tv Interpreting Slavery at Colonial Williamsburg CSPAN January 7, 2021 8:01pm-9:45pm EST
american history and culture curator rex ellis. >> good evening. my name is beth kelly. i'm the vice president of the education research and historical interpretation division. it's my honor to offer you a warm and personal welcome. the word welcome has a great deal of meaning for colonial williamsburg. we have been welcoming guests to come and learn about our 18th century community since 1932. 40 years ago, the foundation recognized we were only telling half of the story. and so, with determination and courage and perseverance, programming was designed by our panelists tonight so that we could tell the whole story of our 18th century community. blending social history with public history to tell the african american story had never been done before, and quite literally, they were making history. this is the first of three
panelists discussions we will have this year, and i would welcome you to come back on july 5th, where we will look at current programming that focuses on african american stories, and also on october 18th, where we will be focusing on the future. our panelist that discussion will be helping us to think about how we continue to tell the story. as mitchell said, it's all of our story. i know our panelists well. they have plenty to share with us. so please let me begin the evening by introducing our moderator. he began his career as a junior interpreter, and then became an actor interpreter and a program developer. and he is now president of his own company. if you would join me in welcoming richard joseph. [applause] [applause] >> peace and
blessings. it's kind of interesting to come home after being in cold minnesota for a while, to see the work that is being done here, to see familiar faces, and to see my mentors and have the opportunity to be before you all and have a shared experience with you all to learn and revisit, and in some cases be reminded that it's not just 40 years. i will just say a long time. [laughs] a lot of hard work but, a lot of sharing, carrying, supporting one another but. and we will be informal and loose. let's start by introducing the folks on the panel. i will begin by introducing
doctor rex alice. [applause] [applause] kristie coal. [applause] [applause] and dow and pretty sure. [applause] [applause] i told you i was going to get loose. [laughs] i think we've had previous conversations and when we talk about 40 years, 1979, you heard something here that mitchell stated earlier. there had been some work happening as early as the forties. before we start getting into 79
and on, i want to start in the timeframe before that. at that point in time, you were a part of the -- >> not in the forties. >> not in the forties. >> i was barely able to walk and 79. i was in diapers. i joined in 73 and it was kind of interesting, before 73, about 72. there had only been one african american up until that point. his name was jimmy curtis. he was a drummer. later on, there were african americans in the five fanned drum. but i think what he was speaking of is the john hope franklin timeframe of the
fifties and there was an effort to look at african american history and how it could be interpreted at colonial williamsburg. there have been stories that have come out of people who were actually in the buildings. james payne and gerald in pain we are on top of the house. that's where they stayed. and they lived there and then put costume zone or colonial garb and went downstairs and interpreted the kitchen. that was something that i don't know how that came about. i don't know what the purpose of that was. i don't know what they interpreted, but they interpreted african american history down there in the kitchen. i know there were people in the kitchen. but to be honest, we are talking about employees who happen to be black in costumes in those areas. if you were to walk in and ask them, you may not get an
answer. that's not what they were there for. and they will tell you, i'm cooking, or the blacksmith, or the silversmith. they were more craft people than interpreting african american history, so i think there was a need and african americans were represented throughout the foundation, all the way up to 79. but the focus wasn't on african american history. to be honest, even during 79 when we were first beginning, those african americans that were in costume still did not want to talk about it, because they were craftsman. they wanted to talk about their craft. to be very honest, you really wouldn't want them to. they were not versed enough. we found what we were doing was, if you cannot answer some basic questions, then your credibility gets shot really quick. unless you were hired and trained to interpret african
american history, it was not fair to think you could take on the burden. i don't mean burden in a negative way, but it can get burdensome. i think what the president was really speaking of was that there was always a presents. there was always a knowledge that half the population of williamsburg in the 18 century was black. but how to interpret it, they really had not delved into it. to be honest, personally, i think that it was the right time, when we started doing it. it was time people were thinking about social issues. people were thinking about women and women's history. people were kind of loosening up. but just like today, folks are not too loose about talking about slavery. but then, it has to do with how we have learned and how we have
been missed thought about the institution itself. for some reason, we think that is a color issue, but it is the institution we don't understand. we don't understand color, because what we were trying to do was teach the institution and people to make it personable. i know i kind of went a little far, -- >> those early years were important years, because there was an effort by african americans that they represented the other half of the population in the 18th century. they employed them as blacksmith's and as carriage drivers and as a scholar-y maids, hand they dress them in that way. [inaudible] [inaudible] the dichotomy was they were
hired because they represented the diversity of williamsburg, especially african american. but in their hiring, many of them focus their attention on what they did, not who they were doing it for, but the foundation understood very well that it had to have a representation of african americans. a bookbinder happened to be an african american hired to legitimize the concept of historical accuracy on an occasion where we came on board and we 2bgz3ñ that we were not being hired to be, per se, tradesmen. we were hired to interpret african american history and one of the most unorthodox ways of interpreting it, theater. so it was like guerrilla theater in a sense, and when
the program came, it began to focus on african american history being important to interpret. in the 1940s, as dylan was saying, they lived in the house, above the kitchen. and during the day, when mr. payne was going about doing his duties as !ustodian on the property, he would be in costume. he would be doing what he would be doing in terms of cleaning the house and the chores he had, but he didn't costume, he was being used as a person to represent something, but there was a big intended responsibility of having information about african americans. >> and that would come a few
years later in what became a seminal work and really the bible for interpretation, a compilation of a lot of work from the archaeologists and historians on staff and others as they dug through the record, which was rich in terms of presence of americans. yet, there was still large gaps. the other thing that i think we cannot ignore with those early african-american staff members working is that whether they wanted to interpret it or not, visitors constantly addressing them that way was part of the irritation when this actually came along. because they had been working so hard to be seen as
professionals, had been working so hard to be seen as people who were masters of 18 century craft and skill. and they didn't want their roles diminished by the visitor, frankly, who would say completely inappropriate things to them. frankly, that still happens. that is the additional layer, i think, of why there was a mix of resistance from black people in some cases and in fact from other interpreters throughout the historic area. i think there is another important social of events that also heralds why it became important and 79, and that was in 1977. for the first time, america saw the story of a black family when roots came out.
