They Left Seeds


A handful of seeds taken roughly and scattered . . .

Virginia history records that twenty Africans––likely human cargo from a Portuguese or Spanish slave ship waylaid by pirates––arrived in Jamestown, Virginia in 1619. Some evidence supports that these Africans were possibly Angolans abducted by Spanish slave traders. The Africans were not listed in colonial records as enslaved, possibly because the Spanish baptized all enslaved and the nations of Congo and Angola were Catholic by the 1500s. According to English law in Virginia, baptized Christians could not be enslaved and the twenty were legally “free” though they became indentured servants. Some of the Africans went on to acquire land and even own slaves themselves alongside the English American occupiers, assimilating in the newly taken territory as foreigners amongst invaders. With the exception of a few names, little else is known of these original ancestors of African Americans. We know, however that by 1665, all African-descended people were by law enslaved for life in every British American colony and state until 1865.

This year 2019 marks the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the “20 and odd” Africans and the germination of a new people, “African Americans.” Throughout the U.S. and in Ghana, West Africa, celebrations and commemorative events are being held all this year and into 2020 to raise awareness of what is being called the “Year of Return” for African Americans. For many, the call of our ancestors will compel them to retrace our people’s steps by visiting or moving to Africa. Indeed, President Akufo-Addo of Ghana has authorized government promotions of expedited visas, residency, and land purchase for returnees from the Diaspora. Most African Americans, however can’t make it to Africa, so how do we “return”?

At Sankofa Community Farm at Bartram’s Garden we are spiritually grounded and focused on the African Diaspora foodways of our community. For almost a decade we have been practicing the art of return in our community of Southwest alongside native-born and diasporan Africans as well as our allied non-African friends. Youth from our neighborhood work in a focused internship learning and teaching natural agriculture, preparing delicious and wholesome African and African American recipes from field to plate, practicing public speaking, and learning spiritual survival practices of freedom songs and spiritual intention on the land. Our community elders participate as teacher/students and gardeners in the Sankofa community garden where they build lasting relationships around learning (or re-learning!) organic techniques, food preservation, wild foods and medicine and working with youth.

This year Sankofa (meaning “go back and get it”) offers our neighbors an opportunity to explore in community what it means to “return” at Bartram’s Garden. The evil done over centuries to Black people in the U.S. happened in fields where we were scattered and stomped; we rightly grieve––even in our gratitude for survival––for all we lost. At Sankofa Community Farm we believe that it is in the same earth where we were harmed that we can find the dignity and identity that the first 20 left planted for our future.

For more info on Year of Return activities at Sankofa Community Farm, check the Bartram’s Garden website at

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