CHARLESTON, S.C. (NBC NEWS) — As the gravel crunched under the tires of my car, images of America’s heinous past flashed through my mind. This road was leading me to a plantation situated on 390 acres, where generations of enslaved people tended to the rice crops for nearly two centuries.  

Looming trees draped in Spanish moss line the path. The murky green swamps and dense vegetation beyond the trees added to the area’s unnerving feel. 

When I exited the car along the way, there was an eerie quiet on this early October afternoon — no birds chirping or insects buzzing. It was as if the damaged spirits of my people had silenced this land where atrocities took place.

My wife, Felita, and I drove from Atlanta to the Magnolia Plantation, which now welcomes guests to its expansive garden that is replete with breathtaking magnolias and azaleas. That’s what I was told. I didn’t see beauty. I saw pain. I felt anguish. 

Joseph McGill, the founder of the Slave Dwelling Project, which preserves remaining residences of the formerly enslaved on plantations as a way of teaching their significant stories, presents opportunities to the public to sleep overnight.

Some friends said they would pass on a trip like this if given the chance, which I understood. It would be a painful, haunting experience. I, on the other hand, was eager to do so, even though I had a sense of what would come with it. In 2007, I visited Cape Coast in Ghana, where the so-called slave dungeons exist. That was the last place where millions of Africans were held captive before they were forced onto ships that transported them through the Middle Passage and into slavery in America and other countries.

Walking through the “Door of No Return” in Ghana and seeing, feeling, even smelling the revolting conditions my ancestors had been subjected to there was an unparalleled, gut-wrenching experience — but it also forged a connection to my ancestors that influences who I am. Through the anguish, I felt stronger and more tightly connected to my African bloodlines.

I believed sleeping overnight where my enslaved ancestors had in America would tie me further to my lineage, an association needed in today’s world of heightened and disheartening racial animus directed at Black people.

McGill, who has slept in more than a dozen “slave cabins” across the country, makes an evening of it by having a fireside chat before everyone retires to the cabins — Blacks and whites talking openly about race and racism in this “land of the free.”