Seven years ago when I started the Slave Dwelling Project, I was persuaded to write blogs by a coworker when we both worked for the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Her compelling reasoning was that it would be my way to document each and every sleepover. I wrote the first few blogs reluctantly and I must admit that it was a struggle coming up with the five hundred words necessary for each. Now the words flow more freely and often exceed one thousand words or more easily for each blog. Maybe sometime in the near future the content of all of those blogs will assist me in writing a book. Now avid followers of the Slave Dwelling Project anticipate these blogs religiously.

Prior to embarking on the journey of spending nights in extant slave dwellings, it was my desire to interview African Americans who experienced the challenges of travelling during the era of segregation. A recently deceased friend and I were going to take on that challenge of collecting that information. We weren’t exactly sure what we were going to do with that complied information but we just knew that it was imperative that it got done. It would have been the same concept used in compiling the information for the Slave Narratives. The subjects of those proposed interviews are still alive and coherent therefore we must act now. I still hope that someone will pick up on that idea and make it happen.

Being a historian, who majored in professional English in college, I now realize that current events that have the potential to change the world should be documented. I often think about the enslaved whose education was considered a criminal act and all the history that was lost and distorted because those voiceless people could not record their own history.

Something happened recently when on Saturday, January 21st many took to the streets in protest. This act compelled me to put out a call for the written accounts of those who participated in this momentous occasion. Here are the responses that I got in their own words.

Rachel Russell
Charlotte, NC
February 2017 Journal Entry

Rachael Russell 3During the 2016 presidential election, I became glued to posts in Pantsuit Nation and similar local groups. I was addicted to the stories, the solidarity. I have been craving this kind of authenticity my whole life. It was even more heightened after watching the painful protests in my own city of Charlotte in September 2016. I wanted to help those who were suffering so much, to change the systemic pressures put on individual people. And in some ways I wanted someone to help with my relatively minor struggle. Facebook gave me an outlet to feel closer to the honest struggles. But, I wanted it in real life and not just in this alternative online universe. I can like a thousand posts and type words of encouragement. But could I say those words to a stranger on a street, could I hear someone’s struggling heart passing me by? Could they hear mine?

TRachael Russell1hen the Charlotte Women’s March was shared with me by a total stranger. This was it. The opportunity to shine together in real life. I wasn’t sure who would go with me. I tried forwarding the event on. But ultimately I woke up the morning of the march and felt incredibly alone. The world had turned so hateful and I was stifled, alone, lying in my bed, doing nothing about it. I pouted. And then something came over me, a will power I’ve yet to find any other time. I left the house. I parked in the closest deck because I was so overwhelmed that I was desperate for any comfort. Women, kids, men were all in the elevator lobby with an energy like mine – desperately hopeful and hungry for kindness and connectivity. I stepped out and hundreds of people passed by me on the streets.

Fuschias and pink stood out but there were so many colors, so many textures, so many layers of love passing by me. I wanted someone to pull me in. I was still fearful. I snapped pictures, thanked people, told kids I was proud of them. And then I did it, I jumped in and started walking. Part of me was afraid of the herd mentality, that someone would think my neighbors hateful anti-Trump sign was my sign. That I was walking for their cause. Then blocks passed and I took it all in without my insecure lens. There were so many different types of signs. Everyone was there on their own path but respectfully doing it together. I began to get choked up. I was in this flowing river of supporters. And as I started to talk to people, I learned that we didn’t all agree on everything. But I knew we all agreed that we wanted everyone to be treated equal, to be seen as human. The crowd began to chant: “Love not hate will make America great.” I got chills. And I whispered it along with the crowd. I whispered. Why was I so afraid?

Rachael Russell 2I eventually met up with an old friend and her family. Her son was so energized and I saw the world through his eyes. Children are marching, because their parents told them too, but also because they don’t have fears and insecurities like we adults do. Kids talk to all, they run around in parks with all kinds of people, they smile because they are happy and don’t fear other humans. They believe in raw goodness. I was going to listen to that belief inside me again.

