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tv   Interpreting Slavery at Colonial Williamsburg  CSPAN  January 8, 2021 6:05pm-7:49pm EST

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good evening my name is beth kelly, i'm the president of the historical interpretation. it is my honor to offer you a warm and personal welcome, and
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the word welcome has a great deal of meaning we have been welcoming guests to come and learn about our 18th century community since 19 8:30 2:40 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
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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 josey. [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
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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
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introducing doctor rex ellis. [applause] [applause] kristie coalman. [applause] [applause] and--. [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, bring us back to 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
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time, you were a part of the fife and drum core. >> 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 scarsdale scarsdale african american in fife and drum 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
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geraldine payne 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
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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 they 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
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there was always a presence. 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 mis-taught 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
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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 to employ african americans knowing 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 maids, and they dressed them in that way. [inaudible] [inaudible] the dichotomy was they were hired because they represented the diversity of williamsburg,
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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 bookbindertl3 happened to be an african american hired to legitimize the concept of historical accuracy on an occasion where we came on board and we knew that we were not being hired to be, per se, a 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
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important and needed to be interpreted. 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 a custodian on the property, he would be in costume. he would be doing what 8ç!ó in terms of cleaning the house and the chores he had, but he did it in 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 1966 in what became a seminal work and really the bible for interpretation, it was the compilation of a lot of work from the archaeologists and historians on staff and others as they dug through the record,
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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 the staff members that work in the historic area, whether they wanted to interpret or not, visitors would constantly address them that way. that was part of the irritation. when this program 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 mastering an 18 century craft or skill. and they didn't want their roles diminished we buy the visitor frankly, who would say completely inappropriate things to them.
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frankly, that still happens. that is the additional layer i think, to why there was this mix of resistance from black people in some cases, and in some cases some other interpreters throughout the historic area. there was another important social event that also heralds why that became important in 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, it was the right time. there was no better person to do it, to get this going. >> three things. one is when rex was speaking
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about people in the historic buildings in costume, what's 79 did was put people on the street. now the costume design center had to come up with what are they wearing? now, your shirt is different. you are not wearing a linen shirt, your shoes have to be different. everything kind of changed. now you have people authentically dressed as black folks on the street. not just as a cook. that means the black cook, look because now the black cook is not dressed a black coke would have addressed. she is dressed any cook would've dressed. when people see black folks on the street with a black with a hat on, they're going to the kitchen and start asking inappropriate questions like who are you? that is the biggest question that i could remember the crafts people didn't like.
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because they would see character portrayal on the street, and then they equate there's another black person who are you? we just saw that guy out there who are you? i there is a person who was actually the master printer of the shop who wants to say i am the master printer of the shop. that's now the visitor is asking. they are asking where you. >> the visitor was also very interested in that person. that is when we've got a great deal of anger, from tradesmen who really wanted to focus their attention on the craft, the technology, i'm a silversmith, i'm a book liner i'm a carpenter. whatever it was they want to focus their attention on that. we came to town saying we want
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you to ask us about african american history. in fact recreate these characters, that focus their attention on letting you know what's life was like for african americans during the 18 century. these characters fully researched, meticulously researched by our research apart department who put us on the map. we put the research on the map. one of the reasons i say we put it on the map is iran's are asking questions about slave objects and material culture. john had bill, and how gayle began to ask questions about african americans in the 18 century. that opened the door, but then there were historians they tried to in some way began to fill in the blanks of what was going on within the african american community. there are archaeologists who
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were seeing remains, that were african american. they were simply saying let's not document and covered up. they weren't doing that they were beginning to ask questions and 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, and you look into history. that was part of what christie said, the social historical perspective that was coming out around the eighties and nineties. and all of that seem to work together in a way that allowed us to do an interpretive programs that we were very proud of. there may be a question of what's 79? what happened in 1979 is that they wanted to have characters on the streets, but at the same time, in 1979 a man named peter pipping came from the african
