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Texas re-enactment focuses Juneteenth on life in slavery

Associated Press | 6/25/2008, 5:51 a.m.

After re-enacting the grueling voyage across the Atlantic Ocean, they are marched to a nearby plantation located on the grounds of the Morney-Berry Farm, a black-owned farm in Murdine Berry’s family since 1876.

Berry said her great grandfather, James Morney, and his wife, Catherine, both former slaves, purchased the land after gaining their freedom.

Even those not portraying slaves are drawn into the experience and assume other roles, some bidding eagerly as friends and relatives are auctioned.

“It already hit them in the slave ship, but to be on that auction block, it gives you the sense that, ‘Wow, this really happened,’” Hill said.

A Dallas man who goes by the African name Ifayomi helped put the finishing touches on the village before the celebration. He said his sons would be given a special gift at the event symbolizing their life journey. Similar gifts are given to boys in Africa during their manhood training, he said.

And although slavery is one part of the event, it is not all, he said.

After being auctioned off, the “slaves” do simulated work on the plantation, picking cotton balls taped to trees and dragging large burlap sacks behind them under the watchful eyes — and occasional prodding — of gruff overseers. Those playing slaves eventually escape to freedom using the Underground Railroad, a secret network that helped their real life counterparts flee to freedom in the north.

While making their own getaway, they learn how an untold number of blacks escaped to freedom and the hardships they faced along the way. Their trek ends in the village, Hill said, where it originally started.

Fagbenro said while there are other exhibits elsewhere in the U.S. that include replicated African villages and Underground Railroad re-enactments, the Sankofa Experience is unique.

“There is nowhere that we know of that has the entire experience and it’s on black-owned land,” he said. “It’s sacred here.”

Ifayomi said the event reconnects black people to their past and is like an awakening for many.

“A DNA awakening,” he said.

(Associated Press)