Ever wonder where all the slaves who died here are buried? What rituals prepared them for their final resting place? In Portsmouth, New Hampshire it turns out that the slaves were buried under several streets in the city’s downtown area. Although the burial ground was marked on official city maps, it went unnoticed. That changed when earlier this century some bones surfaced and demanded their story be told.
And so they were with a dignity and beauty that touched the hearts and raised the consciousness of many. It was a proud moment for Portsmouth as its citizens came together in a moment of profound reconciliation. Whether consciously or not, the ceremony organizers taught the community a lot about trauma and recovery.
First, by acknowledging the horror of slavery. There was no glossing over how bad it really was. The wrenching travesty of people ripped from their own lives was there for all to see.
But there was more. There was a glimpse into how African Americans were able to integrate the trauma of slavery into the narrative of a better life. While never forgetting the anguish expressed in the lyrics of Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child, artists used the familiar melody to create new, softer stories, like Summer Time and St. Louie Woman.
That’s the art of recovery. That’s what traumatized children need to learn how to do – to acknowledge the background music of their lives while taking control of the lyrics. It’s the story they choose to create that defines them-not just the accompanying melody.
For more information about the African Burying Ground in Portsmouth NH, please visit
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