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american history museum in d.c., and under the direction of john moon. they want 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] he came to me on the first day class and said, i know how to talk can i just not do this class at all? i said who is this is when the world is this arrogant young man. he don't have to do speech 1:03. from there, to becoming one of my best friends. god only knows. [laughs] >> i played the piper for extra
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credit. [laughs] i had friends saying or doing their. but what happened was rex, darren taylor, were hired to walk the streets. this young man named jim man who has a shop as a barber, i gave him a call to let him know the barber caesar was one of the first characters on the street. that's 40 years and he that barbara still here. it took a long hiatus but it was nice to see him with a shop. and that was big. he didn't know that, but then he was not here four years ago. this was the first time people on the streets, and there was an evening program called black music. and if you ever see this photograph did you have the long drum? >> yes the long drum and the big. >> lot carter, he worked in a
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boot shop. and very little rhythm. very little rhythm. >> he was one of the few african americans who was interested in helping us interpret african american history. god rest his soul. >> he has got rest his soul. and rex, monte combs, eddie allen and there is one more. i wrote them down. debra was later. preston jones who is still around. preston was one of the first. him in lot were fighting for the bell. you know, that helps ruth was later. >> ruth was 80? >> that in the beginning, even
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shows that people were willing. we had two craftsman that were willing to help. we don't want to sound like people didn't want. but we haven't gone through the training of the interpreters of how to because he never had that kind of focus for 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 about this? >> i believe danny -- was in
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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. harvey 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
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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 knew that one of my other next door%e 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 atc;4g& williamsburg, i will audition. it was me, darren taylor, and 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
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the character? a near duel character 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 ne'er-do-well who was always in jail, irresponsible, but the crowd loved him. so the next
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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
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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
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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. how the property was bought up and gone to different places, and even when i first met you, at mount --, at st. john, even at that point in time, colonial williamsburg and our neighborhood was a place white
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people go. 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
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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 sous chef at the williamsburg and my uncle was the manager of the cascades. i came to williamsburg unlike
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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 and i'm proud to say, school. we had the state drama we had the state champion drama department at my high school. and one of my classmates is right there. so i'm writing my bike and i saw them on the street portraying and wager. i stopped and i was mesmerized by what she was doing. i thought i want to do that. so back in class, i said hey how can i get in on that? and she said first of all you are too young. and they only, the people they
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are working with our college age or older. and i've always been a little brassy here than your average bear. so i got i don't remember who on behalf, my parents called someone to see when the addition was going to be for the african american programs. and so i went to the audition at 17. they didn't know i was 17. >> you lied on the application? >> i certainly did not. we didn't have to bring our resume. let's bring our theater resume. i had a head shot and all my show stop listed. i was good to go. i did it, and they hired me. it was really great. while my friends working at mcdonald's that summer for minimum wage, i thought it was great because i was making a whole lot more money comparatively, it wasn't really
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a lot but it was two dollars more than everybody else in high school. which was really great and i was acting. and i was able to perform. they were patient. they got me the historian to work with, and rex and the crew that was before really came in and mentored me in the work. for me it was an initially just an acting job. i didn't think about the power of what i would be doing. 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. whenever i had that special report an english class or history class whatever it was, they would tell me why don't you write about this person. why don't you write about this person and share with your classmates. that's when i did. i didn't have the same anxiety about talking about in sleeved people. however, it didn't take long on
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the street for me to learn. we've talked about this in the past, that it was within the first week. i was portraying someone my age, her name was rebecca and she belong to the blair family at the apothecary. mr. blair was sick and dying. the storyline was if he died was going to happen to rebecca? was gonna get sold off to pay his debts? issuing a live off and run off and go live with and blair? it was a tearjerker and i milked it. for all that i had. and then i went out and sat on the barrel out in front of the apothecary waiting for the next cycle of visitors to go through. and a visitor, a man walked up to me and asked me how does it
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feel to play a and word? and i was so taken about aback by it. but also brassy. and when he said the house of field to play with one and i jumped up and i said mr. atlas, this which is happen. and his words of advice have stuck with me in the 37 years since i first started. it changed my life and my career. and for that i will always be grateful. he said to me, i understand. we've all been there. now you have to ask yourself the question. whether or not you are strong enough to tell your ancestor story when no one else wants to, or if you aren't ready to do
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that. it's okay you can go. and he said you sit here and think about it. i sat in that room as interpreters kind of came in and out during their breaks i sat there. and i said i'm doing this. i went back out, i came back every summer. all the plans of being an attorney went out the window. an acting attorney. but you know. because me and my parents wouldn't let me majoring teeter. >> i had a -- during the summeryyf6ñ, the marketing department would decide how they are going to market this year.
