A Writer Offers a History Lesson

“Use loneliness. Its ache creates urgency to reconnect with the world. Take that aching and use it to propel you deeper into your need for expression—to speak, to say who you are.” ~ Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones.

Last Sunday I drove down through Delaware and Maryland, across the Mason Dixon Line and the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and onto Annapolis. I had taken a room for two nights in the Governor Calvert House—Historic Inns of Annapolis. The three-story brick building across from the State Capitol where George Washington resigned his commission was within walking distance of everything from Revolutionary War mansions to Civil Rights museums. The bay and the Severn River, a 14-mile-long tidal estuary, beckoned below the hill.

A feeling in my own life of questioning where to go from here has led to this: learn and learn more. As a writer, I have a responsibility to use my voice to shed light, to keep learning, and, hopefully, play my part in making this world a better place.

When I arrived in Annapolis, temperatures in the mid-seventies had drawn hordes of people … mostly families and couples and those in town for a Navy lacrosse game. As I hopped aboard a bright red trolley for a tour of the town, the loneliness of the solo traveler ebbed. I felt good that I had done this. Risk-taking results in something useful to the writer, whether a chance conversation with a stranger, or a new way of looking at a world we thought we knew.

The next morning, under cloudy skies the town had settled into a quiet green oasis, a lovely showcase of April’s special spring beauty of tulips and flowering trees. I toured the William Paca House and listened as the guide spoke about the enslaved people that served Paca, a signer of the Declaration of Independence. The irony was not lost. A nation founded on the freedom of the individual used enslaved people to carry heavy silver urns filled with scalding hot water up steep stairs to the parlor. Here, gentry could sip tea in a sitting room with views of symmetrically laid out gardens. As a lawyer, Paca enjoyed inviting guests to his home for lively discussions involving the oppression of the King and the concept of a nation based on “all men are created equal.”

A few blocks up the street from the house, the Museum of Historic Annapolis features a floor-to-ceiling mural of George Washington. The General towers over his personal slave, a small man in red-feathered turban. Earlier, the sun had broken through the clouds casting a dockside bronze sculpture of author Alex Haley, reading from Roots, children transfixed at his feet. Inside the museum, not far from the Washington mural was a black and white painting of Kunta Kinte, a fictional character based on Haley’s ancestor. The plaque read that Kinte had been brought on a ship from Africa under months-long grueling conditions to the Port of Annapolis. The remainder of his life was spent in hard labor on a tobacco plantation in the South.

A recent PBS special featuring Ken Burns’ documentary on the life of Benjamin Franklin revealed that, yes, even Franklin had enslaved people. As a Philadelphian, I admire Franklin, who founded the University of Pennsylvania, where I did my graduate work. It seems Ben saw the status quo as enslaving people.

Of course, I couldn’t leave town without a boat ride around the harbor and the river where multi-million dollar homes serenely gaze upon the brackish waters of the estuary.

As controversy rages about what children should and should not be taught or allowed to read in books, this trip served as a lesson. There is no turning back. Teaching critical race theory is essential to understanding our nation. Books open worlds and introduce us to all sorts of people and cannot be shelved due to prejudice or the patriarchy. History reminds us that the past is prelude to the present. Although often a solitary and lonely task, the writer expresses injustice as best she can. After all, the truth begins with the truth.

Published by Susan G. Weidener

Join me as I share reflections, always with an eye toward the challenges and struggles we women encounter and embrace in both creative and personal ways. My memoir, Again in a Heartbeat, was selected as a 2011 editor’s pick by Story Circle Network. Its sequel Morning at Wellington Square has also achieved critical acclaim. A Portrait of Love and Honor, a novel based on a true story, is centered around a story of two people destined to meet and one man's commitment to honor following his years at West Point. In 1991, I joined the staff of The Philadelphia Inquirer and worked as a reporter covering news and writing feature stories until 2007. A native of the Philadelphia suburbs, I attended the University of Pennsylvania. In 2010, I started the Women's Writing Circle, a critique and support group for writers in suburban Philadelphia, which meets the second Saturday of the month at the Chester Springs Library. I live in Chester Springs, Pennsylvania with my Yellow Lab, Lily.

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