In February of 2015, I decided that it was time for me to take that journey back to my roots, where the ties that bind me. I shared with Paul about my plans to visit Sumter and he told me that he would join me. I was so excited to finally be going to Sumter. I started getting my finances together, looking for reasonable hotel rooms and a affordable way to travel down to South Carolina. It was finally set that I would meet up with Paul sometime in March once I got the arrangements together.
As March approach my finances started to get a little sketchy and I was panicking that I wouldn't be able to afford to make the trip. One day I was chatting with Paul through email and he asked me how my plans were going. I had too much pride to tell him that I was struggling financially to make the trip. He told me that he shared with his parents that I was planning on making the trip to a South Carolina and they suggested that I could stay at their home with them in Columbia South Carolina, because I was like family. I was so overwhelmed with emotions that I cried until my eyes were swollen. How thoughtful of them to invite me into their home with out even knowing me. I was so moved and jumped at the once and a lifetime offer. My journey seemed to be forming into more than I could have ever imagined. A few weeks later Paul asked me what was my itinerary for South Carolina.
I told him that I wanted to visit a few ladies who work at the Sumter County Court House; they were always there for me and made me feel as though they would go beyond the call of duty for me. I was able to piece together my family history from the old dusty records they found. I want to walk the ‘Limebacker Plantation’ with him, in a different light, then visit the Concord Presbyterian Church to pay my respects to his family that are resting in the cemetery behind the church. I especially want to visit his great-great-great grandfather Henry Spann and his great-great grandfather Samuel Robert Spann. The last leg of my journey I want to go visit my great-great grandmother Winnie and her brother Lewis Mack Junior at Beulah Cemetery. I was over joyed that Paul and my daughter were going to accompany me on my journey because years earlier I had contacted Beulah church to see if they had any idea where my family were buried in their cemetery, the Pastor of the church at that time told me the family that I was looking for were buried in their older cemetery a mile from their new church. The old cemetery was also over grown with high weeds, were snakes and whatnot would be lurking. Although I'm a city girl, and my roots are planted in the south, I don't do snakes or anything that crawls. “Is that all you want to do?”, Paul asked me. “Pretty much”, I responded. It was nothing else really that I was interested in seeing.
My trip was finally set in motion. I was going to rent a car on March 25, 2015 and drive the nine hours with my daughter to stay at Paul's parents home in Columbia, South Carolina for four days. I was so hyped. I was on my way to fulfill a life long dream. The day before I was to travel to South Carolina I got up around five in the morning because I was over anxious about the trip. I gathered my cell phone and iPad and went down stairs to make coffee. I sat down on the couch with my coffee and turned on the news. A few hours later I opened up my phone and noticed that I had a notification from Facebook. A message was waiting for me in my inbox. "Who could be sending me a message through Facebook?", I thought. I don't communicate with anybody like that. I ignored the message for a little while until I had this nagging urge to read it. So I open up the Facebook message.
Clutching my upper body with my arms and hands, I went over to the mirror and stood there. Warmth of emotions filled every part of my body as I looked at myself in this oval mirror. I released the hold I had on myself and stood up straight. I felt so complete and happy but most importantly I felt strong. "I believed more now than ever and I would never forget", I said to myself. I really didn't want to move from in front of that mirror, I could have stayed there all day looking at it. Before I turned to go back down the stairs, I closed my eyes and reflected on all the obstacles, brick walls and emotions that I had went through to get this far in my journey. I clearly understood now how much my family loved me, even from beyond. It's an amazing feeling to be loved so much by people who I can't see but no is there. My family has done an amazing job going out of their way to show me how much they love me. How could I not believe?
Paul and I went back downstairs to join his parents and my daughter for breakfast. After breakfast I noticed that my daughter seemed a little bit under the weather. I leaned over to her and asked her was she feeling okay? “I think it's this southern pollen, it's getting to my sinuses”, she said. “Oh no!” I said. “Mom it's okay, if you can find a store that carries the sinus medicine I use, I will be okay, I just need to lay down”, my daughter said. I told Paul and his parents that I was going to run out and pick up my daughter some sinus medicine because she wasn't feeling good and I would be right back. I walked my daughter back to the guest bedroom. I tucked her in and told her I would be right back.
