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Black mourning, traditions, and burial practices

The full episode transcript for Life, Loss, and Libations.

Transcript

Into America

Life, Loss and Libations

Trymaine Lee: When I was in maybe seventh or eighth grade, I read a poem by my favorite poet of all time, Langston Hughes. It was called "As Befits a Man", and it's about a funeral, but it's not morbid or even about death, really. It straddles the line between mourning the loss of life and celebrating that life. It's not a long poem, so I'm going to read it to you.

I don't mind dying, but I'd hate to die all alone. I want a dozen pretty women to holler, cry and moan. I don't mind dying, but I want my funeral to be fine. A row of long, tall mamas fainting, fanning and crying. I want a fish-tail hearse and 16 fish-tail cars. A big brass band and a whole truckload of flowers. When they let me down, down into the clay, I want the women to holler. Please don't take him away. Ow-ooo-oo-o! don't take daddy away.

And no, I had never heard or read anything like this about the routine inevitability of death, but also what happens right after you're gone and about going out, funeralized in style. But it wasn't just the fancy cars and the women that got me, it was how this poem spoke about ritualizing the act of mourning and saying goodbye. To be black and American means to be in a perpetual state of limbo, holding in one hand the joys of life steeped in the beauty of the cultures and traditions we've carved out of our peculiar Americanness, drenched in the residue of our Africanness. And in the other hand, our perpetual closeness to death and dying, which often comes way too early in death and our rituals around it, those hands come together.

We pour libations for our ancestors, the long gone and just gone. We dance out of funerals to the beat of brass bands to wash the weeping away. We fill our bellies with food and our faces with laughter, at repass on burial day. And the young ones, they put names, dates and portraits on T-shirts like wings on the backs of their angels. None of these mourning rituals erases the pain of death, but they remind us of why death hurts in the first place. That for a blink in time, we shared life and love together, and then it was gone.

You see it in how we've buried our dead, and the music we play at funerals. You see it in how we save and archive funeral programs as if they're historical documents because they are, and you hear it in the language that we use to describe the afterlife. We call funeral services home goings, because it's believed that life here is just a pitstop, that there's something greater beyond this earthly life. There's a new life far from here, far from any hurt or pain.

(SINGING)

Lee: Death, and the way we mourn is as much about life and how it was lived as it is about life ending. I'm Trymaine Lee and this is "Into America". As we approach a season where communities all around the world reflect on loss, death and connection with the departed, we take a look at the morning and burial traditions of black Americans from the burgeoning field of African-American archaeology, burial sites and cemeteries that have long been overlooked and misunderstood to more modern traditions, and what these practices tell us about black life and death in America.

Dr. Brittany Brown: African-American cemeteries hold centuries of our community's history and cultural heritage. They're also ameshed in state sanctioned violence, ideas of race and power structures like capitalism.

Lee: This is Dr. Brittany Brown, a historical archaeologist and anthropology professor at Bard College.

Brown: All right, so this is Kingsley Plantation, captive African dwellings. This is what they look like now, and this is what they look like in history.

Lee: On Instagram she goes by the handle, the black archeologist, and posts videos breaking down her research like this one, describing the scene at the Kingsley Plantation in her hometown of Jacksonville, Florida.

Brown: Some of the things archaeologists have found in these houses include chicken burial, iron and --

Lee: Brittany's research is focused on the African-American Southeast and British Caribbean, mainly looking at the antebellum time period through the early 20th century. Her work takes her to excavation sites at former plantations, places of worship, residences, places where African and African-American people would be buried historically. It took just one research trip out in the field in college for Brittany to realize this is what she wanted to do.

Brown: And from there, I just fell in love with African-American cemeteries and everything that had to do with archaeology, and I realized, like, we need a presence in this field. And so, somebody has to tell the stories and it's up to the community to step up and take ownership of that.

Lee: These stories can tell us what was important to our ancestors.

Brown: Africans, especially when you walk into cemetery spaces, they're literally building their culture into the landscape. They're using trees. They're using objects of nature, shells to mark and shape the landscape. So they're literally imbuing their cultural identities, passing on their cultural knowledge through the landscape.

Lee: Brittany has studied the burial grounds of the earliest Africans who were captive in America, and she learned that these practices were maintained for generations.

Brown: So mounds, right, so the mounded aesthetic of burial spaces, you can actually find that all throughout the southeast. Right. The mounted aesthetic, white objects being placed on the graves, things like that that are associated with spirituality, water, reflective, all of these things like they're still actively practicing that. Marking graves with trees and Yucca plant, we find that as well.

