Daria Johnson left her cabin on board the Liberia and stepped on deck. Days of high winds, rain and heavy seas had bedeviled the ship and she had been bedridden with seasickness. She thanked the Lord that her husband had been able to afford a cabin. She had heard the moans and cries of anguish that emanated from steerage. When the wind died down, the odor of human effluence hung in the air. It was worse than anything she had encountered during her years in plantation slave quarters.
Daria had been born in bondage, as had her mother, grandmother and grandmother’s mother before her. There had always been a white father and with each generation, the women’s black roots had been diluted. Daria, still a beautiful woman at thirty-six years of age, had skin the color of a sun-kissed, white, farm girl.
Daria was also born beautiful. Her owner noticed her as her breasts began to mound, and when her menses came, she was moved into a small cabin at the edge of the plantation. The man visited frequently, and she lived in relative comfort until her baby came. When his wife learned of the young, cream-colored slave and her white baby, she covertly arranged for them to be sold to different plantation owners. Daria never saw her first-born daughter again.
Her new master lived many miles away in Petersburg, Virginia. Daria worked in the kitchen of the main house and accompanied the cook on errands in town. One of the stores they visited was owned by a successful, black businessman, Hagar Johnson. He was attracted to the beauty and quiet manner of the young woman. After several weeks of deliberation, her owner extracted an exorbitant amount of money from the smitten merchant who purchased her freedom.
Hagar allowed Daria to live, untouched, in his room over the store until he thought it time for them to marry. Although she found him a bit persnickety, she appreciated his good character and honorable intentions. Over time, she came to love him, bore him a daughter and settled in to a life of privilege known to few black women in the South.
Hagar’s decision to travel thousands of miles away to Liberia had come as a shock. Daria had no interest in Africa and now the continent lay in front of her. Tribal memories which define so many slaves had been forgotten by her womenfolk. Their stories were of plantation life and the white families who owned them. Africa was a primitive, alien land and she wanted no part of it. She prayed for a safe visit and a speedy return to her roots in America.