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Healing the wounds of slavery
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Walking out of the mist Saturday morning, dressed all in white, chanting, singing and dancing, members of the First Afrikan Presbyterian Church of Lithonia, took part in a Juneteenth celebration, an ancestral walk and naming ceremony on behalf of one of Oxford College's most famous residents: Methodist Bishop James Andrew's slave Miss Kitty.

One popular telling of Kitty's history claims she voluntarily refused manumission at the age of 19 in favor of remaining enslaved and working for the Andrews family, who allowed her to live in a cottage behind the family's mansion and treated her with kindness for the rest of her life.

Saturday's walk, however, told a much different story - one of Andrew's rapacious lust for Kitty and her fear of leaving her family for Liberia, a condition of her freedom.

"They tell the story of her desiring to be a slave," said Itihari Toure, director of the Center for Afrikan Biblical Studies at First Afrikan Church, who organized Saturday's walk

Traditional white tellings of Kitty's story say that she was a devout servant to the Andrew family, that she lived in the cottage for years, taking care of neighborhood children - both white and black - before marrying freeman Nathan Snell and giving birth to three children prior to her death in the 1850s.

However, according to research done by a former Oxford College Professor Mark Auslander, black residents in Oxford have an entirely different understanding of what Kitty's life was like.

In his paper, "The Myth of Kitty: Paradoxes of Blood, Law and Slavery in a Georgia Community," Auslander writes "My oldest African American informants recall hearing from the 'old people' of the community that Kitty was Bishop Andrew's coerced mistress and that Andrew was the covert father of her children, whom he never acknowledged."

After learning about Kitty's story and reading Auslander's research on the matter, Toure said she was inspired to organize the church's third annual Ancestral Walk in Oxford and to ceremonially reclaim Kitty's Cottage and her grave site in the Andrew's family plot in the Oxford Cemetery, places which Auslander's research asserts have been essentially colonized and whitewashed by white residents into a sanitized version of slavery.

Leading a gathered crowd of approximately 80 from Oxford College's visitor's parking lot to Kitty's Cottage, Toure led the group in sorrowfully singing "Before I'd be a slave, I'd be buried in my grave and go home to my Lord and be saved."

Arriving at the cottage, Toure called out into the open air, "To you the one they called Kitty we seek your face. We are sorry it took us so long to get here."

Built some 150 years ago and located behind the Andrew family mansion, according to an article written in 2000 for "Emory Magazine," Kitty's Cottage was moved to the Salem Campground in 1938 where it served as a museum and storage shed before it was returned to the City of Oxford in 1994 and restored by the Oxford Historical Shrine Society. Kitty's Cottage is now a popular field trip destination for area schoolchildren.

Dr. Mark Lomax, pastor of the First Afrikan Church, took a different view of what the cottage was like when Kitty would have lived in it during the 1840s.

"At best it was a few clapboards put together on a red (dirt) floor with a thatched roof," Lomax said.

Lomax deplored the conditions that Kitty and countless other enslaved persons throughout the South were made to live in.

"They (slave-owners) were more likely to treat their horses and dogs better than their slaves," Lomax said. "They were fed better. They had better accommodations. They weren't slaughtered for no reason."

As Lomax spoke of the bitterness that must have been Kitty's existence - forced to serve as her master's mistress and as a sexual release for his minister friends - some in the gathered crowd were moved to tears at her story, others fell to the ground, covering their heads and crying out.

"She might not have seen herself as anyone's god's gift but her mama's but we want her to know that she was 'God's Gift,'" Lomax said.

With those words, Lomax renamed Kitty "Na-Yahm-ka" which means "God's Gift" in the Ewe language of Ghana.

"For all of you who died and suffered at the hands of greedy, hostile, vicious human beings, we want you to know that we will never forget," said Lomax to the spirits of the past.

After placing stones around the cottage in remembrance the gathered crowd left Kitty's Cottage, no longer shrouded in mist, but bathed in sunlight.