Lee: Hmm. Now you see commonalities in different cemeteries in different regions, or are some of those practices isolated to whatever community they were from?

Brown: The farther you go back in time, the more closely related these cemetery practices, in my opinion, tend to be. For instance, smoking pipes that are made out of white clay. You find that everywhere. You find that in the Caribbean, you find that in Jamaica, you find it in Barbados, Virginia, New York, they're everywhere. When you have more rural areas, you tend to see people practicing old, what we would call old African-American traditions, and they keep it going.

Lee: Like what? Like what kind of --

Brown: They'll go out there. They'll put shell, they'll put bric a brac. You'll see people bring in their ancestors plates of food. You see libation everywhere, but you'll --you'll see people going out there pouring libation and leaving the bottle, putting medicine bottles in bed frames and all type of stuff on graves. You see --see that a lot in the South.

Lee: The field of African-American archaeology has officially been around for less than 60 years, but people like Brittney are helping to strengthen this area of study and draw attention to its importance.

Brown: When it comes to the written record, not a lot of our history has been written down, and when you do find black people, you tend to find them as chattel and wills as property and run away ads as targets of anti-black violence. And one thing the archaeological record does is it helps to fill in the gaps, because now you're referencing a record that was created by Africans and their descendants. So everything that goes into creating cemetery spaces or even households more broadly, when you get into archaeology of backyards and homes and schools and all of these other places that Africans have been and shaped, you start to piece together gaps that were left in the written record, and you're getting it straight sort of from the ancestors themselves.

Lee: This research has always been meaningful to Britney, but there was a moment in 2010 when she realized that her presence in the field could make a difference.

Brown: My first field school was actually in Jacksonville, Florida, at a site called Kingsley Plantation.

Lee: Kingsley Plantation, founded in 1814, sits on a small island nestled into the waterways of Jacksonville. At its height before the Civil War, more than 200 people were enslaved at the plantation, forced to grow crops like sea cotton, sugar cane and corn. Kingsley might have been a routine dig for some archeologists, but not for Brittany.

Brown: There's a presence that exists in those spaces. When you walk on to any plantation site, but especially when it's one that captive Africans were held in your community and their descendants are your peers, you're going to school with them, you see them at the grocery store. There is a different type of reverence that you have high regard that you have for those spaces that is actually is hollow ground.

Lee: Britney started at the Kingsley site as an undergrad. The work had been going on for decades by that point, but archaeologists still hadn't been able to locate the burial grounds for the enslaved people they knew were buried there.

Brown: Mind you, we've been looking for the cemetery, right, as a part of like this has been in the background, like one day we'll find the cemetery. People have been looking for it for decades. Nobody's found it. I walked onto the plantation. Right. I'm looking at this big oak tree, and I looked at the tree and I was like, it's right here.

Lee: Hmm.

Brown: It's right here. It's under this tree right here. Nobody believed me, they left me over there with a shovel. They were like, good luck to you. Good luck to you.

Lee: It was arduous, painstaking work. Britney had to move slowly and carefully so she wouldn't disturb or break anything.

Brown: So I'm digging this hole. I hit shell and people just assume that it's okay, it's shell. Right. And I'm like, it's not just shell.

Lee: Other people thought maybe she had hit a naturally occurring layer of crushed shell in the earth, but Britney didn't think so. She was uncovering beautiful white spiral conch shells with a tapered tail in the crown that were intact.

Brown: So I come out there and I'm -- I'm continuing to dig. We're digging, we're throwing now we're coming up with a lot of shell.

Lee: As Britney carefully pulled out, shell after shell, some of them the size of two of her hands put together. She knew they had been placed intentionally.

Brown: When I started seeing how much shell I was getting in each shovel, that's when I knew, like, this is a -- this is a burial.

Lee: What Britney had discovered turned out to be one of the oldest known African cemeteries in the state.

Brown: The whole entire field schools energy became dedicated to exploring that captive African cemetery.

Lee: Britney and the rest of the team eventually uncovered the remains of five Africans from the antebellum period. They found the bones of four adults believed to be in their thirties or forties, along with one small child. All were believed to have been born in Africa. The discovery was announced the following year, in 2011. The Washington Post wrote about it back then. Although the article didn't mention Britney's role, the superintendent of the regional park where Kingley sits, told the paper that, quote, "this discovery is nothing short of momentous". When Britney thinks back to why she was drawn to that oak tree, it's hard for her to explain. Her certainty went beyond her training as a scientist to something deeper in her bones.