i think these confluence is, it was the right time. there was no better person to do it. no better person to get this going. >> i just thought of three things. one is when rex was speaking about people in historic buildings and costume, what's 79 did was put people on the street. now, the costume designer had to come up with what are they wearing. now, your shirt is different. you are wearing a linen shirt. your shoes have to be different. everything is kind of changed. now you have people authentically dressed as black folks on the street, not just as a cook, not just the black cook. now, the black cook is not
dressed the way black koch would address. now, when people see black folks on the street with a hat on, they go into the kitchen and start asking who are you. crafts people didn't like it, because they saw a character portrayal on the street and then say this is not a black person. who are you? we just saw them out there. who were you? there is a person who is actually the master of the shop who wanted to say, i'm the master printer. that's not with the visitors ask you. they ask you who are you. >> it's not that visitors dynastic question. it was about the individual. that is where we got a great deal of ire, a great deal of
anger from tradesmen really wanted to focus their attention on the trade and on i am a silversmith, a bookbinder, whatever it was. we came to town and said we want you to ask us about african american history. these characters focus their attention on letting you know what life was like for african americans during the 18th century. these characters were fully and meticulously researched in many ways by the research department to sort of put us on the map. but we also put the research department on the map. >> that's right. >> one of the reasons that we were put on the map was because we began to ask questions about slave objects.
african americans on the 18th century opened the door, but then there were historians that had to in some way begin to fill in the blanks of what was going on within the african american community. there are archaeologists who are seeing remains that were african american. they were simply not saying let's cover it up. they were beginning to find new questions to ask about the 18th century that gave us fodder for new information, but also gave them, in many instances, a new look into history that was part of what christie said, the social historical perspective that was coming out against the eighties and nineties. all of that seemed to work together in a way that allowed us to do an interpretive program that we are very proud
of. >> there may be a question of what's is 79, what happened in 1979 is they want it to have characters on the street, but at the same time, in 1979, a man named peter came from the african american history museum in d.c. and under the direction said they wanted to do a black music program. that was the very first program that was ever done in the historic area, the black music program. and rex was my speech teacher. >> worst student ever. [laughs] [laughs] he came to me on the first day of class and said, i know how to talk, can i just not do this class at all. i said who in the world is this arrogant young man who doesn't
want to do speech 103. from there, to becoming one of my best friends. god only knows. [laughs] [laughs] >> i am willing to fight for extra credit. [laughs] but what happened was rex, with darren taylor, walking the streets, this young man has a barber shop. barbara cesar was one of the first characters on the street. 40 years and the barber is still here. he took a long hiatus. but it was nice to see him. and that was big. he didn't know that, but then
he was not here 40 years ago. there was an evening program, and if you ever see this photograph, and there is the long drum? >> there is a. >> he worked in the boot shop. he had very little rhythm. he had very little rhythm, but the model was -- >> he was won a few african americans who helped us interpret african american history. >> and rex, monty, eddie allen, and there is one more. i wrote them down. debra was later. president jones is still around. preston was one of the first.
-- >> no, ruth was later. so i got it down. but that, in the beginning, that even shows that people were willing. we had two craftsman that were willing to help. i don't want to sound like people didn't want to. we just hadn't gone through the training of the interpreters of how to, because they had never really had that kind of focus. now, they were getting the focus. they were meeting these people on the streets. also during this time is when children, i guess that's a bit later. >> rex, when they came to talk to you, who came to talk to you? >> i believe danielle tool was
in the group. they came to the university and said they wanted some of our actors. i was teaching in the theater arts department at that point and they came and said -- i was actually teaching acting class at that point. the chairman of the department called me into his office and said there's someone in the office i would like you to listen to. he said, in essence, he wanted some of our actors to audition to play the parts of slaves at colonial williamsburg. you don't go to a predominantly black college and make a statement like that. unless you are three beers short of a six pack, or your
cause is just. we sat him down and said we want to begin to talk about the other half of the population in williamsburg in the 18th century. rex was a-year-old when we left the county and i came to williamsburg to live. from the time i was a-year-old until i graduated from high school, i never knew that half the population in williamsburg was black. i knew williamsburg as a place where my next door neighbor was the head chef at the old motor house. i-['út knew that one of my othr next door neighbor is was the housekeeper at the lodge. i had no idea that there was this kind of history. the fool that i was, if i was going to do something positive for black folk at williamsburg, i will addition. it was me,m=r3cq darren taylor,d monte combs. they were the first three
african american interpreters. and then, and then, harvey cradle, who had begun the program, creating a character. what was the name of the character? a near duel who was always in the jail in the pillory. and he always -- the crowd loved him. it was the way of teaching history that used fear as a way of introducing and connecting audiences to characters that were 18th century characters. his character was a narrow do well who was always in jail, irresponsible, but the crowd loved him. so the next year, he thought an
off of what he was doing, and the new, burgeoning, living history program, that they asked him to hire six other people to help him create this living history program and williamsburg. here is this guy at hampton university saying we would like for you to come and work at colonial williamsburg and take part in this program. that first year was pretty rough. i harvey had this idea of us being in character, and never breaking character, but staying in character throughout. after about a week, i said this will not work. i called darren, monte, and we went to harvey's office. i said this is not going to work.
