This morning, we awoke with excitment and anticipation for the adventure our hostess, Rosalyn "Roz" had in store for U.S. G.I.R.L.S.
Driving onto the plantation, many of U.S. G.I.R.L.S. and guests had mixed feelings and emotions. Venturing down the long dirt road, some of the ladies shared that they felt a connection with the past; envisioning Slaves working the fields, suffering or trying to runaway. Some took this opportunity to put "emotions in "check" and some of us said a silent prayer during the drive in rememberance of those who tilled this soil.
Once Roz gathered us together for our guided tour narrated by Park Ranger Collins, we mingled with other visitors who also wanted to learn more about the intriguing life of the multicultural polygamous household of Zephaniah Kingsley.
Since all of us grew up in the area (or nearby), we were familiar with the story of Zephaniah's African wife, Anna Madgigine Jai who he married when she was only 13; however many of us did not realize that Zephaniah went on to marry at least 3 other women who were also African. What is that old saying..."Once you go Black...(I digress). We also learned several other "fast facts" during our tour.
Here are just a "few" that stood out:
Marriages between Anglo plantation owners and African women were common in East Florida
Anna Madgigine Jai is buried in an unmarked grave (next to her nephew whose grave is marked) behind a private residence in the Clifton area of Arlington
A slave burial ground does exist; six graves were unearth in 2011 by archeologists from UF. The bodies ranged in age from infants to an elderly woman
Kingsley used the plantation as his slave trading headquarters
The Slave quarter formation is a semi-circle which is unique to the south. It's been surmised that Anna Jai may have been responsible for the layout, because West African villages were commonly constructed in a circular pattern with the king or ruling family living in the center
After the tour, the park ranger acknowledged U.S. G.I.R.L.S. and invited us to go to the book store, since we are a "book club" (hint, hint). He also emphasized that a portion of the proceeds from sales actually "come back" to Kingsley Plantation. Enough said...Ladies let's go!!
Roz left the tour a few minutes before the group to "stage" the area in the restaurant for our meeting. Once we arrived the tables were beautifully set with colorful gift bags and our all important discussion questions. Roz also had a dual screen set-up for our Skype with author, Laila Ibrahim.
Prior to the meeting commencing, JayBee used this time to recognize Celestial on attending her 10th meeting!! U.S. G.I.R.L.S. then presented Celestial with an Amazon gift card to purchase more books!! Celestial was excited and humbled.
Roz called the meeting to order by welcoming U.S. G.I.R.L.S. and guests into the Sand Dollar Restaurant. She asked members and guests how we enjoyed the tour, and everyone started speaking in unison about their experience. Roz spoke candidly about standing in the cold breezy weather, thinking "The slaves had to undure this on a regular basis." How profound and insightful!! Here we are in layers of clothing and slaves stood exactly where we were standing with little clothing, working for then "Master" Kingsley. It was a cause to pause for a moment and reflect upon Roz' statement.
Karen's guest, Dianne offered a prayer of thanks and blessing upon our meals. Once we placed our orders, Roz started the discussion with favorite characters and assessments. We all enjoyed this because everyone has an opinion and reasoning behind it. As we delved into sensitive and thought-provoking topics, Roz was quick to take the group to task on some of the tough aspects of the book; slavery and oppression. Roz reiterated the love that Lisbeth had for Mattie because she was her primary caregiver and Mattie gave her what her mother could/would not.
At this time, we took a short break to receive our beautiful and bountiful plates and platters of seafood, soups and salads. We admired our platters as well as the aroma emitted, before returning to our lively discussion.
When we reached the questions about themes entertwined within the book, Celeste mentioned the issues of social-economic classes, the struggles that come with it, and how some of these struggles continue to exist in America today.
Karen discussed the underground railroad and how communication (or lack thereof) between participants during their travels was discussed in several books that she has read. The reasoning was so no identities could be revealed and passed on to possible bounty hunters or slave catchers. This unspoken (no pun intended) rule seemed a little obscure to JayBee since we are a "faith based" people. Hopes are that an occasional prayer or song of encouragement was uttered in unison during some of these journeys to freedom on the metaphoric railroad.
This book was so intriguing that EVERYONE had something to add to the discussion.
At approximately 1:50 Roz Skyped in author Laila Ibrahim and she was so full of energy
and excitement that it was contagious. Roz thanked her for joining and allowing us sometime during her busy schedule.
Questions were very diverse, from when her next book would be released to her motivation for "penning" this story. The interview can be viewed on our website; although we have 32 minutes of video footage, You Tube has a maximum of 15.5 minutes for download. During one point in the discussion, Laila Ibrahim announced that she will be writing a book focusing on the period after the Civil War, during reconstruction. Roz was quick to point out that there were many wealthy/affluent African-American families during this period and it would be interesting to add this perspective.
The most awesome moment, not able to be viewed on the website, is when Laila Ibrahim asked Roz if she would be willing to read the manuscript for the sequel to Yellow Crocus...what an honor, and of course Roz accepted!!
After the Skype we were "reeling" and so excited about the discussion. Roz showed us the beautiful Valentine Themed bags she purchased to hold the toiletry items we are donating to the Tween Girls of Eugene Butler Middle School. We all came armed with toothbrushes, toothpaste, mouthwash, deodorants, lotions, soap, tissues, feminine hygiene items and other toiletry items as well as a sense of "giving back" to some well deserving young girls.
As Roz adjourned the meeting, we gave her an ovation filled with gratitude for our amazing book club meeting and adventure. We will not soon forget Mattie and Lisbeth.
Thank you Roz for giving our book "legs" that allowed us to travel back in time through prose, for a purpose. The purpose of hearing the stories, feeling the spirits and being re-fueled with the knowledge that the blood, sweat, tears and fears of the enslaved of Kingsley Plantation built the city in which we live, prosper and thrive...Jacksonville