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Rashida is looking back, to move forward

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Rashida Godwin at School Lands Cottage in Pembroke, the former residence of Mary Prince (Photograph by Jessie Moniz Hardy)
Rashida Godwin at School Lands Cottage in Pembroke, the former residence of Mary Prince (Photograph by Jessie Moniz Hardy)
Rashida Godwin, far right, leads a tour at Mary Prince Emancipation Park in Devonshire (Photograph supplied)

Rashida Godwin’s Black history bus tours have gone through many stops and starts because of Covid-19.

For a while they were even virtual; she is thrilled they are now back on the road.

The Mary Prince tours are particularly popular.

“I think it is because she is so well known,” said Ms Godwin, who offers the tours through Titan Express Limited. “People call and book five and six people at a time,” “People from all walks of life come on the tour – and they bring their children. We are already sold out for the month of July. I might have to add more tours.”

The enslaved Bermudian gained her freedom but wrote of the horrors of slavery in The History of Mary Prince: A West Indian Slave. Published in London, England in 1831, it was the first autobiography of an enslaved Black woman and is considered to have been instrumental in helping to dismantle slavery throughout the British Empire.

Ms Godwin’s tour stops at various places that Mary Prince lived on the island such as the Ingham residence on School Lands Lane in Pembroke.

Mary Prince was purchased at age 11 by sea captain John Ingham sometime around 1800; she was beaten for any minor transgression.

Her book tells how a pregnant slave called Hetty gave birth as she was flogged to death by Capt Ingham and his wife Mary.

People on the tour often ask if there was ever any justice for Hetty.

“There would not have been,” Ms Godwin said. “Hetty was considered property, like a cow or a chicken.”

The tour guide fell in love with history as a student in primary school. Although much attention was given to the Jewish Holocaust, which she found “interesting”, very little was taught about Black history and culture.

“I wondered, what about people who look like me?” Ms Godwin said.

Her father, Dexter Scraders, gave her books about “people that look like you” in an effort to fill the knowledge void.

Over the years she read many, including The History of Mary Prince: A West Indian Slave but recognised that there was still a gap in local teaching.

She saw that many African diaspora heritage tours were offered overseas and decided to do the same here.

“The story of the Black person in Bermuda – there were not many tours out there that people could do,” she said. “And for myself, I wanted to learn more about people who looked like me; there was not a lot of places I could go for that. I thought if you don’t see it in Bermuda, maybe you should do it yourself.”

She offered her first tour five years ago.

“We have conversations that need to be had,” said Ms Godwin, admitting that they can sometimes be quite emotional. “We have to figure out a way forward.”

She starts every tour by talking about the Ghanaian concept of Sankofa, symbolised by a bird looking backwards with an egg on its back.

“It means that in order to make a better future for ourselves it is important we figure out what happened in the past,” Ms Godwin said.

“These things happened. How can we move forward and correct some of the wrongs that have happened? The purpose is for everyone to get a better understanding of things that have happened in the Black community. Everything has to do with a very traumatic past which includes slavery.”

She believes we are still living with the legacy of the slave trade.

“After emancipation, the slave owners received compensation,” she said. “Black people, who worked for free for 200 years, received absolutely nothing.

“As Black people you always hear you have to work harder and work better. Then you look at it and there are other people who have had 200 years of a head start, especially financially.”

Black Bermudians were still treated as inferior long after emancipation, she added.

“It is generational trauma that needs to be addressed. We need to forge a better way.

“It was not until the late 1960s and 1970s that we started to see integration and Black people being able to move forward in the country,” she said.

The information she gives on the tours is the result of years of research, and talks with members of the Bermuda National Trust and historians such as Clifford Maxwell.

Ms Godwin recalls meeting John Cox, a Bermudian author and historian who “felt so sad for me because I could not take my family tree back very far”.

At his home in Devonshire Mr Cox shared the slave registers from his great great grandfather, Captain William Cox and explained that he could trace his own family back “seven or eight generations”.

“We had a good time together,” Ms Godwin said.

Her tours next month will focus on the role of friendly societies and lodges in Bermuda.

“I have a gentleman from the Manchester Lodge assisting me,” she said. “After Black people were emancipated, friendly societies came to their assistance. The Bermuda Government did not have anything in place for the newly emancipated people. The friendly societies provided help and support.”

In September, Ms Godwin will give a tour of Gherdai Hassell’s exhibition I Am Because You Are. Now on at the Bermuda National Gallery, it was driven by an exploration of the artist’s own heritage.

“She did so much work,” Ms Godwin said. “She has the enslaved registers there. She also made pictures of the enslaved people. I will be doing a short tour on her exhibit.”

For more information: www.titantoursbermuda.com, 234-1096; info@titantoursbermuda.com

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Published July 13, 2021 at 8:00 am (Updated July 14, 2021 at 8:08 am)

Rashida is looking back, to move forward

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