Kwesi DeGraft-Hanson is a landscape architect who has a PhD from Emory and an eye for history–especially history that’s been camouflaged by landscapes and hardscapes. History buried by time’s transformation of place.
His keenest interest focuses on the hidden landscapes of slavery–the locations of slave cabins whose foundations are barely visible; the sites of old slave markets in city squares with no historical markers acknowledging that commerce; fields of cotton now harvested by machine but long ago harvested by enslaved hands.
He has a fascinating story to tell.
His tale begins in the 18th century and comes all the way to the present, with a significant chapter midway about “The Weeping Time”–the largest documented slave auction in US history. That heinous sale occurred in Savannah during two rainy days in March 1859.
When Kwesi learned of the auction he began to wonder where it had occurred, and what remained of the site. As he dug into the story he found two interesting though indirect connections to Emory.
One is the name Lamar. The site of the sale was the Ten Broeck Race Course, established in 1857 by the Savannah Jockey Club. President of that club was one Charles Augustus Lafayette Lamar, a Savannah aristocrat with an egregious sense of entitlement and heedless ambition. Both led him to an early death at the front of a Confederate charge in what is widely regarded as the last battle of the Civil War, near Columbus, Georgia.
There’s no direct connection between the Weeping Time and Emory, but Kwesi’s discovery of Charles Lamar’s kinship with L.Q.C. is new information.
A second note of interest is that Charles Lamar outfitted a yacht called the Wanderer to transport slaves from Africa to Georgia. This was more than half a century after Congress had outlawed the trans-Atlantic slave trade in 1807, so the yacht was intended to be fast enough to outrun US Navy ships. In October 1858 Charles Lamar’s ship took on 487 slaves at the Congo River; six weeks later the Wanderer landed at Jekyll Island, Georgia, with 409 survivors. The logbook of the Wanderer now is housed in Emory’s Stuart A. Rose Library.
In addition to delving into history, Kwesi aims to close an important circle for descendants of some of the enslaved men and women whose lives were changed forever on those days of the slave auction. By dogged research and amazing coincidence, he and one of those descendants found each other through the miraculous tools of the Internet. Kwesi hopes to bring her and her family to Savannah for a look at that hidden landscape of the Weeping Time. A fuller account of his story is here.
It is history in service to those who were long overlooked and largely unremembered. They–and we–can thank Kwesi DeGraft-Hanson.