people are getting confused. they don't know who we, are what we are doing. they think we are from eastern state and have come here to do something that's totally irresponsible. we have to break character. he said we can't do that. that's not my vision. i said you don't understand, harvey. this is a part-time job for me. i will go back to hampton university when this is over. we either try it this way or i don't need this job that bad. so we then created a program where we broke character. i would introduce the character. i would tell them who i was. i would do the character and turned around again and break character. now, i could talk about 18th century history. i could talk about what we had learned in order to get the programs together. there was that burgeoning living history program that had the extra burden of interpreting a controversial
history. we were using a controversial presentation technique to interpret one of the most controversial subjects that we could interpret in an 18th century environment. that was slavery. >> that is an interesting thing, because i remember my grandmother telling me about how black folks felt about williamsburg. she talked to me about how long before williamsburg was here black folks were here. the property was bought up and gone to different places, and even when i first met you, at mount gayle again, at st. john,
even at that point in time, colonial williamsburg and our neighborhood was a place white people could -- . so when i think about you all and i see about that early time, i don't think i can explain how the community may have gone. i read an article yesterday about, from you, rex, about how your father felt about williamsburg. my father said -- >> if you lived in williamsburg, no matter where you lived, the historic area is in the middle. you have to pass the historic area to go anywhere, from one end of town to another. we would pass it.
i said one day, dad, because i looked at the capital. i said why do we never go there, and he said because that place points to slavery. if dad says it, that's the end of it. i didn't think about it more until the day harvey came to hampton university. >> so -- [laughs] [laughs] i came on the scene the summer of 1982. i also grew up in williamsburg. and a lot of the people that we are talking about, these people who worked in the historic area went to the church or lived in the neighborhoods, and we knew these people. for me, my dad was a sue chef at the williamsburg in and my
own cull was the manager of the cascades. i came to williamsburg unlike them. i came to williamsburg a lot. me and my friends ride our bikes up and down the historic area. we joke on the tourists and all that kind of thing. the summer prior to my senior year, i was riding my bike and i saw my drama teacher from a high school. we had the state drama department at my high school and one of my classmates is right there. so i am riding my bike and i saw claudia on the street portraying and wager. i stopped and i was just mesmerized by what she was
doing. i said i want to do that. so back in class, i said hey. how can i get in on that? she said first of all, you are too young. the people they are working with our college age or older or whatever. i have always been a bit brassy or than your average bear. i got -- i don't remember who on behalf, but my parents called someone to find out when the audition would be for the african american program, living history. i went to the audition at 17. they didn't know i was 17. >> did you lie on the application? >> we didn't have to bring an application. we had to bring a theater resume. i brought my head shot and all my show stuff.
i was good to go. i did it and then they hired me, really great. i had friends working at mcdonald's for minimum wage, i thought it was great, but i thought i was making a whole lot more money. it was two dollars more than everybody else and high school, which was really great, and i was acting. we got a historian to work with and the crew really came and mentored me in the work. because for me, it was just an acting job. i didn't think about the power of what i would be doing. we and i always liked history as a kid. i always understood african american history, because my parents were adamant about it when i was growing up with.
when i had a special reported english or history, they would say why don't you read about this person, why don't you read about this person to share with their classmates. so i didn't have the same anxiety about talking about it. but it didn't take long on the street for me to learn. we talked about this in the past. it was within the first week, and i was portraying someone my age named rebecca. she belonged to the blair family in the apothecary. blair was sick and dying and the storyline was that if he dies, what will happen to rebeca? is she going to get sold off to pay his debts? is she going to go off to live within blair? it was a tearjerker, and i
milked it for all it was worth. and i went out and sat on the barrel in front of the apothecary waiting for the next cycle to go through and a visitor, a man, walked up and asked me how does it feel to play an and word. and i was so taken aback by it, but also brassy. so i said how does it feel to play one, and i jumped up and went straight to the anderson house, to the break room, and i said mr. alice, mr. alice, this is what just happened, i don't know what they are doing to me. his advice has stuck with me in the 37 years since i first started in museum work. it changed my life. for that, i will always be
grateful. he said to me, i understand. we have all been there. now, you have to ask yourself the question, whether or not you are strong enough to tell your ancestors stories when no one else wants to, or if you aren't ready to do that, it's okay, you can go. he said sit here and think about it, and i sat in that room as interpreters came in and out during their breaks, and i sat there. and i said i am doing this, and i went back out and came back every summer. so all my plans of being an attorney went out the window. and acting attorney, but you know. my parents wouldn't let me major in the theater. >> i had a, during the summer
-- 5w#scan you hear me now? >> yes. >> during the summer, the marketing department would decide how they were going to market colonial williamsburg this year. they decided that they would go to a department store, i believe higbie's. was it higbie's? they would go to a department store in cleveland, and they would put colonial williamsburg characters, dancers, and this year they would include african americans. and every floor, they had someone on that floor, and they had a particular floor in the christmas area, where they wanted the interpreters to be. i remember that night, they had a large parade that was inside
the store. all the characters, musicians, whoever they were, they would walk down this long aisle. there were black chairs on either side of the aisle and stockholders and other vip's were seated in those chairs. if we were to all7$gwñy parade, and then when we got to the middle of the storm, one group started from one end, one from another, and the local band was there, the local ballet. we came to the middle of the room and then went up the escalators, all the way up to the top floor, which is where colonial williamsburg was. then they would fill in the floors with other cleveland supernumerary's. there i am with bill white over
in the cosmetic area. i don't know if you remember mary wise men, but i am over there with bill and mary. bill white was the drum major, and they had a banner here and a big baton, and a try cornered hat on and boom. he was looking good, right? and right beside him was mary wise men. they made a beautiful gown that was formed all around, and she had put up her hair and makeup. she was looking important. then i looked over in the mirror at myself and i looked pretty good for a slave. and i said to bill, bill, do you mind if i sit this one out?
