Teeksa Photography

Photography of
Skip Schiel

A Spirit People: One View of the
Interfaith Pilgrimage of the Middle Passage

An online exhibit

All images and text copyright Skip Schiel, 2001

Like many before me traveling somewhere new, like Odysseus as he sought his way home, I searched for the truth of history-slavery and its resistance, apartheid and its end and the legacies of both in violence and poverty. The journey propelled me into a new zone of actively struggling for racial justice. For me, the Middle Passage Pilgrimage--the Middle Passage is the portion of the Atlantic slave trade from Africa to the Americas--was an avenue for traversing a treacherous landscape, with others, in prayer, supported by local communities, while my subsequent volunteered photography was a method of both giving and asking: giving to communities thru my skill, and asking they reveal to me and my camera their truths.

End result? Mystery, the book of mysteries.


An exhibit of Skip Schiel's photographs about the Interfaith Pilgrimage of the Middle Passage in the southern United States was displayed at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute in March and April 2000. Exhibits were also held this summer (2000) in Rochester NY and Smithfield RI as part of two Quaker gatherings.

 Why I Walk

Since being raised in an all-white area of Chicago during the 1940s and l950s, I have been searching for a way to more directly engage with my own and this nation's legacy of slavery. Going to west Africa with the pilgrimage, after walking through some of the eastern and southern regions of the U.S. where slavery and reconstruction have been so generative-and where racism continues in sometimes virulent forms-will help me struggle against my own racism and find ways to help others overcome theirs. The objective: cracking through denial, comprehending the system of racism, ending it. The objective: living in the spirit that is based on respect and love.

One afternoon in the early 1950s, riding an elevated train through a Black section of Chicago, on my way home with several friends, a young Black man about my age, 12, came up to me and said, "Want to see what I have in my hand?" He quickly closed his fist around a shiny object and, before I could reply, he punched me in the mouth. I was shocked, angered, and felt I had to be tough in front of my friends, but I feared chasing him off the train into his turf. I paused, waited until the train was about to leave the station, and as the doors were closing I started my pursuit of my attacker. As I'd anticipated, the door closed, he went through, I didn't.


I lived with my anger of Black people-and with my fear. (Perhaps that Black boy did also.) Inwardly I seethed and cowered. And here I was in Chicago, as the Black community expanded, relentlessly moving south into my homeland, Chicago's South Side.

Two years after the train incident, my family, unsure of what might happen to our home's monetary value, decided to sell and move to the suburbs-we were the first of our circle to engage in "White Flight." The year was 1955, the year a young Black boy from Chicago, Emmett Till, was murdered in the south while visiting relatives, the year of Rosa Parks and the Montgomery bus boycott. I completed high school, then college, married, had two daughters, never once coming back to my old neighborhood. I remained blocked, by my own inability to overcome fear.

Now I need to go deeper, to break through another barrier: slavery and its legacy of racism, my own and that of others, societal, structural, among the Religious Society of Friends, my core community, and wider than Friends. Racism bars people from being fully human with each other. I might be able to help build a bridge by making a pilgrimage.


--Skip Schiel

 "As you come to know the seriousness of our situation-the war, the racism, the poverty of the world-you come to realize it is not going to be changed just by words or demonstrations. It's a question of risking your life, it's a question of living your life in dramatically different ways."

--Dorothy Day


Rise Up & Call Their Names, a transcript from the video This Far by Faith

This Far by Faith, a PBS video

Feet Walking, Eyes Wide Open:
A Report

More information about the Interfaith Pilgrimage of the Middle Passage

Slide shows

Other exhibits by Skip Schiel

Rent this exhibit thru the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute (if still available):
Ahmad Ward at
205-328-9696 x 234
award (at) bcri.org

About Skip Schiel

Return to the main page

To contact Skip Schiel



Teeksa Photography--Skip Schiel
9 Sacramento Street
Cambridge Massachusetts 02138-1843

(updated June 2002)