JAMES CITY COUNTY-The Historic Triangle chapter of Coming to the Table, a national racial reconciliation organization, is holding an annual “Journey to Racial Healing” ceremony at James City County’s Freedom Park on Saturday, June 11, to recognize a descendant of enslavers who is making personal reparations for the racial harms caused by her ancestors.
The inaugural event will focus on recognizing people who wish to acknowledge and begin the healing process from their family’s ties to slavery by honoring them during a ceremony. Donna Bragg Melcher, a Georgia resident, is slated to be the featured speaker at the “Journey to Racial Healing” ceremony at Freedom Park, which is the site of one of the earliest free Black settlements in America. The ceremony will begin at 1pm at the park’s interpretive center.
Melcher, a descendant of enslavers who lived in Virginia and Georgia, has donated more than $20,000 to the Historic Triangle chapter of Coming to the Table, and Freedom, GA, a planned city intended to be utilized as a safe haven for people of color.
“She spent five years researching her family history and uncovered documents that showed her ancestors’ ties to slavery,” said Laura Hill, founder and director of Coming to the Table-Historic Triangle. “After the discovery, she sought out organizations that were working toward racial healing or racial liberation. We could have just taken her check and said, ‘thank you,’ but we really wanted to honor her for her efforts.”
Peninsula Chronicle spoke to Melcher during a telephone interview as she was about an hour into the 10-hour drive from Georgia to Virginia. With her partner at the wheel, Melcher had a lot of time in front of her to rest in thought. “There’s a lot of mixed emotions right now,” said Melcher. “I’m feeling the range of excitement, anxiousness, and there’s a sadness, too, that all of this is even necessary.”
Melcher said that one of the constant pastimes she shared with her mother while growing up was gardening.
“We spent a lot of time picking weeds out of the garden, and one thing she taught me that I’ve remembered my whole life is that you have to get things out by the root,” said Melcher. “The enslavement of African Americans and the genocide of Native American people; those two issues are things we need to get out by the root before we can have a beautiful garden in this country.”
Alicia Britt, a representative of the Freedom, GA, Initiative will also speak at the event. She is a member of one of 19 African American families who acquired a 502-acre tract of land in rural Wilkinson County, GA, where Melcher’s ancestors settled after leaving Virginia. They foresee Freedom as an environmentally-sustainable community that will serve as a recreational, educational, and cultural hub for Black families.
Bill Sizemore, a member of Coming to the Table-Historic Triangle and author of “Uncle George and Me,” a book about his enslaver ancestors, will also speak and is donating the profits from book sales to a college scholarship fund for the descendants of those his ancestors enslaved.
John McGlennon, chairman of the James City County Board of Supervisors, is expected to deliver welcoming remarks at the beginning of the ceremony.
The occasion will also serve as the official launch of the Virginia Racial Healing Institute, a new organization that was established in December 2021 by the Coming to the Table-Historic Triangle. The organization moderates and facilitates programs to foster dialogue about racial issues, and offers trauma, educational, and faith-based racial reconciliation programs.
Hill said all 50 tickets have sold out to the ceremony and looks forward to recognizing more people next year.
Serving Williamsburg, James City County, and Yorktown, Coming to the Table-Historic Triangle celebrates its third anniversary this month. The organization offers a safe place to hold open and honest discussions about race while working toward healing the Historic Triangle community. Meetings are held on the third Tuesday of every month. For more information about the organization, visit its website.