This march gave me the opportunity to push my comfort zone, test my own strength, test my beliefs, and open my heart. It was hard to show up. But I know that its time I show up for myself and for all.

When I returned home, I saw all the criticism of the walks. I was enraged at the close-minded perspectives. But what they saw were hateful anti-trump signs and I don’t blame them for that criticism. I just wish they could’ve seen the rest of us. I wish they could’ve seen my favorite sign: “I believe in the inherent worth and dignity of every person.” I marched for all, even for Trump.

I know how much it can take for a human being to stand up and I felt how quickly we are told to sit down. I spent that evening calmly speaking up, letting individual commenters know how their words were personally offending me, educating them about other beliefs, and listening to theirs. Some deleted their previous comments, some thanked me, and some changed my perspective on issues.

Rachel RussellThis march was a turning point in my life. I’ve seen great injustices in my 35 years and it’s just now that I’m able to speak up. Thank you to those who organized, demonstrated, and gave me the power inside to speak up. Speak up for equality. For love. For kindness.

I laid in bed, then I got up.
I stood on the curb, then I walked.
I whispered, then I spoke up.

I wrote those words after the march and knew that my instinctual word choices were important – I am moving UP. I won’t take my freedom for granted. I won’t take my open heart for granted. And I won’t underestimate how hard it is for others to do the same. I am here for you, whoever you are and wherever you are on your path. I hope you’ll be there for me too.

The Woman’s March. January 21, 2017. Uptown Charlotte, North Carolina
Charlotte Hutson-Wren

Charlotte Hutson 4Charlotte Hutson Wren 2Charlotte Hutson Wren 1The day called for clouds, but luckily no rain. It was about 50 degrees. I committed to going to Washington the very day after Hillary Clinton lost the election, but Washington was just out of reach today for me, so marching in Charlotte would be it. I am 64. My 9 year old granddaughter Isabella Hutson would walk with me. We talked about it during the week, but when her dad met me to get her, she was unenthusiastic and tired, having spent all night at a girl scout sleep in. I was going to be on time downtown however so off we drove. On my way I called Melissa, 35, my mother’s caregiver for two years and now a friend. In the spirit of women of color and women without, I really felt like this day needed to be inclusive. She said her two girls, who are 16 and 18, were working but she and her mom would jump in the car right then and come down. (yay) Bella and I surprisingly found a place to park in a big grassy lot on the block where marchers were gathering. We were 30 minutes early. I made our signs the night before and taped them onto 4 ft slats of wood. “GIRL POWER” for Bella, and for me the tall symbol of the woman sign with a fist. There were pink hats everywhere, including Bella’s which I found in my hall basket of hats at the last minute, along with a hot pink zip up jacket for her. The field of people was like nothing I have ever seen. A sea of creative passion began to gather. Women of all ages, in every shade of pink pussy hat. Men with women. Dogs. Signs. We pushed to the main area, to wait until starting time. A group of African American young women stood near us, with magnificent and elaborately painted signs: “Say it Loud – I am Woman and Proud” along with one that said UNITY. Yellow and Black and Red. Women in pale pink matching hats near us were in a group, having come together, and older, about 60. One or two of the older women leaned down to greet Bella who was a little frightened by such a large crowd at first. I had toasted her a piece of sour dough toast (her favorite) which was in my pocket. That helped. Then one of women noticed and pointed to me that Bella’s eyes were tearing. I knew what it was. Bella wanted her mother there. Her mother said no to my invitation, which she usually does. I had to tell Bella that I understood that. That my mother said no to being with me, too, as a child. And that there is just nothing we can do about that. That is about the time the speaker announced the march and very slowly we began, all ten thousand of us, to move: very very slowly. Melissa texted me that they had gotten there and she and her mother were here. She sent pictures of them but we did not see them. This made me very happy, to have pulled in my own small family of women. It was what I could do today. There were signs and warm, pink, pussy hats everywhere. Bubbles floating. Songs spontaneously erupting. Chants: Black Lives Matter was one. Charlotteans are a pretty polite bunch so it was a bit like a lovefest and we walked in baby steps for more than an hour. There were more women than men, but the spirit of the gathering was peaceful, and passionate. Bella began to enjoy herself, and I cannot help but think the experience of joining with people we had never met for such a cause would change her life. We also bumped into her Girl Scout leader and her daughter, wonderfully, which caused Bella to shreek with joy. We took pictures of each other. Pictures her mommy would get from the Girl Scout Leader later (yay!) The visual experience was art at its finest. My own experience was exhilarating. The election had put me to bed for a month, divided me from my family and friends, and even my mate, who simply could not handle my grief. I cried many nights to sleep worrying about my grandchildren’s futures. I even quit going to my beloved alanon meeting on Sundays, because I felt I had nothing to give right now. This march gave me my power back. I am not alone. We are not alone. I will never. Ever. Forget this.

