In the city of Hampton, Virginia, there is an oak tree that has stood for over 200 years.
It is known as Emancipation Oak.
It gained its name because in 1863, that tree was the site where many enslaved people heard the reading of Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation — a reading that restored their humanity and cast off the chains of legalized slavery.
That story is good enough on its own, but it’s not the story that intrigues me most.
Two years earlier, under that same tree, a Black woman named Mary Smith Peake — the first teacher hired by the American Missionary Association — committed the near-treasonous act of educating the daughters and sons of Black people who had found refuge in Fort Monroe.
That tree is not only a national landmark, but it now lives on the campus of Hampton University, a historically Black university established just three years after the end of the bloody Civil War.