Brown: There's something about the positioning of the way that there's something about that tree that made me believe that it was there, and it was.

Lee: Just something visible or is it something more that drew you to that space?

Brown: I feel like this is going to be frowned upon in the discipline. It's the tree and something more. Right. It was something about the layout of the landscape as well as what I felt when I walked into that space.

Lee: And --and you're feeling was right, whatever told you wasn't land.

Brown: And it was, it was correct. It was correct. It was correct.

Lee: From the Kingsley plantation, Britney has gone on to research other sites across the southeast, uncovering more conch shells in burial grounds, but also smoking pipes, bed frames and other objects from a past life that tell us how black people once lived in America. What does it mean for you to hold those objects in your hand, knowing the significance that went into where they were placed and how their placed. Right. They all have a meaning. What's it like for you generations and generations later to hold these objects in your actual hands?

Brown: The feeling, I don't even know if I could describe that feeling. Right, because for so much of your existence as an African American whose people weren't enslaved here in the United States, there's this dominant narrative that you --you have no identity, and when you take these objects out of the ground, you're holding pieces of --of yourself.

Lee: Hmm. It literally feels like you're holding a disconnected piece of you that you're restoring somehow.

Brown: Yeah. You're holding a piece of yourself. That's how I feel every time I pick something up. Every time I go into the archaeological record, especially in a place that I'm from. It's like recovering pieces of yourself.

Lee: As someone who studies a black death and mourning and ritual, how does that shape or reframe the way you see black life?

Brown: Wow. So it actually makes me think about myself as a part of a collective more, emphatically. So let me explain what I mean, let me explain what you mean. When I go into cemeteries and I'm looking at what bodies are filling the ground, right. The women, trans people whose bodies are physically present in these spaces. Black kids, young black youth at excess numbers, right, dying before their time, dying from diseases that could have been prevented. It makes me think about the collective. And so when we think about an abolitionist project or what it means to decolonize or what it means to sort of break down these systems of oppression, it makes me think backwards. What if we started with questions like, what does the world look like where black women and girls feel and are safe? What does it look like for trans people to live to their old age? How do we create a society around making that the outcome? And then what are the steps that we need to take? It makes you think like that.

Lee: A lot of Brittany's work focuses on the burial practices that early Africans brought to America and during the time of slavery, but after the Civil War, during Reconstruction, these practices began to evolve.

Dr. Karla Holloway: We didn't have to be buried in the woods anymore. We didn't have to be buried behind the master's house or secretly buried.

Lee: Dr. Karla Holloway is a professor at Duke, where she teaches English, African-American studies and law. She's also an expert on black burial and mourning traditions in the 20th century. She says reconstruction was a pivotal moment in the culture around death and dying.

Holloway: So one of the things that happened during this period after slavery, was we could refine and make more elegant and make more decorative those practices of mourning. So, you know, all of the practices of mourning and grief that were done in homes, sometimes secretly, sometimes far away, were brought home to the church, was one of the times we became a unified space where our ways of worship, whether they were celebrating a--a birth or celebrating the life of someone who had passed. We had to fight for black bodies in the beginning.

Lee: There has always been money in the practice of body preservation. So prior to reconstruction, this practice was something that white people had dominion over.

Holloway: So after fighting for that right to become practitioners of death, opening funeral parlors and becoming professionals ourselves. That integration of--of church became much more fully articulated, I think. And there was a burial society, you know, you were a member of a burial society, you knew what to--you had funeral clothes. You told your children what to dress you in for the funeral because you could anticipate there would be a service. Prior to the Civil War, we could not always anticipate a service.

Lee: It sounds like for a moment that even in death we weren't fully free.

Holloway: Absolutely.

Lee: We're still fighting to be free in life, but even in death, our bodies still weren't free.

Holloway: You've said it exactly right.

Lee: Coming up, Dr. Karla Holloway on the ancient roots of black mourning practices today. And in the black community, how the funeral as a celebration of life is a means of resistance.

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Lee: In 2002, Karla Holloway published a book about the traditions around Death in Black America called "Past on African-American Morning Stories, a Memorial". This interest didn't come out of nowhere. It's in the family.

Holloway: My father was trained as a mortician before he married my mother. He did the stint in the family, have a family mortuary still running in Louisville, Kentucky. But my mother told him, you can either have something to do with them, meaning the dead folks or me, and he chose her, which is why he went on to get his higher degrees in education and became a superintendent of schools in Buffalo.

