Interpreting Slave Life

Slavery: Let's talk about it

It’s been forever!!!

Posted By on August 27, 2014

But like I said in March, I’ve been insanely busy!!! I am actually sitting here reading a draft of my chapter for the forthcoming book on AltaMira Press: “Interpreting Slavery at Historic Sites and Museums”. I have had the opportunity to write alongside some amazing museum professionals and be edited by the awesome and flippin’ brilliant Kristin L. Gallas and James DeWolf Perry and it’s really awesome to be asked to be a part of something because of your body of work in the field.

Every so often, I reflect on why I’m a public history professional and why it’s important to really delve into the legacy of slavery. Most people really don’t get it. They think that I just want to repeat the same narratives we’ve all been taught about slavery. For those folks, I know they’ve never looked me up, they’ve never really listed to anything I’ve said and they really don’t want to. And that’s cool. Do you. I’ll continue to do me.

Let me break it down one time. As an historian, I have the ability to look at any particular moment in time and study it in depth. The moments in history I choose to focus on are those that revolve around Africans and African Americans who were enslaved in the United States in the 18th and 19th centuries, mainly the 19th. What I’ve discovered is something a lot of people have discovered and been disgusted by. What we learn in school is not even remotely close to what we need to know about this point in our history. Thing is, instead of being mad about it, I’m looking for more and more information, and I’m gaining knowledge that I’ll be able to share with others. I get giddy when I discover something new, or learn a new narrative. I thoroughly enjoy bringing these stories and these PEOPLE to the forefront. I want names to be recited and memorized, even if it starts with an inventory. Those names belonged to living breathing people who–I can’t stress enough–had thoughts, feelings, emotions, dreams and desires–things we can all relate to. This  material is what draws me in, what keeps me in and what makes me want to share with people the lives of those who did not know freedom, and those who experienced it after a lifetime of enslavement.

I am so thankful for those in the field who see that desire and passion, acknowledge it and allow me to help them grow. I’m thankful for interpreters like Dontavius Williams, who allows me to be his mentor as he navigates, rather successfully I might add, the waters of interpretation and has exceeded my wildest dreams and expectations for programming at Historic Brattonsville. I am grateful for Karen L. Cox,  Regina Faden at Historic St Mary’s City, Eric, Chris and Stephanie at Andersonville National Historic Site, Emmanuel Dabney at Petersburg National Battlefield-City Point Unit, Jeremiah and Jerome at Historic Stagville, Clarissa Lynch, Michael Twitty, Joseph McGill and the Slave Dwelling Project, Coming to the Table and the Tracing Center, Rich, Adrienne, Annemarie, Mia, Julie and countless others who have allowed me to become the historian I am today and rattle and prattle on and on about slavery, its interpretation and why the story must be told. That’s what drives me.

I’m excited and admittedly scared for this chapter to come out. It’s been one of the reasons why there’s been radio silence on this end. I wanted to make sure that I gave all I had. I’m excited to be presenting parts of it at AASLH this September. I’m excited to be a speaker at the Slave Dwelling Conference in Savannah a day later, because I’m talking about what I love most about history–the men, women and children who were enslaved and how their lives, their history matters. It’s exhausting work, work that comes after my normal work days. Work that often comes after being a mother and spouse–but work that I love doing and will continue to do until the wheels fall off.

So if you don’t hear from me for spans at a time (I hate that really), know that the work hasn’t stopped and the desire is still there. I have a TON of new books I need to read, a zillion thoughts that need to be organized and the time to just make it happen. Hang in there, y’all give me the life support I need to keep going.


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