When Macon’s first, and so far, only black mayor C. Jack Ellis pioneered a sister city relationship with Elmina, Ghana in 2001, he was notably ridiculed and criticized from ignorance and misunderstanding. People didn’t see the value. The widely held notion was, “Why is he wasting taxpayers’ money going to Africa?” Macon also has sister city relationships with Macon, France, Kurobe, Japan, Ulyanovsk, Russia, Kaohsiung, Taiwan, and Gwacheon, South Korea.
But of all of Macon’s sister cities, Elmina bears a uniquely relevant relationship and profound learning potential for the people of Macon-Bibb County. African Americans comprise over 60 percent of the local population, meaning six out of every 10 people here is a black person, and a major genealogical aspect of most of these people is that their ancestors lived as enslaved persons in the United States if not actually in Middle Georgia, and many were stolen from the shores of West Africa.
In Elmina specifically, a fishing town on the Atlantic Ocean, there is a slave dungeon, St. George Castle, through which for 350 years, many thousands if not millions of captured Africans were transported and held before being chained into ships and brought across the Atlantic to the shores of North America. At the nearby city of Cape Coast, there was a companion slave castle also bordering the Atlantic. It was built by the British at a later time, while the Elmina site was established first by the Portuguese, then taken over by the Dutch, and then the British.
Each of Macon’s sister city relationships holds valuable unexplored opportunities for cultural and historical learning and commercial partnerships. However, what former Mayor Ellis tapped in Elmina was and is an invaluable opportunity, not only for beneficial relations and scenic visits, but for inner growth and healing from a peculiar suffering. This is true especially for Macon’s black community, whose ancestors were the foundation of the cotton industry that established Macon, and who provided the free labor that built much of the city and county with the toil of their hands.
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San Kofa is a west African Twi language term that means “go back and fetch it.” It is symbolized by a stylized heart shape or by a long-necked bird that is looking over its back with the egg of its future in its beak. The lesson of San Kofa is that a people, especially a people who were abased as chattel slaves, must first return to know the truth and lost culture of their past before they can move forward with full consciousness and completeness in the present time.
On July 1, I embarked on my maiden voyage to “the “Motherland,” specifically Ghana West Africa, including Accra, Elmina, Cape Coast and Takoradi cities, passing through the country villages by van along the way. I now know from seeing it from above flying in from southern Europe why the vast, rich, diverse and mighty continent of Africa truly is the mother of lands.
I also witnessed some of the majesty and economic hardship of the people of Elmina, attended the amazing over 600-year fishing celebration Edina Bakatue. I was awed by the forgotten truths and accomplishments of the great Kwame Nkrumah at his museum burial site, often viewed the Atlantic shore facing westward back toward America, and visited the slave dungeons of St. George Castle where many of our ancestors were forced through the door of no return onto slave ships.
This was a sobering journey, but not a sad one. It was joyful, highly educational, a great honor, and unforgettable; because by the grace of the Most High I have returned. All of us survivors of slavery now stand in the position to become fully healed, fully redeemed, restored and made whole from the horror and death of the TransAtlantic Slave Trade. Ghana is just one of 54 countries on one huge continent called Africa, where we have real connections.
As we sing in the church “victory is mine” and as Maya Angelou wrote “and still we rise,” because today we are free to return and absorb the myriad, rich lessons of our roots, reunite with Great Mother Africa, to learn to stop making the same errors of the past today. Not that we are any less native to the United States, but gaining a greater appreciation of what our diaspora has meant and means today.
We are also free to and should give of ourselves, our time and our resources something to help contribute to the healing and long rise of the people of Africa up and out of colonization.
There is much that we can and should do. Ellis is highly honored as a chief, “Nana Kobina Gyan” in Elmina. He is loved and greatly respected there and the people of Macon owe him great respect and thanks as well for opening the door and connecting us specifically with our roots.
Whatever your race or ethnicity you should welcome Elmina as a sister city, go there and learn of the profound, painful and valuable history — and the wonderful beauty of the land and the people. Such things you will find, are a great blessing to behold and an enhancement to your life.
George Muhammad is a resident of Macon.