Lee: Wow.

Brown: But when we had anatomy classes, I was on point. He knew every part of the body just like that.

Lee: Morticians, like the folks in Karla's family, have long played an important role in the black community, sometimes in unexpected ways.

Holloway: Because the mortician had been our civil rights pioneers, they were critical in the civil rights movement, getting Martin Luther King to where he was supposed to be in the hearse, because nobody's to look in the hearse. So these were folks who were ingrained in our communities.

Lee: Carla says when it comes to mourning, many of our traditions have developed in reaction to the pain and violence that's been inflicted upon us. What are some of the--the rituals, practices and traditions that are unique to our communities? How do we memorialize and mourn in a way that was special to us?

Holloway: So our mourning practices, whether you think of how Mamie Till Mobley chose to memorialize her son with an open casket, which normally, because of the disfigurement, would have been closed. We do have open caskets in the African-American community, and we do have mortuary artistry, that's actually called restoration arts in the mortuary schools. Black morticians are especially skilled in those because of how our bodies were returned to the mortuaries. And so the practice of having an open casket became a challenge for the professionals who had to figure out how to do the makeup to hide the missing eye or the missing limb or, you know, whatever disfigurements were done to the black bodies. You know, the way the preacher was often the mortician, they was sometimes one in the same person. So it was a cradle to grave service, literally. African-American children went to funerals from our earliest days. These were not things saved until we were mature enough. We couldn't afford that in our communities, dying was too frequent. So I say there's a connection between our practices. They were developed in reference to how we died.

Lee: Brittney's work on the burial practices of our ancestors and how they were connected to our African roots is a connection that Karla says we can still see today.

Holloway: The honoring of that moment of death is a very African thing. I have West Africans in my family and when I went home to Nigeria for the burial of my -- my brother-in-law, I found so many familiarity is from the ritualized mourning, which is much more dramatic. There are people hired as mourners who would start the cry at daybreak, but that performativity around the funeral service. I could say, OK, I know where this came from now, because you not only had a person who had died, but you had to show the world, the community how important that person was to you. And so I think in the African-American church, in our traditions, the funeral director used to tell me, well, yeah, we have show, but show is going to cost you. So show cost us, but this idea of lining up cars or the idea of physically being dragged away from the casket, people think that's just the drama of a black funeral. No, that's the way in which we showed our respect, a respect that was not often earned in life for the dead. So the funeral was a chance to repair and to give the person who had died the dignity that they had been denied in life, and that cost us. But the idea, the conceptual, the culture of a funeral, of gathering and its importance, my uncle, who was also once in the funeral business, told me you went home for a funeral. No, no doubts about it. I don't care how long it took you to get there, you went home, which also meant the funeral directors had to know how to keep a body long enough for, you know, somebody to come from Oklahoma or Detroit or New York or wherever we had gone to during the Great Migration.

Lee: We have all this happening where people had to literally go home, but we also have these homegoing ceremonies, and I've never heard white folks refer to a funeral as a homegoing service, never, ever in my life. What is that about? Where do we get that idea that we're sending our dead home?

Holloway: Yes. Well, you can see it in the songs, and to the point that you mention, I remember hearing recently on television there had been a mass shooting, and one of the broadcasters said something, the funeral celebration, and the white broadcaster looked at them. Now understand it, I mean, a celebration of life they had to quickly explain. So we understood that this was our time to shape a narrative differently, to reconstruct the story, and sometimes to make up the stories about what our life would have been like, ideally. Before I'll be a slave, I'll be buried in my grave and go home to my Lord and be free. So this idea of leaving the body meant freedom, but for the enslaved and for those who had recently survived slavery, and because we had put so much money into those burial societies, those were our first insurance companies. We didn't much care about leaving all of this, what we talk now about generational wealth. We wanted to leave enough money to be buried right and right by us meant a certain ritual of celebration.

Lee: Speaking of--of tradition, another thing that I've never heard any white people talk about in relation to their funerals is a repast. We have there the ceremony, the service, and then, you know, some going to be cutting up a little too much, and everybody --

Holloway: That's right

Lee: But you're eating and you're talking I've never heard white people talk about repast. Is that a--a distinctly black thing?

