorde: This is my dream. I worked so long on the New York African Burial Ground, and you focus on that one project. You realize it had an impact in so many other communities, and with the outreach from different communities to say, “hey, we got a burial ground how do we do this? How do we do that?” It begs that we get into a global connectedness, that we really look to connect these sites and our experiences globally, through UNESCO, through the United Nations Slavery.
We want to fill in the gaps that are missing… I would love to have a commission, and there’s a precedence for this commission because we have it in the United States, but a commission that would be able to go into any country where the Transatlantic Slave Trade impacted the African descendant community or the African diaspora and be able to claim those sites and honor, protect, and mark them as a way of building that history, that global history of who we are, and the impact made on the community.
NJ Urban News: What do you think these burial grounds and the centers can help teach the community, especially the African American community?
Peggy King Jorde: I have people who come to me, and they will say, particularly with the African burial ground when it was first uncovered, “Well, you know, New York City is New York City, and it’s old and there are lots of burial grounds, we would never build anything if we stopped for every burial ground.” And what I say to them whenever I approach any burial ground site is that archaeologists and anthropologists will tell you that what defines us as a human is how we bury our dead. We may pray over them, we may sing over them, we may pour libations over them, we may lay flowers over someone who has passed, whether it’s our brother, our sister, our mother, our father, our spouse, we may put within the grave, things that are meaningful to us. If that’s what makes us human, imagine a community of people living in a society where the society says, “you are not human, you are subhuman, you have no rights that a white man should respect.” They are engaging in a revolutionary act, and when I see these grounds, it is beyond just a place where bodies are laid for me… that’s what makes that ground sacred, and we should never forget it.
Please visit her website here: https://kingjordeculturals.com/