and he said ok, but could you come by my hotel room afterward and tell me why. i said all right. so i went to his room, after they had done all of this parading. i said if you put on 18th century clothing, it makes you feel important. it inspires you. it makes you think that the 18th century was what it means to be an american. when i wear the clothing eyewear, i feel like a slave. and if i am responsible and want to get into my character, the more i get into my character, the worse i feel as an individual. so what's she is talking about is what happens to every african american interpreter
who puts on a costume every day and goes out into that street to interpret something that few people interprets, and to find your piece and that is what she did. many failed to do it, but on that day, bill white understood what it meant being an african american, putting on a slave costume, and what that did to your psyche. >> i want to say this. we own that. we owned that. and what we are today, we still owned. that we can walk the streets and see a black interpreter doing a black character and have no respect for them,
because they don't have that. we see that. we know what that takes, and we know that you can come out of yourself for those ancestors. we see that. we know that. we feel that. and it's hard to try to give it advice to somebody who doesn't know that, because you have to feel it. and until you call them the n-word, by someone who really means it, and you can take that and know how to come back to it and respect your ancestors, then you can make it. but you have to go through it. you know what i mean? and excuse me, but that was 79. in 84, 85, 86, that is what you
had to have. people came, went, hung around, but you could tell it. there was a time where we would go, rex and i have been to some shady places. i remember going to new jersey one time. i said they have more tiles in here than sheets. -- [laughs] we were there for the rotary club or something like that. the objective was they knew people would come to colonial williamsburg on their own. we knew we had to do an
outreach program, some kind of outreach, that allowed us to go into the community so they might see us and hopefully redefine what they thought colonial williamsburg represented. >> to get people to understand there is a lot of strengthen 18th century history. and, if you will indulge me, i have to name those people, in their honor, who are in that struggle. i cannot find my glasses now. i already mentioned the first and we mentioned the characters and there were other programming's. then there was a storytelling program. we started doing a storytelling program. at the house behind there we did it for a few years.
it would be changed up every few years. the juvenile performer program, because the program on my own time, there were children used in it. greg johnson and kay smith. we had to start a juvenile performer program, because they could not have children and programming and they were not in the program. since i had worked with fife and drum and understood the rankings, i developed a program where we would have children that would join the program and they had to know the basic history. there are basic questions about how much sleep so and so had. rex requested his church, if there were any children that were interested. we ended up with quite a few.
>> keisha all over. sciandro montgomery. it could be debated. but for me, there is no greater program that we did than that one. you can go right down the list of every young person that i mentioned. they mean something. they got what it is we were trying to give them. we have doctors and interpreters and you name it. that is what's up. we had a background in what we did. as for outreach programs, we had ones that went into schools.
do some scenes and that sort of thing. we do a lot of programs on this stage, a lot. from year to year, it's probably the best musical program we have ever done, kristie, rex, robert, and sylvia, exactly. now, i am going to lift them off. these people helped in all of our programs, brigitte jackson. laverne, liver and johnson? art johnston, maryland taylor, robert watson, sylvia, felix, rose, kristie, emily, gerald, jones, i wish i knew where he was. he could play the fiddle and was untrained. she went into the music teachers room and started playing it.
she was amazing. i wonder where she is. debra jones, rest her soul, david bar. her sister won an oscar for costume design for black panther. she worked here. that's right. chris moore, tony freeman, i cannot think of what the last name was, greg james, kathleen, and later on there are people you probably don't know,-ish male conway. [inaudible] >>-ish male, nice to see you, my brother. -ish male conway.
linda, who was colin powell's daughter, charlie bush, stand beetle, jeremy, christine everly, robert watson, kim moye, or kim sellers, greg payne, lisa reid. i am throwing them all in. bonnie, lynda, kevin, willis, begum eugene brown, we could not do a lot without them. we also mentioned charlie brown. pamela mendoza and mary mcconnell, and then michelle, diane, adrian, and any
accomplishment of the beginning and for the first ten years without those folks and others, because did i say -- ? >> you did. >> you didn't say pat gibbs. but the main thing. ç carson, because carrie was the one who took social historys@wú from the bottom up. carrie was the one who took that seriously. carrie was the one who gave us the privilege of meeting with john and harold gill and kevin kelly and luke powers and just a bunch of historians who gave up themselves in so many ways
to make sure we were legitimate in the story we were telling. i cannot say that too much. you had to know, you have to know, your history. it cannot be a mystery. if others are going to not only learn from you, but see you as a legitimate teacher, but donald said earlier about it is very important that you know your history. in many ways, it's your only defense when you are out there on the street, by yourself, and someone comes and says something asinine to you. it's your history that will allow you to move yourself above the perception that they have tacked on to you, simply by looking at you. history is very important. all the other historians understood that and they were right with us as they creative
characters to make sure what we did and said were legitimate. those people who said they are just playing history, and there were employees in the foundation who said they are just playing at doing this and that, but we did more research than most in terms of making sure that we were ready to hit that street, not only because we wanted to be authentic, but because it was our armor against so many who did not wish us well. >> if i can add to that, coming to work and working with rex and others at such a young age, the value of historical record was drilled into us. we could not be lazy and repeat what you heard. this man used to say, what is your citation? you had better be tight and be
able to go back to that book and show him exactly where and why you made that. it was two weeks of training and you were done. it was nonstop, and it was an expectation as you continued. i know some people may not know these names that were rattled off. these were allies and people in the program. carrie was specifically the vice president of research. charles have been the head of the foundation for years, and that's what some of these other people were on the front line to other historical interpreters that took the ride with us. fast forwarding a little bit, i came back to the foundation
after working in baltimore in another museum to finish some academic work. i came back to williamsburg and 1989 and at that time there was a lot of transition. the african american program was no longer just a subset. it had become its own department. there was an experiment at the benjamin powell house, and win and i worked with their, it was an extraordinary experiment, because we were taking the living history thing a little bit further. we were going to live life on the property daily. we did stay and character all day. we had to learn the particular skills of the characters. it took us like six months. he was a program manager, and
barney had me and roseanne kristen and john low, who has also passed on. so we had to learn everything about going into the cooking program. we had to learn a level of midwifery. we had to learn all this stuff so we could legitimately do this. fast forward. the first couple weeks, we had problems. there is two black women and a white man and a white woman who are supposed to be owners of the house. to set the stage for what we were doing, historical interpreters would give the orientation to visitors and the lumber house and they would take them through the building while we were going about our lives and visitors could ask us questions and whatever. we had made a strategic decision that my character, kate, was a bit surly.