Holloway: It's not distinctly black, but it -- it's conducts might be distinctly black. For example, I remember the first time somebody brought a store bought cake to the repast, and that person got talked out the room, you know, because somebody is going to bring the fried chicken. Somebody was going to bring the ham. You know, so there are certain food staples, you know, and homemade rolls, you know, yeast, risen, you know. So the repast was a point of so necessary trimmings, so necessary in the ways of you can be gathered back up and made to feel home in a community that is just had an extraordinary loss. Whether it was your mama dear or whether it was a child, something had to restitch us together, so the repast was--was part of that, I am going to fill you. I am going to make sure you are fed in a way that doesn't let you give in, and so the repast did real not only cultural work, but palliative work, you know, healing work, and so it was funny for a reason. If I can get you to the point where you can laugh and get to a little bit further into the healing, and so we do have those seven stages of grief kind of luxuries, you know.

Lee: And even though mourning and death and the loss of our loved ones or friends or family, it's heavy. There still is a beauty in the way we immortalize and commemorate the dead, and I can't help but think about, like pouring libations, pouring a little time out. Every once in a while, I still will do it If I have a loved one heavy my mind, I'll put a little something out. Is that a-- is that a black thing? Again it's another one of those things where I've never heard any white folks, I never heard any white folks about pouring a little bit out.

Holloway: That -- that -- that's almost black thing, although the Irish do it, too.

Lee: But Irish weren't really white for a long time. They just white recently though.

Holloway: So there you go, so there you go. Recently white. But there-- there are communities that have done that and I do think those traditions have moved from West Africa up, you know, into Europe as well as across and down. So I think it all begins in Africa, the cradle of civilization, but let's just think about what giving ceremony like pouring libation means. Gwendolyn Brooks had a phrase, he was born, he had body, he died. So this person was born, had a body and died less poor in memory.

Lee: Speaking of our Africanness it's those traditions that we've carried here with us, when I think of Nordic cultures and Valhalla and they've taken that, you know, the bow with the flame and sending you off that way, they seem so very European. And I wonder in our practices, when did we get into cremation, had cremation always been a thing? Has it been a thing for us? Is that something connected to them?

Holloway: No. Funeral directors talk to me with a lot of unhappiness about cremation, and then it might have been about 3 to 5% of their business, but they said young folks, persons who were my age then weren't carrying on the traditions of the family. Just because you buried somebody out of Jone's brothers funeral home doesn't mean that the child does, and so cremation started because those who are doing the cremations now are younger and they don't have the same allegiances to the black community. They don't--they don't go to church. Our folks are their whole neighborhoods. So once you move out, you get all of the exposure to all kinds of commerce that once was restricted. Most people understood, but it'd been lost. I was understanding at that point it was a turn of the century moment for me that something was changing in African America, and I wanted to capture the story before it changed completely.

Lee: And you mess around, go to McLaughlin's and your skin ain't going to be looking right.

Holloway: And that's what they found out, you know, they-- they don't know how to do us, and that was important to us, but cremation was an efficiency. And I think that there are generations that took advantage necessarily because of their occupations or whatever, or their lack of familiarity with family traditions, of the efficiencies.

Lee: One theme that came up for Karla over and again was that death is not a private closed matter for black families. As we've leaned on our broader communities in times of tragedy, we have also had to contend with how to grieve publicly and what it means to find meaning in our mourning. One of the catalyzing events that kicked off the civil rights movement was the murder of Emmett Till.

Holloway: Yes.

Lee: And how Mamie Till decided to welcome American and pull American and force America to mourn with her family and see what those white men had done to her boy. Talk to us about how that moment changed us, shaped us, but also just what it-- what it means to--to have that kind of display at that time in America?

Holloway: I remember my grandparents, I had a sister who was close in age to me, just 11 months, and we used to go to Detroit where they lived for the summers, and Emmett died during the summer, and the jack, as we called it then, published his photo. And our grandparents tried to hide the photo from us, and when we saw it, we saw ourselves as potential victims. I think that's what changed. You know, we make our children a part of black history because they need to be, we want them to be, and yet we pull away a part of their childhood innocence from them. And I don't think that's we in terms of black folks, I think that's the cultural condition of living, living and dying black in America. So when young folks during the, let's say, seventies and eighties decided to make a statement about funerals, one of the first thing they did was make memorial T-shirts. This is not only because the technology was there for the screen printing and you could go to the mall and get whatever made, but it was a way of, this is in your face death. You're not going to recognize that my cousin was killed. I'm going to wear this R.I.P Hold Me shirt. So I think one of the things that happened so was such extraordinary, both creativity and resilience, because it takes a certain spirit to say, I'm going to take this moment that has almost taken my breath away and make it a teaching moment to show you. So these huge murals of Breonna Taylor or George Floyd, and we're not going to make these small anymore. Forget the memorial T-shirts where they'll put it on the side of a building, we're going to put it in the Black Lives Matter in the middle of the street. So I think this contemporary moment of in your face dying, you must acknowledge we have had a loss and that it matters to us.

