The Highland Descendant Community is connected through more than family and shared history – they are tied to Albemarle County, Virginia – to the very land that their families have passed through generations. Many properties were purchased directly after slavery, remaining in the family as each generation lived on the property, and sustained themselves off of the land. Though many barriers existed to achieve land ownership, African Americans saw land ownership as an achievement and confirmation of independence and freedom. In each oral history, this connection to the land was undeniable. Though many descendants have moved to the city or suburbs, or left the property they were raised on, they feel a similar sense of connection to the land itself.
Mary Moorhead, and her mother Barbara, reflect on their deep connection to the Charlottesville area, rooted in the property on which Ms. Moorhead grew up. This connection runs generations-deep, as her father dreamt of returning home, eventually doing so to care for both of his parents. Mary recalls fond memories of this property, located just a mile from Highland, and its remains in the family to this day. The purchase of this land is significant- ownership of property just a mile away from where her great-great grandmother, Mary Carey, was enslaved. After Emancipation, many African Americans seized the opportunity to own the land which they had worked, lived on, and developed connections to. Ms. Moorhead’s family was successful in purchasing their own land to own, to farm, and to live off of. Generations later, she would live on this same farm, traversing that same landscape, including the creek named after her great great grandfather:
Ramona Chapman’s connection to the land leads to a sense of pride, and responsibility. Just knowing that her ancestors have been in this area for so long, caring for the land and building America, defines her connection to the area.
“My recognition of and feelings of deep pride in my ancestors’ role in cultivating the land, raising the animals, building the grandiose structures for government, education, etc. and utilizing their cultural talents for multiple generations, is all the more reason that America owes reparations to every descendant of every enslaved person of African descent. The free, ancestral black labor made America the wealthiest civilization ever on earth and empowered the enslavers’ descendants to enjoy easy, opulent, prosperous lives generation after generation.”
– Ramona Chapman
Connection to the land is also born of dependence upon it- through personal, generational, life- sustaining practices. As Mr. Scott mentions, his family garden sustained his family through the winter. They relied solely on the food they grew, canning the surplus to make it through winter. This created a personal connection to the land through his reliance on it- and he faced major changes once his family moved to the city. While he missed the quiet, country evenings, starry nights, and adjusted to grocery store visits and not having a garden- his extended family remained in the area. Moving away did not end this connection to the land. Charlottesville was the place he returned to: it was still home. Today, Mr. Scott still calls Charlottesville home- despite living in the city for many decades. He dreams of returning to Charlottesville one day- for good.
The same was true for the Saylors- Jennifer Stacy, Angel Saylor, and their mother Ada Saylor. Mrs. Stacy tells of her ancestor Ned Monroe purchasing land directly after slavery. He left it to the entire family in his will, stating it can only be sold if every individual member of the family agrees. This property has been passed through generations, and remains in the family to this day. This act of purchasing land and gaining ownership is agency over a place- in direct contrast to the conditions of enslavement. Property rights allowed African Americans to gain authority over the land, forming a sense of enduring connection to a place.
Property rights allowed African Americans to gain authority over the land, forming a sense of enduring connection to a place. This connection and value in ownership was echoed by Ms. Eubanks, who highlights the importance of land ownership in her family. Her grandparents would sell an acre of land to finance each child’s education, and it was only through ownership that they were able to provide such opportunities for their children, while still retaining the main “nucleus” of the land.
“Collective black self-recovery takes place when we begin to renew our relationship to the earth, when we remember the way of our ancestors . . . Living in modern society without history, it has been easy to forget that black people were first and foremost people of the land, farmers. “
This land and the connection to it tells the story of resilience, community, and the rich history of the Highland Descendant Community. A connection to this land- a renewed relationship to the Earth- is present and valuable. As Mrs. Stacy mentioned, Highland is a valuable resource for building a renewed connection to land, through agriculture education programs and serving as a community resource. Such enduring connections to this Charlottesville area gives insight into the past, a fuller understanding of history and community at Highland, and a vision of hope for the future.
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