by Becky Johnston-
Saturday I braved the cold (though compared to the prior days it seemed warm) to witness something like nothing I had ever seen before. On the steps of the Old Courthouse in St. Louis, a slave auction took place. My feelings were undoubtedly and appropriately mixed. I brought my 5-year-old daughter so that she, as I and many others, could watch firsthand the heart wrenching re-enactment of human beings treated as simple property. I expected uproar, but was surprised by how little there was. Only a small group protested and was easily subdued by the minimal police presence. They did yell out phrases like “slavery is murder.” No one present would have argued that statement. A path was cleared from the steps, down Broadway as the “slaves” were brought up for auction. They were chained and moaning; their cries of injustice and for freedom wrought with full emotion. As they ascended the stairs, they pulled and fought to break away. The crowd wrapped tight around the scene. We all watched in complete awe of what none had witnessed since the end of the Civil War. How could anyone have ever been so heartless as to subject anyone to these unforgivable, degrading, and appalling deeds? To watch this scene portrayed with such raw emotion gave us all insight into an unfortunate, but undeniable part of our shared history.
This display, though it brought tears to many (including me), gave the emotion back to a sad and horrible past of which we may lose sight. This re-enactment restored the human element to a story we only know through words and pictures. It brought this history from an abstract two-dimensional form forward to a fully multi-dimensional, tangible existence immersed in feeling and emotion. I applaud Dr. Da Silva’s bravery in the face of adversity. Many would find such a display too controversial to touch, as I suppose most of the media did since it was barely mentioned on the web let alone in the local papers or TV news. To deny our past, to exclude the atrocities that have befallen our fellow human beings, denies those that suffered their own heritage and history. Stories like these should never be forgotten. It is how we judge the progress of humanity. We cannot know where we are going if we do not know where we have been.
PS: MSNBC’s photoblog has some great photographs from the event.