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they decide they would go to a department store. i think it was higbie's. they would go to a department store in cleveland, and they would put colonial williamsburg characters. tradesmen, dancers, and this year they would include african americans in that group. every floor, they had someone on that floor. they had a particular floor in the christmas area, where they want the african american interpreters to be. i remember that night, they had a large parade that was inside the store. all of the colonial williamsburg characters, whether they were musicians or whoever they were, that would walk down this long aisle. there were black chairs on either side of the aisle. and stockholders, and other
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vip's were seated in those chairs. we were to all parade downp then when we got to the middle of the store, one group started from one end the other group from the other. there was all the local bali. but colonial williamsburg they were the stars. we came in, we came to the middle of the room, and then we went up the escalators. all the way up to the top floor. and they fill in the floor with the other, cleveland supernumerary's. there i am with bill white, over in the cosmetics area. i don't know if you remember mary weisman. mary weisman was part of that group as well. i'm there with bill white and mary weisman. bill white was the drum major. he had co-opt, a banner here
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and a big baton. and his hat on. and huffing and puffing boom. he was looking good right. right beside him, is mary weisman. she showed the costume shop at major this beautiful go down those flowing all around. she put her hair up under makeup on she was looking important. then i looked over in the mirror and myself, i looked pretty good for a sleeve. and i said to bill, bill do you mind if i sit this one out? and he said okay but could you come by my hotel room after and tell me why? and i said all right. i look i went to his room after they had done all this parading. and i said, when you put on 18
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century clothing, it makes you feel important. it inspires you. it makes you think that the 18th century was the same qanon of what it means to be a man in american. and when i wear the clothes i wear, i feel like a sleeve. 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 interpret. and to find your piece in that is what she did. many failed to do that. she found her piece in that.
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there was that they that bill white understood what it meant being an african american, putting on a sleeve costume. and what that did with your psyche. >> i want to say this. >> i want to say this. what we did. we owned 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
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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
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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
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there is a lot of strength in 18th century history. and, if you will indulge me, i have to name those people, in their honor, who were 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
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children in 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 davis. sciandro montgomery. it could be
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debatable but for me, there is no greater program that what we did. 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,
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a lot. from ear to ear, it's probably the best musical program we have ever done, kristie, rex, robert, and sylvia, exactly. now, i am going to list them off. these people helped in all of our programs, brigitte jackson. laverne.. johnson? art johnston, maryland taylor, robert watson, sylvia, felix, rose, kristie, emily, gerald, jones, i wish i knew where he was. she 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.
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that's right. chris moore, tony freeman, i cannot think of what joyce's last name was, greg james, kathleen, and later on there are people you probably don't know, ismael conway. [inaudible] >>, nice to see you, my brother. 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.
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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 --?
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>> linda roe? you did. >> you didn't say pat gibbs. but the main thing. a shout out÷ to carrie carson, because carrie was the one who took social history and history from the pc
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legitimate teacher, what 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. so to those people who said they are just playing history, and there were employees in the foundation who said they are just playing at
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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 an 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 decision. it
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was not 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 had 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 in 1989 and at that time there was a lot of transition. the
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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 the women i worked with there, 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 rose and kristen and john low, who has also passed on. so we
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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
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often really curt 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.
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we portray them. we need to work something out with the landscape department or something. so sure enough, they did. they made sure we had wood 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 c
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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
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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
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american interpretation. where that would be their intellectual and work focus. should we and could we? so when i became the director in 1984, sorry 1994, 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
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need the department anymore. oh we will just break it down in different ways, and it was an 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 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
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historic area was reorganized, we revisited it three times in 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 director's table. they're in i thought was the big difference. it just became one of the programs that i am responsible for, versus someone advocating kbkt($(h 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
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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
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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 wilburn, 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
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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 and doing the programs. so in the beginning, when we had african american programs, which was an entity in itself. the people who interpreted were the people who did evening programs and those who were in what was called the ccp, the company of colonial performers. but the african
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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 department but we saw each other. we did programs together. we went to green leaf café afterwards to get a burger.
