for the house, and the spirits, at 203 S. Randolph St.
I’m thinking of you tonight, Diego Evans.
Twilight eases over my shoulders like
an indigo cloak; I walk past the two-over-
two brick house you built with your wife,
Jane, in the late 1840s – complete with basement
kitchen. Did the two of you sit on that porch
of a June evening, watch fireflies
play hide and seek over the graves
of the adjacent cemetery? It wasn’t famous
then – Stonewall Jackson’s headstone
was still granite inside a mountain, uncut;
Jackson himself touring New York,
visiting Niagara Falls, reporting for court
martial duty at Fort Ontario. You, Diego –
Black and free, successful merchant,
studying law: Lexington wasn’t big enough
for you, your children, your dreams.
Did you see it coming, Jane – Civil War?
Freedom’s fickle, no guarantees.
Colonization was the answer: to segregation,
discrimination, life confined on the Black
side of a small Southern town. You sold
your beautiful house on South Randolph
Street. Emigrated. You needed a whole country,
one with a name you could ring like a bell.
You would settle for nothing less.
List of Emigrants by the Liberia Packet, Capt. Howe, from Norfolk, Va., January 26, 1850, for Monrovia and Bassa, Liberia:
No. 107 Diego Evans. 39. Trader. Reads. Free.
No.108 Jane, his wife. 30. Reads. Free.
No. 109 James H. F. 8. Reads. Free.
No. 110 Richard P. 7. Reads. Free.
No. 111 Lavinia Ann. 5. Free.
No. 112 John. 4. Free.
Some interesting services were held at Lexington, Va.,
on the occasion of the departure of the emigrants
from that county, mentioned in another column,
which we have not been able heretofore to notice.
Our correspondent says, “We had a farewell meeting
on their account on Wednesday the 19th in the Presbyterian
Church, which called a large audience. Col. Smith
of the Military Institute, and Rev. Dr. Junkin, President
of Washington College, addressed the congregation
in effective speeches on colonization, and Maj. Preston
addressed the emigrants in very appropriate terms.
They were seated together on the right of the pulpit.
The Pastor of the Church, the Rev. W.S. White,
also addressed the meeting, and led in prayer.
The following original hymns, composed
for the occasion were sung; the first by the people
led by the choir, and the last by the emigrants themselves.
The whole services were impressive, and, I believe,
of good effect for the cause. signed, Miss Margaret Junkin.
…Not poor and empty-handed,
as first to us they came,
With superstition branded,
And want and woe and shame, --
Are we the race returning
Back to their native sod,
But with our laws – our learning –
Our freedom – and our God!
Mary J. Henry, daughter of John V. Henry, wrote
to friends in Lexington, “We rented a house on Broad
Street and Diego rented a house on the water side,
which all the old settlers told him not, but
he thought he could live there – being a good place
to sell his goods. But all his family took the fever.
We took the children home and they all got better,
but Diego and his wife departed this life.”
Ours may be a lot of trials,
Bravely we will meet them all,
For the sake of our dear children,
We will bear what may befall.
Dear Virginia! Dear Virginia!
Loved, Oh loved, whe’er we roam,
Dear Virginia, loved Virginia!
Farewell – farewell, dear old home.
Liberia was like a fever, Diego.
Colonization is contagious –
spread by fear of free Black
bodies walking unchained
through a white world,
multiplied by The Fugitive
Slave Act’s long arm shadowing
behind those bought or born free.
Frederick Douglass railed
against this “return” to Mother Africa,
fearing mass deportations –
Jane, did you watch your son
and daughters sleep at night
in this house, await that loud
knock at the door? I wonder,
Diego, what was the difference
and a reservation? “Let us buy you
a country,” they said, “ –sorry, sorry
for all that slavery mess –”
what they really meant: slavery
for you is safety for us;
your freedom is our worst
nightmare. They set this fever
on you, squeezed so hard
you had no place else to go.
Colonization is contagious.
Liberia was like
a fever. Catch it,
or be caught.
Deborah A. Miranda
Note: I only know this house because, for a brief time, my therapist had an office here. I'm grateful that this house was a site of some serious healing in my life. I walk past it frequently - it's only about 2 blocks from where I live. It has been a family home, a rental house, apartments, Baptist Student Center, Food Pantry. The stories it carries haunt me. dm