Middle Passage slave trade history remembered, recognized in Port Arthur

Published 11:00 pm Friday, December 1, 2023

Long before the city’s official founding in 1898, Africans were captured, enslaved and brought to the area though what is called the Middle Passage.

The Middle Passage, or slave route across the ocean from Africa, included a stop in the area around present day Port Arthur between 1817 and 1837, according to Gail Pellum, president of the African American Cultural Society.

Once the enslaved landed in the area, they were sold and sent to many areas of the country.

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READ MORE — Middle Passage Marker events kick off in Port Arthur with celebration

The African American Cultural Society, in collaboration with the Middle Passage Ceremonies and Port Markers Project, are continuing commemorate events with the unveiling of a marker today.

At 10 a.m. today, the public is invited to attend an unveiling of a marker which will be installed in downtown Port Arthur. The event has been moved from “Popeye” Holmes Park to council chambers on the 5th floor of Port Arthur City Hall, 444 Lakeshore Drive in Port Arthur.

The purpose is to remember countless lives lost on the voyages, and the multitudes who survived the journeys and helped build the country.

Pellum learned of the Middle Passage Ceremonies and Port Markers Project Inc. through a woman at a Juneteenth event.

Members of the African American Cultural Society Sheila Norwood, left, and Phyllis Baker address Port Arthur City Council Nov. 7 with information on the Middle Passage Ceremonies and Port Markers Project Inc. (Screenshot)

The marker

Pellum said while the actual marker has not yet arrived, she has a photo of the marker, which will be unveiled. The actual marker arrives in March, and a special ceremony will be held at that time.

Pellum said the marker is double sided and shows the Middle Passage and different roles the enslaved individuals were taken from all over Africa.

The Middle Passage Ceremonies and Port Markers Project Inc. is a non-profit organization established in 2011 to honor the 2 million captive Africans who died during the transatlantic crossing known as the Middle Passage as well as the 10 million who survived and built the Americas, according to middlepassageproject.org

Remembrances in Port Arthur continue Sunday at 11 a.m. with a church service at Israel Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church, which was the first Black church in the city, Pellum said.

History and future

Pellum remembers hearing stories from the older generation of family members who were enslaved. These stories, passed down, helped shape her into who she is today, fostering a passion for culture and work with local Juneteenth celebrations.

“My mother, there were 12 of us, she used to read to us, narratives. It touched my heart. It touched my soul. I’ve spent my whole life finding creative ways to tell the story through art and poetry and more,” Pellum said.

Pellum said children need to know the story, not just African Americans but also all people or society may be doomed to repeat it.

The celebration on Saturday will tell the story through song, dance, poetry and more. She encourages people of all colors to attend the ceremony.

She prays every morning for light and healing to come to the world she said.

Pellum, who is an artist, celebrates the achievements of those who came before her.

“I am my ancestors’ wildest dream,” she said.