Prince heir visits Black and Blue Living History CampPublished 12:10am Monday, October 15, 2012
NATCHEZ — More than 180 years after his famed grandfather left Natchez, one of the descendants of the so-called Prince Among Slaves made a pilgrimage to the area in an effort to connect with his family history.
Artemis Gaye, the seventh-generation great-grandson of the West African Prince Adul Rahman Ibrahim, attended Saturday’s Black and Blue Civil War Living History Camp.
During the event, in which actors portrayed formerly enslaved blacks who joined the Union cause in the Civil War as soldiers, seamen or nurses, Gaye addressed those in attendance with a message about the importance of history.
“You (in Natchez) are my people and my kin,” Gaye said. “I recognize in every one of you your own royalty.”
Prince Ibrahim was a member of the royal family of a kingdom in what is present-day Guinea who was sold into slavery after being ambushed in 1788.
During his enslavement, the prince became the overseer of Thomas Foster’s Natchez plantation, and was freed after 40 years slavery by an executive order from President John Quincy Adams after a campaign lobbying for his freedom by Washington-area newspaperman Andrew Marschalk. The prince had tried unsuccessfully for many years to convince those around him of who he was, and a previous effort to free Ibrahim by an Irish doctor who had known him in Africa, John Cox, had also been unsuccessful.
Ibrahim was forced to return to Africa without his children, and he died in Libera before he made it all the way to his homeland.
Eventually, some of the prince’s children obtained their freedom and were able to go to Africa. Gaye is a descendent of the prince through his son Simon.
Gaye said he started research into his family history about eight years ago after having heard the oral tradition about Simon from his great-grandmother his whole life.
After the Liberian Civil War broke out, Gaye came to the United States and pursued academic interests. He studied at Loyola University Chicago, where he earned a Ph.D. in Christian Social Ethics.
But while in the U.S., he also took the opportunity to learn more about his family’s history, to see the places they lived and toiled before they were able to return to Africa.
This wasn’t his first trip to Natchez, Gaye said, but he still has one place of pilgrimage left to see in the process of putting together his family’s history — the gravesite of Andrew Marschalk.
“I want to see Andrew Marschalk’s grave because of the role he played in advocating for (Prince Ibrahim),” Gaye said.
It is important that history not be hidden, Gaye said, or forced into a narrative that makes everyone more comfortable.
“We are called to teach, to act it, but to remember it,” he said.
“(History) should be told in its entirety. It is my story, your story, this place’s story — and it is a human story.”
In attendance with Gaye were his sister, Marilan Zoe Gaye, and his 5-year-old daughter, Athena.