Mrs. Pegilie gave me the directions to get to the Walgreens a few minutes away from their home and I headed out. I was two blocks from their home when I got lost. I was to busy sight seeing. I got my self back in focus because my daughter wasn't feeling well. I turned on my GPS on my cell phone; I was only a block from Walgreens. I went in and found her medicine. When I got up to the cashier I noticed his nametag said ‘Lewis’. “Am I really seeing this right now?” I asked myself. Of all the names in this world this gentleman nametag says Lewis. “Good morning ma'am, my I have your zip code? Lewis said in a southern accent. “One nine one four nine”, I said. He looked at the cash register machine with a questionable look on his face and then looked up at me. “Where is that zip code from? he asked me. “Philadelphia”, I said. “You're sure a long way from home, ma'am, welcome to Columbia South Carolina”, he said. “Well thank you, Lewis”, I said with a smile. “Make sure you get some southern sweet tea before you leave” he said. “I had some already but I couldn't help but to notice that your name tag says Lewis. My great-great-great grandfather name was Lewis”, I told him. “I am named after my great grandfather Lewis ma'am”, he said. All I could do was smile at Lewis. I paid for my daughter’s medicine and headed back to the Walter’s home.
I went straight back into the guest room that my daughter was in. She was still sleeping. I woke her up and gave her the medicine. I removed my coat and shoes and climbed in the bed with her. “Mom, what are you doing?”. “I'm laying down with you until you feel better”, I told her as I snuggled up next to her. As my daughter and I laid there together, we talked about all the cool things we had seen on the drive to Columbia and how nervous I was. I told her about the Walgreens cashier named Lewis. “You no what mom?”,my daughter said. “What's that”, I asked her. “At first I really thought you were going crazy with all the things you said you were seeing and hearing, it scared me a little. I can't explain the things you've seen and I don't understand none of it but I no it's real and I clearly understand that all of this was meant for you. I also no that us being here together means a lot to you and the future generations. What a cool story I will be able to share with my children some day. I am so proud of you right now Mom. I been listening to you talk about wanting to find your ancestors all my life and here you are on a different level of finding them. You never gave up and I will always admire you because of this. I don't want you to lay in this bed with me another minute. I want you to go with Paul as y'all planned. We've come to far for you to not go all the way. I will be fine” my daughter lectured me. I was a little hesitant to think about leaving her. “Mom, stop sitting there going back and forth in your head about leaving me for a few hours, remember our ancestors are looking over me too”, my daughter said with a smile. “Are you sure?” I asked my daughter. “I am sure mom because after the things I thought you wasn't going to see and you seen them, I'm a believer, so go mom”, my daughter said.
I was relived that Paul's parents agreed to watch over my daughter while Paul and I embarked on this journey together. Paul and I got into his jeep and headed towards Sumter South Carolina. It was about a forty-five minute drive from Columbia South Carolina but with Paul’s heavy driving foot, I am sure we would get there in ten minutes. I looked out of the window trying to mentally take in every thing I laid my eyes on: the trees, buildings and even the signs I seen. I mentally never wanted to forget this journey. Paul told me that we would be entering into Sumter in five minutes. My heart began to beat rapidly as I saw the Sumter welcoming sign. I couldn't wait to fulfill our day itinerary: visit the Sumter County museum, the Limebacker plantation, the Concord Presbyterian Church and the Beulah A.M.E. Cemetery. A few minutes later Paul said, “We are now entering Sumter South Carolina.” The feeling was so unreal to me I would be finally driving down the road I took on ‘Google map’ for so long. I immediately whipped out my cell phone to record the moment.
“The purple flowers on the left of us are called ‘Wisteria’, they bloom really nicely this time of the year”, Paul said. Looking at the beautiful purple flowers that lounged languorously over the row of trees, even from the passengers seat of Pauls jeeps, its charms were almost impossible to resist to pick.
A few minutes later Paul and I pulled up to the Sumter County museum. The museum was a nice size two story house, that resembled the homes in the Fairmont Park section in Philadelphia. Before going in I had to stop and get a quick picture in front of the Sumter Museum to record the moment. When we entered the museum, I was surprised to see that it was pretty much set up like an actual home. Mrs. Deborah Watts the museum manager greeted us. “What is it that brought the two of you here to the Sumter Museum today?”, she asked. Paul and I looked at each other. “You tell her”, I said to Paul. “You tell her, Paul said to me. Mrs. Watts was looking back and fourth at Paul and I inquisitively. I spoke up. “Well, My name is Sharon Calvin and I am from Philadelphia. I've traced my maternal roots to Sumter South Carolina, I discovered my slave ancestors and this gentleman Paul Richbourg Walter is the descendant of the people who once owned my family. It took my thirteen years to get to this point.
