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Sages and Pages

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What Would Mary Lumpkin Do

Updated: Mar 27

For him to give you his children

Without choice or pleasure

For him to give you his land

Born to hold us captive

Your eyes must have shown your dreams

And he wanted to ground them to dirt

Your walk must have shown your resistance

And he wanted to prune it from your roots

Your mouth must have shown your intellect

And he wanted to till it into submission

I think of that land as an inheritance

Called forward by power and violence

You took that inheritance

Along with your vision

To open its doors

You took that inheritance

Along with your defiance

To provide sovereignty

You took that inheritance

Along with your wisdom

To create edification

What he saw in you was his property

So you used property to instill humanity

I recently learned about Mary Lumpkin, a formerly enslaved woman who took one of the cruelest slave jails nicknamed "devil's half acre' and turned it into a seminary for formerly enslaved people.

The slaveholder who gave her the prison had died, and Mary, who fled to freedom during the civil war never wanted the prison.

Eventually, it would become Virginia University, which remains one of the oldest HBCUs in the country.

You can read more about the difficult, complex, and rich life of Mary Lumpkin here. And if you're like me and want to read even more, you can buy The Devil's Half Acre: The Untold Story of How One Woman Liberated the South's Most Notorious Slave Jail here.


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