I once stood in a small cemetery where a little known group of American hostages are buried. There are no tombstones, only a flat rock placed on each grave—no names to identify these Americans who suffered tremendous indignities and deprivations as forced laborers. It was an atrosity in American history.
Cars whiz by the small wooded area where these 20 or so Americans are buried, but no one seems to notice. There are no flags, no flowers. The graves had been forgotten for awhile and were only recently discovered when road builders were working to widen the road. So they paved around the trees and the graves and now these abused Americans are buried in the median of a road that runs in front of a school.
My heart grieved as I stood there and thought about how these Americans suffered. I wanted to do something, but I didn’t know what to do. So I knelt and prayed and quietly left.
I think of that cemetery often and of the horrors suffered by those forgotten Americans. What is the proper response to injustices after the victims have died? I think few of the people who drive by have any idea about what cruelty was done by their countrymen to those buried Americans.
Maybe someday you can visit this unnamed cemetery. It’s not hard to find. It is not in Afghanistan or Iraq or New York City or Lebanon or Syria; Iran; Vietnam or Cambodia. It is not in Korea or Germany or Japan. It is in Brentwood, Tennessee, just down from Brentwood High School in the wooded median of the road.
These 20 or so Americans suffered at the hands of their fellow Americans. They were forced to do a lifetime of hard labor against their will. They were bought and sold and treated like horses or oxen. They had no rights–no freedom–not even a proper burial. For the most part their only escape from their suffering was death. Their plight was sanctioned by the US government and even by many religious denominations.
As I stand in the cemetery and look at the graves, I can imagine the American men, women, and children . . . their hopelessness, their pain, their despair, their constant humiliation, their tears, their prayers. And I understand . . . Slavery was a genuine atrocity done to real people right here in our homeland.
Why don’t you visit this cemetery? Come, see the graves of these forgotten Americans. Feel their history. Let it sink in. Come, bring flowers to honor in death those who received no honor in life. Bring tears to identify with fellow human beings who were crushed by our democracy. Bring prayers to ask for forgiveness and healing from the great evil done on American soil. Bring a friend (if you are white, bring a black friend and if you are black, bring a white one).
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial helps people heal. They face reality– their pain, their sins. They repent, they forgive. They move forward. This unnamed slave cemetery can do the same.