Women’s March on Washington
Sister March
Charleston SC 1/21/17

L J Clay

LJ Clay (right)

LJ Clay (right)

I had no idea the height and breadth of the WMOW: Charleston Sister March. I first caught a glimpse of the information via social media, then a friend reached out and asked if I was interested in attending and being a part.

Each day that grew closer to 1/21 the more excited I became. I went to bed early on Friday night and arose early on Saturday morning, chose my attire, grabbed a cup of coffee and waited for my dear friend to arrive for us to car pool to one of the several parking areas designated for the event attendees. Downtown Charleston was not heavily trafficked on that overcast rainy morning, but a significant buzz of people were stirring near the Meeting Street Visitors Center, and the surrounding areas.

IMG_0093 LJB ClayPeople were gathered under over hangs and umbrellas, with raincoats, and rain boots and parkas to combat the forecasted intermittent rain. The local March coordinator circulated through the crowd trying to let people know what the plan was. Families, parents with children some in strollers, mothers, daughters, grandmothers, sisters, aunts, friends, and a host of supportive men, were all there for the reason of solidarity. Not to “protest” against but to stand and be counted in the number of those who will not simply lie down and allow the rights of all people to just be negated and annihilated.

I was proud to be there, but even prouder to learn that in our little way in beautiful quaint little Charleston, we the 3000+ group had made an impact along with the Sister Marches in DC, and the many located all over the country and all over the world.

Nell Ziehl

“Ho, Ho, Hey, Hey, Welcome to your first day!” was my favorite chant.

Nell ZiehlI marched in solidarity with Art Responders, my dear friend Daryl Wells’ project to address police brutality through art, and for women of color who have suffered violence. I marched for indigenous women and Water Protectors, and with Mother Earth. I marched for myself and for all of us threatened by the new administration.

The crowd was far larger than I — and apparently the organizers — expected. But everyone was extremely kind, and as soon as we felt crushed and a little anxious, we’d see another hilarious sign, or start another chant, and we relaxed again.

We sang for women’s rights, immigrant rights, Black lives and Water Is Life. The breadth of interrelated protest – all of which are women’s issues – was something I had never experienced before. From time to time, I felt the predominantly white crowd hesitate over the Black Lives Matter chant, but with each refrain they grew more forceful and comfortable. While the pace of change is frustrating, I really believe that experience of solidarity shifted their understanding of the movement and its importance.

I can only compare the size and euphoric feeling of the crowd to Obama’s first inauguration. The organizers were far less prepared, and we had no idea what was going on when they decided the crowd was too big to accommodate the march. OK, I thought, it will just be a huge rally. But then we surged onto the Mall (unpermitted) and up 13th(?) onto Pennsylvania Ave (unpermitted). We were met at every intersection by more crowds finding their way. Apparently we just took over all of downtown.

The inaugural bleachers were already filled with protesters when we arrived. We chanted about Conflicts of Interest at the new Trump Hotel (and met a couple Trumpers trying to exit) and then some of us ventured on to the White House. Doubling back, around 3:30pm, we saw more crowds coming, like a never-ending cascade.

I’ve been to a lot of Mall protests. We were way more than 500k.

Thank you, sisters, in DC and around the world. May we stay vigilant and active.

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