For Part 1 of this story, click here.
Last week I caught a red eye to Hilton Head, spent a day recovering, and then my mother, step-father and I drove the 40 miles southwest to Port Wentworth, Georgia, to meet up with my cousin Koelker and his wife, and then with Randy Quarterman and his family — descendants of a man my great-great-great-grandfather, George Adam Keller, had once enslaved and then given reparations land to, which I’ve written about here.
I was both excited and nervous. I had spent the last month relishing my new, remarkable friendship with Randy. We’d shared photos and stories of our respective families. We’d strategized and researched and been on a conference call together in preparation for our upcoming trip to the Living Cities board meeting in New York. We’d written personal narratives to swap and admire. We’d discussed everything from southern strictures to national politics and organized religion. Finding one another had been so critically timed with Randy’s efforts to save his family land that he often said he knew God had brought us together. I called it good research and serendipity, and felt compelled to explain while I respect all religious beliefs, I don’t believe in organized religion or God as He is typically defined. But when Randy replied that he defined God as Love, it was easy for me to agree that this was the force that had brought us together. In the past few weeks my life had felt more open and generous. It had been filled with more joy, and more love. Even my relationship with my own mother, whom I was already very close to, felt deeper. More, I felt optimistic about the future of America, and about human connection in general, in places where before I had begun to…not. But what if we met and it all fell apart? What if I offended him or his family in some way, or crossed some line, or couldn’t handle what I found out? I tried not to place too much emphasis on what I felt. This is not about me, I told myself. But it was of course, at least partially, and it was still fraught.
Once in Port Wentworth, we got in my cousin’s truck to drive along Monteith Road and the surrounding local land. Koelker pointed out properties and locations where the family plantations — Salem, Coldbrook, Drakies — used to be. This is where the old…