Unity, a watercolor print in the Harmon Foundation Collection, shared via the U.S. National Archives.

I joined my sister Laura and her family in South Carolina for a beautiful vacation week this summer. We stayed on one of the barrier islands and enjoyed days on the beach with swimming, sand castles, books, naps, and great local food. It was a relaxation vacation, not a sightseeing one, with the exception of a day trip to Charleston. Laura and I have both wanted to visit Charleston since we were young and were excited to walk the streets together.

I knew a fair amount about Charleston and its role in the American slave trade from elementary school through graduate school history lessons and research. And I was fully unprepared for the emotional weight of walking through downtown streets and seeing the reminders around each corner. We walked for hours. I’m sure the historic architecture we were excited to see was beautiful, but I can’t say for sure. We had encountered the Old Slave Mart early in the day. The nauseau and sense of haunting stayed with me the rest of the trip and lingers still today.

Walking through that slave mart (now museum), I imagined standing on one of the pedestals being examined and then auctioned. And heaven help me if I had a child that was separated from me during the sale, as two images depicted. I am embarrassed, mad, horrified, and angry that the whole of American slavery existed. And I’m bewildered—and angry again—that racism in America is once again generating headlines and sorrow and rage.