Museum · travel

“Swing Low, Sweet Chariot”

After arriving in America from Africa, many Africans were sold into slavery by the highest bidding slave owner. After years of enduring physical, mental and emotional abuse, many people tried to escape slavery. People who attempted to escape were often helped by abolitionist, freed slaves and others like Harriet Tubman.

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The Slave Haven Museum Underground Rail Road formally known as Burkle Estate is located in Memphis Tennessee. Burkle Estate belonged to Jacob Burkle, a German Immigrant. Mr. Burkle thought that he was escaping oppression in Germany only to arrive in America where he faced worse conditions. He arrived in the 1840’s and was known for operating stockyards, a place where live stock was held. In addition, Mr. Burkle was believed to be a significant player in the underground railroad.

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The beginning of the tour begins soon as you step in to the home.  Photos, maps and artifacts of how slavery begin were located in the foyer on the wall . I was excited to a see a picture of the Cape Coast Slave Castles as I had the opportunity to visit years ago while in Ghana, West Africa.

Our group was then taken into another room to learn some interesting facts.

  • Our tour guide told us about the importance of Negro Spirituals. As a group we sang “Swing Low Sweet Chariot”, I must admit I had chills running through my body as we sang. This song was a coded song and was sang when slaves were trying to escape.
  • I thought quilting was a hobby to most people but I’ve come to learn that quilts also had meaning to slaves. Quilts were designed in various patterns to tell people which were they were to travel when trying to gain freedom from slave masters.
  • Many people use the North star as guide to gain freedom. The star could be seen shining in the night sky and helped them follow the path to northern states which had abolished slavery. If they could see the star due to weather, they could look for moss trees as moss usually grows on the North side of the tree.

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One of the highlights of the trip was going to down to the cellar. The cellar was beneath the house and slaves would hide inside until it was safe to move on with their journey. I couldn’t imagine being a slave but being in the cellar gives you a glimpse of where they would hide. It was stated that Mr. Burkle bought slaves as a guise to trick other slave owners into believing that he believed in owning slaves. His goal was to actually provide them freedom once he bought them. He even went so far as to put out missing person posters in the neighborhood after he allowed them to travel north, so the town would not realize that he was actually in favor of slaves being freed.

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Slave Quarters

If you have the opportunity to visit Memphis, take a trip to see the museum. I think it is important to know your history. History allows us to see where we have been and where we have come from

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30 thoughts on ““Swing Low, Sweet Chariot”

  1. I have only been on very short trips to Memphis and have not had a chance to visit Burkle Estate. Although I think this would be an emotional tour for me, I think it’s one I need to make. I will definitely add this to my agenda the next time I visit Memphis.

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    1. Thank you so much for reading, Emotional but made me proud to be an African american because of there wisdom, strength, endurance and motivation to forge ahead despite the grave consequences. They have some great museums, Ill be posting more about the other ones later.

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  2. I always wonder how l would feel if l visited one of the museums. It is just so sad, and so painful. You’re right though, we should never forget and need to know our history, even being African, it’s still part of us.

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    1. I believe it is hard to hear this part of our history but then I am so proud of my people because they endured and some still managed to find the strength to free others and although bittersweet, I am proud. Thank you so much for listening and reading.

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