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>> 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
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to happen, i sat off to the side. right before the sale of all the items, 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
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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 did a 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
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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 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
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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
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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
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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,
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whether it was 79 or 89 or 99, i can tell you right now there were not 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 pilliar, all of them saying if you can do that we could at least be talking about this. so it changed the game in that way. but still, there were not that many black
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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. qd8>> 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
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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
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huge and he stood at the beginning of the orientation, after it was over. people would go into the orientation center i came back in 2001 to be part of the historic area, what i remember doing publicly was a gathering of fire department and police, and everyone after 9:11. there were people here who were visitors who did not know how to take what was happening. our world changed. our entire world changed. that was during 9/11. i remember, collin campbell who was the president then he said rex i want you to lead the ceremony on the steps of the
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capital. that was the courthouse. it was the place that we all did it, and we invited visitors never buddy else came, and i did not want 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 was what i think would answer your question. whether we are muslim, or buddhists, or catholic or 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 who are questioning whether religion was possible. because we were all in the same boat, we were all dealing with
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the same things, we were all trying to make sense and trying to create dignity. trying to create integrity, trying to educate the public that came, all of us were trying to do it in our own individual way. we are all trying to do the same thing. so we were all in the same boat richard. >> you know i was thinking, i was thinking of those people that i mentioned and how much more expensive that is, because there were many people insulted historic buildings as interpreters, guides who were just as supportive. they did not know how to say anything other than good job with a nod. although these are black folks, there are a lot of white folks who are behind us. and i'm gonna say this really fast, i did a program at the
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national voting rights museum outside of selma. they had a group there, the freedom singers. i heard them sing their songs. and after we were at a picnic table, and i said tell me something i would know unless i was a freedom singer. and they said we song and they raised money to get people out of jail. for civil rights violation and stuff. and whatever we did our music, we could not leave because they would see us. the and they there would almost be the klan out in the road. what we would do is, the hope not giving away any secrets. he said usually there are some jewish people, and we get in their trunk, and go to separate houses, and we get in their trunk, because when the climb went by the wooden ceiling black people. for three or four in the morning we would meet up somewhere, and we get back together and get out of town. i said really. he said yeah you wouldn't know
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how people helped us during that time. white people helped us. and i always thought about that. because although you know, it's african american history both american history. and there are some people that embrace that. because they may have a certain history that's not being told, but women, children that's why love the juvenile performer program because they put children out there. even hiring people in the beginning, the and it's hard to get men. but we have to have a variety, so we have to have a 50 year old, 60-year-old, straight hair and we had one or two. yes. so you know, it's good to have a range of people. but there is a lot of support, there was a lot of support from the churches and once they figured out what was going on, and it just takes a while but
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once they say oh yeah, you know then it went around two employees, even the people in the hotels, and big props, was a brother was there because when i was on was when i was at the top fife and drum the brother would be out there and he'd be serving. and yelling and big prop prompts to him, and miss apps. that you sit there and wave and i would slip or each time. that is 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. we understood, we understood what it was like, you know.
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>> so i think we have run out of time. >> then we run out of time? >> okay but let's just get a couple questions. >> thank you. >> well we get the microphone, for anybody who helped us in the program or a few names been called, please stand. >> so we can thank you. [applause] >> all right. >> i think your point at the end, about how did we do this is relative because, instead 1979, there were some people at some heart. because it wasn't easy. and we had to rely on each other, because i remember as a muslim, i wanted you know we
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did some research we found that there were some muslims in that 52%. some people had never given up their tradition. and i played that character often. but i also played another character. so we had to, deal with those traditions. and i want to share two things that happen, one was the night tours. and virginia has this unique rain that comes at night, it's not really raining but it's nasty. and i had to be out there, at night time and people would walk up to me and can kind of leap out. and sometimes i just come up from making prayers, and i got cold, i only had on a white shirt. and i got cold. and i'll never forget harvey cradle came up to me and i said i'm losing my jacket i'm i'm losing my voice i need a jacket or something. and he wrote me back an old
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blanket. he said and if you were a slave, this is all you would've gotten. and that was powerful. talk and that did something, and kristie said it i don't want you to miss it in the world she used. this experience, taught me to never use the word slave again. my people were not slaves, they were enslaved. and there is a difference. the second point was, i went to goree island ally left their they said the they know if michael jordan but they don't know.