and she was very introverted. so when people ask her questions, her response was often really corrupt and short and extraordinarily piercing. inevitably, we live in america. we have a really difficult time dealing with the realities of racism, white supremacy, and what slavery did. we try to soften it as part of our bargaining. inevitably, someone would ask the question, and they did every day. are they good to you? slavery isn't that bad. is? it look how you are dressed. at least you have your children. it would be that kind of thing. no matter how well-intentioned, it's still annoying. fortunately enough, i was playing a character where i could let that be known.
[laughs] [laughs] but the problem was, we were doing the work of the household. i said i am tired of hauling wood every day. good we want to be clear. we portray them. we need to work something out with the landscape department or something. sure enough, they did. they made sure we had would already stacked. they didn't just drop it off at the back of the house. that made sure the gardens were tended to, so we went out there to gather stuff up from the garden, we didn't have to go through all this extra. it was crazy what they were trying to do, but it was profound at the same time. you had an area of cushion and there were these historic interpreters who agreed to be a
part of this program with us, to take people on the journey, by that point, we are ten years in. the first decade has been done, and we are looking at how we can be better. there is one name that i think we need to also highlight here, who i wish was on the stage with us. that is robert c watson. robert see watson was the director who came in as assistant director to rex and then became the interpreter and he gave us our african us in the african american. he had a wealth as a scholar in that area. he had a wealth of understanding about west african peoples, traditions, language, and material culture, and he helped us dissect the historical record where, despite people like molly brown in the archeology department, as good as they were, there
were objects and things that they had no intellectual or academic reference point for. they helped provide that groundwork. for me, that was also another extremely important game-changer in terms of the evolution of the program overtime. so by that time, you get to the early nineties. we have a robust programming that's going on all day every day, all over the historic area. we are trying and we had something else. one of the things that, as we were doing this and gaining more allies out in the field, with the other interpreters, the question always came. there were two questions that seemed to keep coming up. whose history is it and who has
a right to teach? it we are going through these cultural discussions and things like that. and could, we should we even consider bringing white interpreters into african american interpretation. where that would be their intellectual and work focus. should we and could we? so when i became the director in 1984, of the program, i made the decision that we would try it, that we would do it. do i regret that? no. but what it did is it created, i believe it really did create a false confidence that, oh, clearly now everyone can do it. we are training everybody. we may not need the department
anymore. oh will just break it down in different ways -- we will just break it down in different ways, and it was an extraordinary plea -- extraordinarily painful thing to figure out and how to make it work. i realized the department was not just the intellectual focus that we had, but it was this thing that rex and everyone has talked about here. it was about a certain can necked it in us -- connectedness. we lifted each other up when those difficult moments came. my concern is where is the support going to be for the interpreters of this if it's split up? can they, are they strong enough given the numbers of people that we now have across the foundation in varying roles? i had hoped that they would be
strong enough to sustain each other during that period of transition. the historic area, we visited it three times and three years. it was absolutely mind numbing trying to keep this cocoon while all of these other transitions were going on. at the end of the day, i think that the program, but ended up happening is that no one had the eye on it the same way and did not have the same resources did not haveç1÷ directorsources table. they're in i thought was the big difference.]ina$rá just bece programs that i am responsible for versus someone advocating every day for those resources.
again, that was a point for me of real struggle. a point of struggle during that time. on the positive side of it is that it did broaden this idea that all of this is our story of williamsburg. you cannot understand early america. you cannot understand how we could evolve as a nation allegedly built on the ideals of freedom and liberty and all of those wonderful words we say, in the midst of slavery. so we were able to really delve into the political and social and emotional intricacy of that. so that is when we started pushing this idea a lot harder,
because we now had white actors that were working with us. we now had folks who are doing a tour. we had more influence in what was happening on the tours themselves through the historic area. so every house, the idea was that every building that you went into, you heard this story from the interpreters. that was when steve elliott was vice president of the foundation and bob will burn, who was a big advocate of this, he was a huge advocate of this. and the first big test for us was when we did the estates slave auction event in 94. our african american interpretive team agreed together that we would do it, but everyone knew that they could not take that stage. i talked to dylan about it and
i said i need you there. dylan came and tried somebody for us in the crowd as the freemen. that next decade, again, was testing what we had done to see if we could make this work on a larger scale the way we said we wanted every visitor to know, who walked colonial williamsburg, that 52% of the population was black. everyone had to know that basic fact and what it meant. right? >> i don't think that we talked about the actual structure of the department and how we got to where kristie is speaking of. rex can speak to it better than i, but i know because i was a supervisor of the interpreters doing the programs. so in the beginning, when we
had african american programs, which was an entity in itself. the people who interpreted where the people who did evening programs and those who were in what was called the ccp, the company of colonial performers. but the african american program was part of that. anyone who was in costume in the evening was fair game to do our programs. as kristie mentioned about the characters at the powerhouse, they were not in the same apartment but we saw each other. we did programs together. we went to green leaf café afterwards to get a burger. >> that is where i got. >> we talked to each other and had a group of people that were on the same mission. we could share what happened during the day. later on, and, maybe we will share a little bit more when we talk to the employees about some of the things that need to
