Several local advocates for racial justice will take part in a “communion service of lament, reconciliation and commitment” Saturday in Abingdon.

It will take place at St. Thomas Episcopal Church at 6:30 p.m., according to a release from the Episcopal Diocese of Southwestern Virginia. The event will begin with refreshments at 5:30 p.m.

Retired Wise County teacher and coach Preston Mitchell, who is an Episcopalian minister, will be the deacon for the service.

Rev. Sandra Jones of Williams Chapel AME Zion Church in Big Stone Gap will be one of the participating ministers, according to Mitchell.

Speakers will include Ron Carson, a member of the federal commission coordinating the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first enslaved Africans to the English colonies and founder of the Appalachian African-American Cultural Center in Pennington Gap. Also, Carson and his quartet will provide music, as will Ron Short of Big Stone Gap.

Mitchell and Jones are among local organizers of the Community Remembrance Project, which is documenting the history of lynching incidents against African-Americans.

The Abingdon event concludes a pilgrimage for racial justice beginning Aug. 16 in Alexandria and concluding Aug. 17.

The pilgrimage, which will pass through Staunton, Roanoke and Radford, will commemorate the forced marches of “a million shackled, enslaved African Americans” through Virginia between 1810 and 1860, on their way to the deep south to work in cotton fields, the release explains. “Along the way, families were separated, hunger and thirst were rampant, and disease killed many.”

This week’s events aim to “sound a call for racial fairness and reconciliation across the nation,” according to the release.

“While there have been great sacrifices by many for the cause of equality and moments of progress, race relations in the United States have never reflected the true message of God’s love,” said the Right Rev. Mark Bourlakas, bishop of the diocese. “The sin of institutionalized racism plagues our country and wounds God’s children. This prejudice runs counter to the foundations of all our primary religions in America. Seeking reconciliation for our common future, we will be employing this pilgrimage to continue directing attention to the pressing need for truth-telling about this country’s history of injustice.”

“Abingdon was a significant landmark along the primary route of slave migration from the upper south to the deep south,” explained the Rev. Boyd Evans, rector of St. Thomas. “This was a tremendously violent progression involving the complete loss of control of the victims’ lives and often times extremely brutal treatment. Moreover, the average lifespan of a slave in the harsh Louisiana cotton fields was just seven years. These facts force us to face the truth that the myth of the ‘happy slave’ is just that — a myth. The first step in healing from any trauma is the recognition that such a trauma has been committed and suffered, and the pilgrimage will be a first step in that process.”

For more information about the event, contact Evans at 865/705-8813 or revboydswva@gmail.com.

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