Changes! Developments! Frustration! Inspiration!

February 1st was the last time I blogged huh? I guess I really need to do better about this. I am working on that. I found that it was very hard to blog from a desktop when you have an infant who discovered she can crawl and likes to get into everything, so I have been trying to get my laptop fixed so that I can be mobile and blog at the same time. What can I say? I am trying to be super mom/interpreter! Alas it was not meant to be right now, but maybe later. So while my child is spending the day at her sitter, and I am confused about the home office I am trying to create for myself, let me get you up to speed.

So the slave garden was put in on March 8th. Rather the ground was tilled. From there I had to turn the soil and pull out rocks and weeds and make sure that I did not run across any artifacts. The only thing I ran across was a pottery shard that has been found among the ruins of the other slave cabins. After being assured this was no big deal since they find them all the time when new ground is pulled up, the next task was to make sure that any bricks we found were not bricks from original cabins as well. That was a little harder but fortunately, (for me anyway) we did not find any. That took a few days to do and i found a few nice pieces of quartz. I wonder how many folks would be interested in buying pieces of quartz from the slave garden? hmmm.

Flipping soil was a bit more difficult than I thought it would be. I was willing to have some pain and suffering for the sake of a nice looking garden and to tone my own arms, but when I tell you I flipped soil, i literally took the soil that was on top and flipped it under new soil. Do this about 4 or 5 times and you will wish that you could use modern tools. But all I had was a garden hoe and a shovel. Once I got that taken care of, I needed to spread some compost. At this point I had already become familiar with all the worms that were in the dirt and had no problem moving them aside with my bare hands. After all, it’s not like they were using gloves for their gardening back then. As soon as the compost went over, the soil got flipped one more time and was left alone.

So I’m sitting there just enjoying this plot of dirt that I can call my own and having all of my co-workers look at it in amazement with me, thinking there is no possible way that anybody can bring down my high. For the most part they comply. Then I planted some cabbages, 2 varieties, one of them I know for sure to be heirloom. I planted an early jersey wakefield, and an early dutch. These should give me something to work with later on in the summer as long as I can give them enough water. Then the co-worker chatter comes in. What about the animals they say? Animals? I didn’t think about animals. It hits me that I needed to have a fence around my garden, but I didn’t want to put one in because I might want to expand later on. But with the weather warming up, I needed to put a fence up sooner than later or have no garden whatsoever. Sitting in a training one day, my problems were solved. I needed to create a wattle fence for a special event and this fence could go around the slave garden.

Problem with this theory, I had no idea what a wattle fence was and I had to turn to my best friend, Google. Here comes the images and here comes the information. Come to find out wattle fences aren’t that hard to make but they are ususally made in small english gardens more as a shin height decoration. I needed something better, so we just decided to make one waist height. That was installed on saturday, and although I am still working on it, I have something there. Slowly but surely, the garden is coming together. So there are your garden updates!

Let’s turn the tables some and talk about what it means to be a slave interpreter. It means once again, getting those odd ball questions from your public who might have been told one thing about slavery while you try to enlighten them about other themes in slavery. For instance, slavery in 1780 was different from slavery in 1840. Especially in the backcountry of South Carolina. A family might have 1 or 2 slaves, working alongside them in 1780 as opposed to 100+ slaves who belonged to a small percentage of the population on massive plantations in 1840. Try getting 4th graders to understand that is a different thing. Trying to get their teachers and chaperones to wrap their heads around that is insane. But these are the things that we must do as interpreters and educators. I explain in one of our programs that during the Revolutionary period, a family might have one or two slaves to help with the work that the rest of the family was doing. Yes, they were still property and had no freedoms but the plantation era, and the slavery that most are used to learning about, had not really happened. Maybe tobacco plantations but like I said, not in the backcountry of South Carolina. The group looks at me in disbelief. I’m pretty much used to that because by now, we are already challenging what they have inherited. On two different occasions, I have a child interrupt me and “correct” my presentation. One student tells me in an accusatory tone that slaves could not speak english, or read or write. Her thought process was, if slaves couldn’t speak english, read or write, how is it I am able to talk to her about the slave experience. Clearly, she thought I was still a slave and for that, I had to bring her back to 2010 and let her know some things. Before I expound on that, let me tell you about the other incident. I am explaining to the children about my dress, from the shortgown and petticoat to my stockings and shoes. A child interrupts and tells me flat out that slaves didn’t have shoes. I let her know that slaves did have shoes and she tells me they didn’t. As far as she was concerned, I lied.

So let’s break down these incidents. For the student who said that slaves could not speak english, read or write, I commend her for knowing that education was not allowed for slaves. She was correct in saying that they could not read or write. For the majority of slaves, we know this to be a truth. However, through narratives and examples like Frederick Douglass, there were exceptions to the rule. An educated slave was a dangerous thing and with reason. So I give her 2 points for knowing that. However, I had to step out of character and explain to her that while slaves being brought into the country from Africa into the ports of Charleston may not have known the english language, by this time, we are entering a few generations of slavery and these slaves could and did speak the english language. Might not have been the Kings English but it was english nonetheless. Between the speechless teacher and the rest of the class looking along in utter confusion as to why their classmate would question the linguisitics of slaves, I managed to turn this into a learning experience for everyone. But it did make me wonder exactly what these kids were learning about slaves and slavery as a whole.

The student who couldn’t believe that slaves actually wore shoes, I just, well, I blanked out. I can understand questions like, really, I thought slaves didn’t have shoes, but to have a child flat out tell me I basically needed to be barefoot in order for her to listen to me, well I was done. Not only did I let her know that slaves had shoes, they also made the shoes and that their shoes were often so uncomfortable, they would have to grease them just to make them wearable. Granted, slaves might have been rationed one pair of shoes for the year and by the time the year was done, those shoes had already been discarded. The shock that registerd for me was probably the equivalent of Joe Wilson screaming “YOU LIE!” at the President. Questions, I can take, accusations that I may be lying to them, not so much. The teacher was humiliated, and I had to remember that while I studied slavery and the lives of slaves, not everybody else did. It made me realize that there was a true need for someone who does what I do to make sure that these students leave knowing more than what they came in with. Not even knowing more, but just knowing something that might challenge their belief system and make them think, and hopefully make them do some research on their own. Sure they’re young but they all know what the internet is and I’m sure if that child googled “shoes for slaves”, she would know that I wasn’t trying to lead her astray.

What annoys me the most is when I get African American students in the programs who treat this part of their history like it’s unimportant. I have had kids roll their eyes and suck their teeth when I explain the diet, and the work without even telling them about the family separation, the cruelty, the clothing and lack thereof and the living conditions. The indignation that they have is unreal. Today it’s easy to say, ‘Oh I wouldn’t do that, I’d get up and leave’, they fail to understand that “getting up and leaving” wasn’t as easy as they think. Or they come in thinking they don’t need to hear it because they know all about it and get mad when their classmates ask questions because they are trying to learn more. I want to tell them that being black does not make you an expert in slavery and the slave experience because a lot of them know just as much as their classmates. My approach with students is simple. I want them to leave the site knowing something, it may not be more, but as long as it’s something, I can feel like I’ve reached them. However, students who refuse to open their minds to a different thought or just feel like they don’t need to hear what I have to say, make the job frustrating and a little harder. Just means that I have to work harder to make this thing a reality. I refuse to let these students slide because they are too young to understand. This is the perfect time for them to learn and get lifelong learning from their experience on site.

I think that catches up a month and some change of things going on. I will also post pictures shortly, I am transferring them from my phone to my computer. Share your thoughts or just read along!

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