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nobody let us tell our story over 400 years to our people. and so you have to think about that. final point. there are probably only 200 actual tapes, of people who were enslaved. that's now in the national archives. there's not many. there are not many. so we did the best that we could. and, my name is-ish male, and this is my wife and we were both interpreters, and we spent a career interpreting. and i'm proud to have been that and be here tonight. >> first of all i would like to say, that this has been a real
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eye opening experience for me. my wife and i moved here because of your stories. we did not have a clue, and i grew up all over the united states, and one of the all-time strangest places i ever live my life was mississippi. i was nine years old, i did not understand. now i get it, i get a sense of what the hell 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 emotional risk that you have put on thatç-)÷ñkñ stage, t you went into battle on the streets in williamsburg every day. i consider it an incredible honor to meet you thank you. >> thank you. >> i have a question, that i
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would like to ask. >> could you stand up with. >> yes were there any free slaves that were in the 1700s? >> you mean free black people? . >> in williamsburg? >> or merchants or merchants that were blacks that were free slaves? >> friedman? >> yeah okay, don't be upset we got it. freed men. >> i don't know of any, i dove somebody in the 18 century, i can't think of their name but i don't know of any in williamsburg. i do not know what they would be selling this? >> there were, people who sort
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of applied their own businesses and they were blacks who also had gardens, and soul vegetables on the weekends. and markets queer. >> not shopowners. >> but i'm pretty sure not forgotten but what i did know about the records. >> so there were a few maybe. >> martha can answer that. >> colors grove. i think you're missing part of that we're missing a part of that picture, if we don't talk a little bit about how etched
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into the programs. >> no doubt. no doubt. >> carter's grove was the story to colonial williamsburg origin story. what was the year? >> 1988? >> 1988, we had alex haley come and help us open up the sleeve quarter. 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 twitter state. they actually change the direction so when you came to
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carter's grove, before you saw the carters grove mansion, yet to pass through the slave corner in order to see it. part of the interesting adventure that was, i will never forget arthur johnson. at that time he was huge. art student at the beginning of the orientation, after the orientation was over. people would go into the orientation center there where there is a gift shop, restrooms and there was a film that you are given. and then you come through the back of the center, that would leave you to a bridge and into a carters grove proper. they had a debate. archaeologists and built cal so i had an argument about whether it was a tanning pit or whether it was sleeve housing that was at the beginning. bill kelly one and they put slave housing right there at
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the end of the path. you have to pass through that before you went to carter's grove. but there were people who would go across the bridge and they don't see the slave quarter. let us through buildings there but all they would seize the mansion. and they would go and make a beeline towards the mansion. arthur was so big until he could stand and put his hand on one end of the gate, and the other end of the gate to stop people because as you came off the gate, you could see the slave quarters. so art did that, he stood there because he knew there was gonna be a group of people pulsing out of the film and coming across the bridge. they came across the bridge.