I have called this museum through out the years needing help with understanding how to read eighteen-century plat records. I was desperately trying to locate the plantation that my family once lived on. Mr. Charles the curator here has done a really good job educating me on how to read old maps over the phone. I want to personally thank him for all his time and to tell him Paul found the deed to the property”, I told Mrs. Watts. “Oh WoW! I've never heard a story like that”, Mrs. Watts said. “I'm sorry to say that Mr. Charles isn't here today”, Mrs. Watts said. Although I tried not to let it show that I was very disappointed my facial expressions never lie. “Oh sweetie, don't look so sad, maybe you can come back on Monday to see him”, Mrs. Watts suggested. “ I'm leaving on Monday, but thanks anyway”, I said as I was turning to leave out the museum. “Wait. While you two are here, y'all should take a tour of the museum”, Mrs. Watts said. Paul and I looked at each other and we both agreed, even though we were pressed for time. The flat tire incident jammed my itinerary up. We agreed to the tour although we had to watch a twenty-five minute video about the history of Sumter first. Mrs. Watts led us into a small room right off the side of the museum entryway. The room had just enough space for the thirteen-inch VCR television, a small bookshelf, and two chairs that sat Paul and I. Before Mrs. Watts popped in the VCR tape for us, Paul asked her if she could look up a few of his ancestor's names in the museum files. Mrs. Watts agreed to look through their records for Paul while we watched the video.
Twenty-five minutes later as the short video was ending, Mrs. Watts entered the small room as if on cue. Unfortunately she told Paul she couldn't find anything on the names he had given her in the museum records. So we proceeded on with the tour. "The museum is actually a complex of several small museums that transport you to different era’s of South Carolina.
After watching the video, touring every room of the two-story museum as well as two additional rooms located outside the museum in a separate building, I was sure that the tour was over, until Mrs. Watts said. “There's one last part of the tour that I think you two will find interesting, especially you Sharon”, Mrs. Watts said. She led Paul and I out of the second building, passed a wonderful garden in the back of the museum.
Riding down the dusty narrow road, lined with different kinds of large tree’s, once occupied: cotton, tobacco, and sugar plantations. Gazing out of the jeeps window, I imagine seeing the tops of people’s heads working out in the hot sun in those large fields, carrying around those gigantic white cotton bags. We pulled over at the spot were I believed the Limebacker plantation was but we didn't get out. After a few minutes of me mentally taking in the view, Paul pulled back onto the road. A couple of minutes later we pulled up to the Concord Presbyterian church.
As I climbed out of Pauls jeep, I could hear my heart beating with every step I took towards the front of the church. I walked up to the top of the church steps and stood there looking at the big green wooden front doors and the large shutters in awe. Long time ago my family wouldn't have been allowed to approach the front doors. I turn my gazed off of the big wooden church doors to see that there was a door to the side of the church. I turned to look for Paul who was standing at the bottom of the steps, allowing me to take in the moment alone. “My ancestors used this side door to enter into the church?”, I asked Paul. “Yes, Sharon that's the door they had to enter into”, Paul said. I walked over to the door my family entered and touch the knob. I placed my hands all over that door, hoping that my handprint might have touched the same spot my ancestors may have touched, when they entered that door.
I began to take my hands to gather dirt from in front of her resting place. Paul was standing behind me, he handed me a mason jar. "I have a small spade in my trunk, you don't have to use your hands Sharon", Paul said. "That's okay, I said, I want to use my hands, this grass and earth is the closet thing I will ever have tangible from my great-great-great grandmother, I don't care." I got up from my knees. I notice that the headstone sitting next to Hannah was her husband and my great-great-great grandfather Lewis Mack. I knelt down beside Lewis resting place and introduced myself to him. "Hi Lewis, my name is Sharon and I am your great-great-great granddaughter. I have been researching your bloodline for a very long time. From the records that I discovered about your life, bothered me that you and your family had to live your lives in the institution of slavery, but I wouldn't be here had you not found strength and love in yourself and your family. I discovered that you were a slave of the Spann family and I figured out that they were good people and you really like them, you all were friends and neighbors for a long time. Standing here with me is Richard Spanns great-great-great-great grandson Paul." I recited the Lord's Prayer.