SOUTHERN HISTORY contains many unpleasant, painful events. The Weeping Time slave sale is one such event, compounded by the fact that to many people it's been largely a well-kept secret for a century.
On March 2-3, 1859, 436 people were sold into slavery as a last-ditch effort to offset plantation owner Pierce Butler’s debts. The sale is referred to as “Weeping Time” because it rained during the entire auction.
It’s also the largest known sale of enslaved people in U.S. history, prompting some to wonder why it isn’t more commonly known and discussed.
At the risk of sounding clichéd, it’s important for us to remember our history so we dare not repeat it. That’s one of the reasons the Georgia Historical Society has planned “Unearthing the Weeping Time,” a project including several events in memoriam of the sale.
“It’s major,” said Kali-Ahset Amen, director of the three-day project. “It’s a symbol of an extremely traumatic moment, and the fact that it’s the largest slave sale in recorded history makes it the most egregious.”
Amen co-wrote “1859 Savannah Slave Auction,” a grant for the Georgia Humanities Council, with Dr. Kwesi DeGraft-Hansen, who will give a lecture at the Jepson on August 28 at 6 p.m.
A native of Ghana, Hansen studied landscape architecture at the University of Georgia and received his doctorate in interdisciplinary liberal arts from Emory University. One of his main areas of interest that he’ll discuss at his lecture, Amen says, is to connect other hidden landscapes between the southeast United States and West Africa.
“The snatching happened over there, the selling happened over here,” she explains.
Hansen’s lecture is in conjunction with the end of the Jepson’s exhibit “Slavery and Freedom in Savannah,” since the exhibit ends the day after the lecture.
Experienced in the field of landscape architecture and urban planning, Hansen is particularly interested in the Weeping Time sale because of its current landscape. The space where the sale occurred is now marked with a commemorative Georgia Historical Society plaque, as is the trend with many similar areas—the place has been beautified to cover up the atrocities of its past.
“I’m all for progress and moving forward,” Amen says, “but we hope to help map these sites so we won’t forget, the future won’t forget. We want to honor people who may have been hurt there, to make it conscientiously aligned with its past.”
On August 29, the project will continue with a walking tour of the area where the sale took place. The tour starts at Brock Elementary School at 5:30 p.m., less than half a mile from the Weeping Time plaque.
There will also be a genealogy workshop August 30 at the Beach Institute. In addition to landscape studies, Hansen does genealogical research. So far he’s found two descendants of people sold in the Weeping Time auction, an impressive find that he hopes others will be inspired to duplicate.
Amen explains that, for some reason, African Americans don’t often come to the Georgia Historical Society to do ancestral research. Some people may be intimidated by the methods of research used, which can be confusing and off-putting. The genealogy workshop, open to anyone, sets out to change that perception.
“We hope to bring two fairly segregated communities together,” Amen says of minorities and the Georgia Historical Society. “We want to bring them in contact, let them collaborate with each other. They can’t rely on formally trained historians to look up their ancestry; ordinary family members can do it, too.”