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and then he said i know you're trying to get to the mansion, let me just ask you one question. anybody here remitted to the dupont's? nobody razor had anyone related to the rockefeller? nobody raise their hands. he said and he pointed to the slave quarter. he said welcome home. i should've gave him a raise after that. >> then you had the other employees i would say no name you know exactly he said hey you don't to stop here, i'll take you through here come on over here. they crazy over there. >> we got one here. >> i have to say, first of all on echo the gentlemen there, i
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was educated in virginia and i went to high school and i took virginia history. until i came to williamsburg and got to experience the interpreters. >> hold on for a minute. >> if the put the mic here. >> i never had this problem before. those of you who know me. i want to echo the gentlemen behind me in his congratulations to you and my question to you is, where will migrate grandchild go to hear the story that you have told today? because it is a compelling story. it is ripe in this country right now, as we experienced a 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
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very important. those of us who are educated here, we did not get it. i'm not young, well i'd 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 didn't know dr. ellis, but i wanted to know where would we go to hear your stories that we're told today? >> we're recording it right back there. the one thing i will say the colonial williamsburg, has always done an extraordinary job with archiving. one of the things that we promised each other in our pre-top was to be as emotionally honest about this as we could. even as we save some names to protect the innocent and not so. it is being digitized. it is an archive. i think will be shared first with those employees who want
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to see it first. and then after that i don't know that's the one thing i will say that they have from photographic records to the videographer these and things that were taken over the years, there is an incredible archive here. my only hope is they get it digitized, uploaded so people can get to it easily. that is the key. >> you know in the beginning, beth mentioned there were two other programs there and we have in one in june, >> july and october. please come back for those programs. also interpretive louis, valerie does a lot of programs and i mentioned her because, she is an example of the kinds of connection, that historical interpreters, especially african american interpreters, rain to audiences that want to
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talk about race, and issues that are very difficult but are still, but still find the way and the courage to do it here. and valérie williams, she is someone who can. >> valerie holmes. >> yes that's it valérie holmes. >> valerie gray homes. 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 that there are more characters created, in the african american program stuff here, that allow audiences, to connect to. to make connections that are not just 18th century connections, but our human to human connections, i know
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richard did that, i know christy did that and there are so many ways that if you just take the leap, you can talk with interpreters, who have been trained enough and know the history, but also they 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 18th century as well as contemporary experiences as well. so i suggest as you run into those characters you take advantage of knowing them and delving deeply into the rich history that they've all been studying for so long. >> and i would like to say that, whatever it is that you can give that great grandchild, as a storyteller i tell a story
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and related to something, so i'm always thinking like this connects to this disconnect that, but our young people need to hear what has already gone on, so that they can make connections, you know trade on, that is now but what about the sixties, what about the forties and with the internet now, all these stories coming out and i question them first of, all because everything that i read is not true. >> everything on the internet. >> exactly like i don't know if you think this scene this thing about putting rice in your hair some people put rice in your hair when the braided. when i read that i went i said they're more concerned about dw,tji5át than getting off the , and the person at the other and said you learn something every
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day learn something new. i said no i didn't. no take a little common sense. all i'm saying is that there are little connections, and if the history but then you can say what did valerie holmes just tell me. so seeing a program and saying what does this mean, and where have i seen this before? that is why i've always said, that african americans have long memories and we see things from 50 years ago,;&gzñr that ww our ancestors saw. and we call it out. we know racism when we see it we know when people are like oh good morning. we know that stuff. we've done that. and we've had to do it. and we've had to say oh good morning to you ma'am. so we know that, and we see it and can pick it up real quick and that's because history has taught us, what's like to hear the same thing and to see the same thing. so the stories we tell, are
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still being told a bit differently now. >> we want to stop and acknowledge, beth kelly, and stephen seals who is not here. i think he's in iceland. >> iceland was he doing there. >> he celebrating his wedding, he just got married. and we want to give honor to them, for taking the time [applause]. >> we do one more question. >> and understanding the importance of this, because as you said it's not just important tonight, it's important for so many reasons and so many spaces in places, but we don't have an opportunity to sit and talk seriously about these kinds of issues. somebody's one some piece on one side and somebody is on the other, and nobody is having a conversation like this. at least there's not enough conversations like this coming up going on.
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so i hope that williamsburg can take the lead, and continuing these conversations through the year, that you know the people want to hear. and hope they're hopefully this even more. >> yes i wanted you one more question here. >> and we can stay back afterwards. >> yes i also want to thank you for what you are doing here, and sharing all your experiences, but also what i want to know, is that if it is happening today, it's the same it's the same type of support you say you had during that time, does it happen with the black interpreters today? and do the white interpreters, also know how it is affecting everybody? >> obviously i can't speak to, that i have not worked in williamsburg since 1999. >> we can talk about on july 5th. that's the focus on the contemporary program. >> they might not be as dynamic
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as we are but hey. to >> know. >> with that said thank you very much for joining us tonight. but >> thank you.
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