be said. but this is not the right form to say it because of certain things that you keep in your house. but anyway, when they -- when kristie is speaking of through water down the mission, to water it down the interpretation, by taking you and putting you in different areas. that was nothing new. it had been tried before, but it was not successful. what i'm trying to say is that we had become a group of interpreters that knew the value and the strength of that togetherness in mission, and those who interpreted african american history. the times were changing. the administrations were changing. the vice presidents were changing. things were basically changing. you can't go back to where we
were, but we did not want to take a step back. things were a little bit different. one thing i wanted to say about this estate sale. when the protests started and all of that began to happen, i sat off to the side. right before the sale of all the items have been, i did like that and he said beside me. i said, you know they do this every year? he said, what? i said they do an estate sale every year. they do this every year. he said, really? i said, yeah. just watch, watch. i knew what was happening. they're going to sell somebody now. i said the only difference is the department wanted them to see if base. they wanted to see situations. they wanted to see a mother pregnant sold. they wanted to see a family being split up sold. because normally, they just sell sally and you never see sally. he said, so they do this every
year? i was trying to be casual, i said we do this every year. i just wanted you to see somebody. then christy came out, robert watson came out, and i said now they are going to sell a man with his tools. listen, listen, listen. he listened. by the end of all of that, he said if i had known the history, i may not be here. i went, okay. so whoever was in charge of explaining what they were going to see, weeks beforehand, they did not do a good job. >> i'm sorry, i did. >> no, no, no, no but ... >> but go back and explain what's your talking about. you are not just talking to a visitor. >> no. >> you were talking to protesters. many might not know about the estate sales. just go back. >> christy can probably explain it more than me. all i know is that every year
there is an estate sale ... >> every year, colonial williamsburg today program on columbus day weekend called the kings ascension weekend. part of that programming had always been one of these options on the steps of one of the taverns. so we were still african american programs then and we had a conversation about, isn't it about time? so that did not happen -- that originated in african american interpretations. we took that to barney and said, this is what we want to do. he said, oh my goodness, are you sure? we said, yes, that is what we want to do. so i went out and started talking to local naacp. i talked to folks in the churches, st. john, first baptist, we had the interpreters do the same, so we thought we were out ahead of it by getting to our community.
what's blew it up was when the richmond times dispatched ... >> someone who did not know. >> right. someone who did not know and who did not bother to call. they put in this little snippy editorial. before you know it, i had friends calling me from new york saying i heard you're getting ready to sell black people to tourists and williamsburg. i was like, man, are you kidding me? so we had to heavily manage the story because the spin was in every different direction you can imagine by the time we got there. it was crazy. it was crazy. >> yeah, and i was in arizona at the air force base in my barracks room watching you on cnn. i picked up the phone and called my friend and rose at the time. i did not want to be in the
military. when i saw that clip, i wanted to come home because i wanted to be home with my family. i know time is running out, so there's one thing that has been said, and we've kind of talked about this a little bit. before we open up q and a, i would love to hear somebody unpack, for me, or explain to the people that togetherness. christy, you explained a situation that you had. you had a support system. having been in minnesota and a whole different environment and situation, i can understand how important that support network
was the support amongst you all and even some folks in the audience. how did you all get that? >> i would say a certain rooting in faith, we had a similar fate tradition. so when we were in points of crisis, or even points of joy, there was no hesitation about holding each other's hands and saying a prayer before program. we actually used to do that practically every program. >> every program. >> the challenge for us came later when we had staff members who came in who had different faith traditions, particularly if they were muslim. we had one person who came in later was a buddhist. you don't want to create an environment where they do not feel welcome. but we still have to embrace them in that moment. so i will say that initial
rooting in faith and, just lord watch over us kind of thing, and that required not only the lord watching over you but you had to watch over each other. for me, i know it was one of those things. and then it's just shared experience. listen, whether it was 79 or 89 or 99, i can tell you right now there were a lot of people doing the work that we were doing. bottom line. it was not like -- as a matter of fact, despite wherever people landed on us choosing to have done that auction, what it did change is that other institutions, the phone calls and letters that i got from monte cello, mount vernon, mount peculiar, all of them saying if you can do that we could at least be fp(bátalkig about this. so it changed the game in that way. but still, there were not that
many black people doing costume work lip alone in museum work beyond the ethnic specific institutions. we were at a funny place with some of them. our colleagues and ethnic specific institutions were like, why are you over there doing that? you need to be working in your own institutions where you are really going to be loved. that's another thing, but it's -- that to me is what's created it. that's the space. we had shared experience. we had a respect for the work. we had a shared faith tradition and we just were passionate about what we had to do. it wasn't we chose to do. it's what we had to do. people have come in and out of this journey because it's where we work. it is wearing work.
>> i remember, he came to me for it williamsburg black and white program and said, kind of change are we going to do. i am making fun of it, but it was true. i said write it down and he started the program with it. people in the audience didn't know what he was saying unless they were muslim. it's the fact that he wanted to do something for his faith. we had jehovah's witness, and we had white folks.
