Cultural tour starts

Published 12:26 am Sunday, November 3, 2013

A new one-day heritage tour in the area will start in Suffolk and take interested sightseers to local places mentioned in the Moses Grandy slave narrative.

Eric Sheppard, a descendant of Grandy, moved to the area after doing genealogical research and tracing his roots to Camden County, N.C., and Virginia — and then further back still, to west Africa.

“Recently I decided we’d start doing tours to educate people on the history and the Underground Railroad in this part of Virginia,” Sheppard said. “I’m hoping to stimulate conversation. We’re going to have it in the form of tourism and homecoming.”

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The inaugural tour is set for Nov. 11. The trip leaves from a Harbour View shopping center parking lot and visits the James River, which brought enslaved Africans to the new colonies as early as 1619; Fort Monroe, for a presentation about escaped slaves; the Norfolk waterfront, to learn how the Elizabeth River played a role in moving escaped slaves to freedom; the Moses Grandy Trail; Dismal Swamp Canal, which was predominantly dug using slave labor; and Dismal Swamp State Park before arriving back in Suffolk. There is also a buffet lunch included.

“It’s for all ethnic groups, but I think for African-Americans it will be a form of healing as well,” Sheppard said. “What we’re doing, even though it’s in the tourism sector, it’s a profound spiritual or human side of this that should not be underplayed.”

Sheppard has visited Africa 11 times and plans a trip next year to the small West African nation of The Gambia.

“That kind of completes the circle or cycle, if you will,” he said.

The trip starts at 8:30 a.m. and ends at 4:30 p.m. Registration is $65 a person, and the deadline for the inaugural trip is Nov. 5.

The tours will be held monthly.

Email or call 967-0062 for more information.