Lee: Karla has had to grapple with these ideas in her own life. In 1999, while she was writing her book on black mourning, she had to plan a funeral of her own for her son.

Holloway: So why do we have ceremony? So we can have something familiar and reliable and comforting at a moment when we are at our lowest.

Lee: At her son's funeral, she wanted to hear familiar scriptures said at black funerals to help bring some semblance of peace. I am the resurrection and the life, whosoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.

Holloway: I am not a church person, but I remember in my son's funeral, I wanted them to say those words that they say walking into the church and walking out of the church because I wanted him folded into that ritual, because that was one that I understood as a black mother, and a black mother is a--a mourning figure.

Lee: Karla's son had been serving a prison sentence, he was shot and killed as he tried to escape. The loss completely changed the way Karla saw her work. How did that, you know, shape you in that moment?

Brown: It unshaped me. It, you know, reduced me. It let go of whatever composure I thought I had. First of all, I lost two of the things that were most reliable for me, reading and writing. I couldn't read right. You know, you--you lose numbers, you lose your way going to the store. So it turned me from academic into a grieving parent, and then it--it changed the book. At one time, I was writing a very academic book, you know, with chapters and numbers and no pictures and whatever, and when I got back to it, a couple of years later, when I began to write it, I started with his story, and what struck me was that the three sections are called Fear, Flight and Fate. Because my son was trying to escape from prison when he was shot, and those are the same titles in Richard Wright's native son, Fear, Flight and Fate, because I saw myself in the midst of a tradition that I was foolishly trying to write about as an objective academic, you're not objective Karla get out of here. You know, I'd say this is--this is about you. How can you write this story? So it's about us all.

Lee: Karla realized that telling our life stories through the lens of death was important because there's power in having all parts of our experience shared and understood.

Holloway: Eventually, I came up some years after I realized there how many letters I continued to get after this book, but one of them kept saying, there's no word for us. There's no word for parents who have lost a child. We live a life where death and dying is as ubiquitous as breathing, and it is a stunning revelation to me that the phrase of this generation is I can't breathe. Which, ironically, were the last words my son said when he was shot by police, but this I can't breathe is an indication of the struggle for breath is what has become the story of black life. So when we celebrate life, we are celebrating that you made it to whatever stage you made it to and you have done well. That biblical phrase comes from well done, my good and faithful servant. Well, in the black community, well, that means you made it this far, brother, good for you.

Lee: Hmm. All of this certainly is about the--the weight of how we grapple with death, right?

Holloway: Yes.

Lee: But it's also is the celebration of life and-- and our mourning tradition, the practices we do uplift out of reverence to the dead, but also, you know, it speaks to who we are, the beauty of who we are. And I ask you in that kind, for that kind of lens, what do you appreciate, revere respect most about our mourning and burial traditions?

Holloway: Oh, let's start with the music.

(SINGING)

Holloway: When there are song. Soon One Morning, When this Life is Over, I'll Fly Away, it incorporates every tradition, every step, when I talk to my Nigerian brothers, we hear that story about people flying to my village. Now, how do we have a story about people who can fly? So the ways in which that we have incorporated the extraordinary into our circumstance, whether it is in music and song and dance and rhythm and recognizable, oh yeah, I know that my mama did that. Ways that bring us together as a people in our names and the things that carry us forward because we find we are not alone, we have a history, we have a community. It is theirs, but for the claiming, they make it difficult for us to claim some time and dangerous, but in the claiming, it's like Toni Morrison says in the clearing, we are flesh and we can be brought back together as a community of flesh. Once we remember these rituals of death and dying, that's--that's magic right there, you know, black people, magic. You know, we could be dead and living free.

Lee: Are there practices around mourning and death that are especially meaningful to you and your family? You can share with us on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook using the handle At Into America Pod. Our email is Into America at NBCUNI.COM and you can find me on Twitter at Trymaine Lee, my full name. If this episode resonates with you, please show us some love rate and review Into America on Apple Podcasts or wherever you're listening right now. Into America is produced by Sojourn Abby, Isabel Angel, Allison Bailey, Mike Brown, Aaron Dutton, and Max Jacobs. Original Music is by Hans Brown. Our executive producer is Aisha Turner. I'm Trymaine Lee. We'll see you next Thursday. Take care.