they could have been catholic or just atheist. we don't know. but they stood in the circle when we prayed. they held hands with everybody else when we prayed. it had to do with togetherness and purpose, and that is what we had. it is a respect of religion. it's what we were doing. >> i came back in 2001 to be vice president of the historic area. one of the first things that i remember doing publicly was a gathering of fire department and police and everyone, after 9/11. because there were people here who were visitors you did not know how to take what was
happening. our entire world changed during 9/11. and i remember collin campbell who said rex, i want you to lead the ceremony on the steps of the capital that was the courthouse. it was the place that we all did it. and we invited visitors and everybody else came. i did not know what to say. and i ended up saying at the beginning, we might have come to this country on different ships, but we are in the same boat now. that is what i think would answer your question, whether we were muslim or catholic, whatever we were. when we donned that costume,
there was a shared camaraderie that did not supersede faith and religion, but allowed us to embrace all of the religions, even those questioning whether religion was impossible, because we were all in the same boat. we were all dealing with the same things. we were all trying to make sense and trying to create dignity and create integrity and trying to educate the public that came. all of us were trying to do it in our own individual ways. so, we were all in the same boat. >> i was thinking of those people that i mentioned, and how much more expansive that is, because there were many people in the historic buildings interpreted as guys who were just as supportive.
they didn't know how to say anything other than good job. although these are a group of black folks, there is a lot of program at the national voting rights museum outside of selma and they had a group there the freedom singers. afterwards, we were at a picnic table and i said tell me something i wouldn't know. they said we sing and raise money to get people out of jail for civil rights violations and stuff, but whenever we did our music, we could not leave because they would see us. and there would always be the klan out on the road. i said what we would do is there is usually jewish people,
and we go to separate houses, and we get in the trunk because the clan wouldn't see black people going by, just cars. then we would meet up somewhere and get back together and get out of town. white people helped us. i have always thought about that, because as the president said, it's african american history, but it's american history. there are some people that embrace that, because they may have a certain history that's not being told. women, you know, children. i love the juvenile performing program because we wanted a variety. it's hard to get men, but we had to have a variety. we had to have some 50-year-olds and 60-year-olds and some gray hairs.
>> which we are now. >> it's good to have a range, but there is a lot of support. there was a lot of support in the churches. once they figured out what was going on, and it just takes a while, but once they said we are doing something positive and then going around two employees, even the people in the hotels. i have to give big props to his brother that was it the tavern, because when i was in fife and drum and a drum major would go down the street, i would salute them. a brother would be out there serving. and big props to him. anyone who knows miss apps, she was 100 years old. whenever she heard the fife and drum, she came out and waved and i would salute her every
time. that's the kind of encouragement that the african american programs needed. and if we don't get it from the left, we get it from each other. that's what was important, because we understood. but you may have gone through as well. >> i think we have run out of time. but we want to just get a couple of questions. anyone who helped us in the program, please stand so we can recognize who you are. thank you, thank you. [applause] [applause] my feet hurt. that's all right. >> i think your point at the end about how did we do this is
relative, because in 79, i came here and rex brought some people who had some heart, because it was not easy. i remember as a muslim, we did some research and we found that they never gave the tradition. i played that character very often. we had to deal with those traditions, and i will share two things. one was it was the night tours, and virginia has a unique rain that comes at night. [laughs] it's not really raining, but it's nasty. [laughs] and i had to be out there at night. people would walk up to me and i would kind of leap out at
them. sorry i got cold. i got cold. harvey cradle came up to me and i said i need a jacket. i am losing my voice. he brought me back an old blanket. and he said if you were a slave, this is all you would have gotten. and that was powerful. and that did something that christie said. this experience taught me never to use the word slave again. my people were not slaves. they were enslaved. there is a difference. think about that. the second point was i carried my costume. i taught at the school, and as
i left in tears, these students and the teachers said, the african nose of michael jordan, but he doesn't know you. adam nobody let us tell our story over those 400 years to our people, that st. louis, and so you have to think about that. there were only 200 actual tapes of people who were enslaved now in the national archive. there are not many. am i correct? there are not many. we did the best that we could, and i am doctor-ish male conway, and this is my wife, and we both were interpreters. we took the work with the stage
company and spent a career interpreting. i'm very proud and honored to be here. [applause] [applause]. >> first of all, i would like to say this has been a real eye-opening experience for me. my wife and i moved here to williamsburg because of your stories. we did not have a clue. i grew up all over the united states. one of the all-time strangest places i ever lived in my life was mississippi. i was nine years old and i didn't understand. now, i get a sense of what was going on, because i was too young to get it. you are to be commended and congratulated for putting it out there in terms of the risk and the emoji no risk that you have put on that stage, that
you went into battle on those streets in williamsburg every day. i consider it an incredible honor to meet you. thank you. [applause] [applause] >> i have a question i would like to ask. were there any freenúd]m slavest were merchants during the 1700s? >> you mean free black people? that were merchants and williamsburg? >> and williamsburg, or merchants that were black that were freed slaves. >> friedman? >> you'll get it. don't be upset.
i know someone that was in new york town. i cannot think of his name. i don't know what they would be settling. >> was a merchant, and you talk about cesar barber. people applied their own training and there were blacks who worked in gardens and things like that. that was in the market square. but in terms of the 18th century, i have forgotten, but i did know from county records. >> john robinson is the one who comes to mind. >> martha can also answer that.
>> i think we are missing more, if we don't talk a little bit about how meshed into. >> no doubt. no doubt. >> curtis grove was the story to colonial williams bergh story. what was the year? >> 1988. 1988. we had alex haley come and help us to open the slave quarter at carters grove. for the first time, we were able to tell that rural story. it was a huge debate, that you know about, martha, that had us
interpret and build slave quarters right at the entrance to the estate. it actually changed the direction so that when you came to carter's grove, before you saw the carters grow mansion, you had to pass through the slave quarters to see it. what an interesting adventure that was. i will never forget arthur johnson. at that time, art was huge and he stood at the beginning of the orientation, after it was over. people would go into the orientation center there where there was a gift shop and restrooms and there was a film that you were given. then you would come through the back of the center and that would lead you across a bridge and into carter's grove pauper -- proper.
they had a debate, the archaeologists and bill kelly so, they had an argument about whether it was a canning pit or it was slave housing at the beginning. bill kill salt one and they put slave -- bill kelso, one and they put slave housing there. people would walk across the bridge and they pretended not to see the slave quarter. all they would see is the mansion, just the top of the mansion. they would head toward the mansion. a beeline towards the mansion. arthur was so big. he could stand and put one hand at one end of the gate and at
the other end of the other gate to stop people. as you came off the gate, you could see the slave quarters. so art did that and stood there because he knew there was a group of people who were going to be leaving the film and coming across the bridge. they came across the bridge and arthur would say i know your trying to get to the mansion but let me ask you one question. is anyone here related to the [inaudible] ? anybody relate -- related to the rockefeller's? nobody would raise their hands. he pointed to the slave quarter and he said, welcome home. i should have given to him raise after that. >> then you had the other employees who would ask bait them. you want to stop here?
why don't you want to stop here? they must have been thinking they were crazy over there. >> i understand that i may be the last question, but i want to echo the panel because i was educated in virginia and went to high school and took virginia history. but until i came to williamsburg and got to experience the interpreters ... >> hold on for a moment, sweetie. >> she's got a microphone. >> it must not be on. >> she needs to put it to her mouth. >> put it up here. >> okay. i've never had this problem before. those of you know me, i've never had this problem. i want to echo the gentlemen behind me in his congratulations to you. my question to you is, where will migrate grandchild go to hear the story that you've told today? because it is a compelling story.
it is ripe in this country right now as we experience the great divide. we have to know, we have to know the pain and the struggle that it took for you to portray what was really happening in this place. it is american history. it is very, very important. those of us who were educated here, we did not get it. i'm not young. well, i like to be young, but i went to high school and junior high school here in the sixties. i graduated in 73 in hampton. i attended hampton university, i did not know dr. ellis, but i wanted to know where will we go to hear your stories that we're told today? >> they are recording it right back there. the one thing i will say is that the colonial williamsburg has always done an extraordinary job with archiving. one of the things that we've promised each other in our sort
of pre top must to be as emotionally honest as we could, even if we saved some names to protect the innocent and not. so it is being digital -- digitized. it's an archive. i think it will be shared first with those employees who want to see it first. after that, i do not know. that's the one thing that i will say. they have from photographic records to the videographer ease and things that were taken over the years. there is an incredible program -- archive here. so my only hope is that they get it digitized, uploaded, so that people can get to it easily. that is the key. >> you know what? at the beginning, beth mentioned there were two other programs. one in july and one in october. please come back for those programs. but also, interpretive really, i don't know if valérie
williams is here tonight, but she does a lot of programs in this auditorium. i mentioned her because she is an example of the kinds of connections that historical interpreters, especially african american interpreters, can make with audiences who want to talk about race and want to talk about issues that are very difficult, but that are -- but find the way and the courage to do it here. valerie williams is somebody who we ... >> valérie holmes. >> that's her! >> she is brilliant. >> at the end of her program, she has more people outside waiting in lines to talk with her about, not 18th century issues, but about current issues.
i hope there are more characters created in the african american program staff here that allow audiences to connect. not just 18th century connections, but human to human connections. i know richard did that. i know i did that. i know christy did that. there are so many ways that, if you just take the leap, you can talk with interpreters who have been trained enough to understand and know the history. but number two, want to in many ways talk with people who are interested in hearing more than a monologue, more than a few minutes, but want to hear more about the experiences of the 18th century as well as contemporary experiences as well. so i suggest that, as you run into those characters, that you take advantage of knowing them
and delving deeply into the rich history that they've all been studying for so long. >> i would also like to say that whatever it is that you can give that great grandchild. as a storyteller, i'm always thinking this connects to this connects to that. our young people need to hear what has already gone on. so that they can make connections. you know, drive on, that is now. what about the sixties? what about the fifties? what about the forties? with the internet now, all these stories coming up. i questioned the, first of all, because everything that i read isn't true. >> on the internet. >> no. for example, i don't know if you've seen this thing about putting rice in your hair? that some africans put rice in
their hair when they raided it so they would have something to eat during the middle passage? when i read that, i said they are more concerned about rice then getting off the boat! they are preparing for the middle passage. the person at the other and said you learned -- you learn something every day. i said no i didn't. you need a little common sense. anyway, all i'm saying is that those little connections, its history, but then you say what did valerie holmes just tell me? it's seeing a program and saying what does this mean? where have i seen this before? that is why i have always said that african americans have long memories. we see things from 50 years ago that we know our ancestors saw. we call it out. we know racism when we see it. we know when people are saying, good morning! we know that stuff because we've done thatxm
to do that. we've had to say, oh, good morning to you, ma'am. we know that. we see it and pick it up real quick. that is because that history has taught us what it's like to hear the same thing and you see the same thing. these stories are being told a little different now. >> we want to certainly acknowledge beth kelly and stephen seals, who is not here. >> he's in iceland. >> iceland celebrating his wedding. he just got married. we want to thank them for taking the time. understanding the importance of this. as you say, it's not just important tonight, it is important for so many reasons and so many spaces and places we do not have an opportunity
to sit and talk seriously about these kinds of issues. thesomebody is on the other and nobody is having a conversation like this. or at least, there's not enough conversations like this going on. so i hope colonial williamsburg can take the lead and continue these kinds of conversations. as you hear, there are those who would like to hear even more of these kinds of conversations as well. >> i also wanted to thank you for what you are doing here and sharing all of your experiences. but also, when i wanted to know is if it's happening today, is the same type of support you say you had during that time, is that happening with the black interpreters today? and do the white interpreters also know how it's affecting
everybody? >> honestly, i have not worked at colonial williamsburg since 1999. let's talk about it on july 5th, she said. that's the focus on the contemporary program mix. >> they might not be as dynamic as we are, but ... [laughs] [applause] >> with that said, thank you all very much for joining us tonight. [applause] >> thank you.