Skip to main content

tv   Interpreting Slavery Race at Historic Sites  CSPAN  June 3, 2022 12:15am-1:22am EDT

12:15 am
believe that the work of telling our full true history through historic places is the most important work that the national trust has engaged in over its nearly 75 year history. now this important work is also being done by everyone. you're going to hear from today on this extraordinary panel for the session towards inclusive history slavery and race. this panel will explore efforts made by historic sites museums organizations and individuals to tell an inclusive and comprehensive story at presidential sites. it is tremendously important
12:16 am
that this truth telling happens at presidential sites. this panel this panel features presenters with extensive backgrounds and curatorial work public programs and interpretation who are using historic places to advance a broader understanding of race. and how this central how the how central this social construct was and remains to shared national past. all of their work shows us that preservation is not about holding places in stasis. what we preserve and how we preserve what we interpret and how we interpret is a powerful tool for advancing justice and equity. now i have the great pleasure of introducing our moderator brent legs who is a senior vice president at the national trust and the executive director of the african-american cultural
12:17 am
heritage action fund joining him on stage are our panelists asante wah, bechewa associate director of collections and exhibitions from the smithsonian's anacostia community museum. lena mann historian with the white house historical association dr. elizabeth chew executive vice president and chief curator at james madison's montpelier and jennifer stacey a member of highlands council of descendant advisors. please join me in welcoming brent a santoa elizabeth and jennifer i am honored this morning to share the stage with four powerful women who are innovating preservation practice. what i want to do is to share some brief opening remarks to
12:18 am
set the stage for our conversation. and solidarity with african americans a multiracial coalition is marching in the footsteps of earlier generations whose vision for equality and human rights continues to inspire. nevertheless the preservation movement is flawed. and the not too distant past historic sites were preserved to reinforce the white majority's narrative. and to communicate idealize but unevenly realized american values. hence, too often the historic imprint of black people has been rendered invisible. we at the national trust are proud to support organizations and ideas that are revolutionizing preservation practice. because historic sites to bring
12:19 am
forward a diverse and inclusive national narrative are playing a crucial role in redefining our collective history a meaningfully expanding the preservation movement and equitable ways. this innovation and practice helps us all make amends and walk toward a new era of justice. through new forms of partnership interpretation and community presidential sites work at a critical moment both in the trajectory of their institutions. and the trajectory of history when preservation culture and creative thinking are sending as essential methodologies for repairing past injustice. shaping equitable futures i'm sure that we all agree that we need more sophisticated strategies that model and
12:20 am
strengthen sight stewardship and asset management. interpretation and programming descendant and public engagement and fundraising for places imbued with a multiplicity of stories and black history. that's why we're all here today. to exchange ideas and best practices that advances urgent work. our shared goal is to reimagine redesign and redeploy historic preservation to address the needs of cultural institutions and the assets and stories they stored one essential piece of this work is training the present and next generation of preservationist to do the cultural and technical work needed to redress the imbalances in our field. from interpretation to management our collective work will be devoted to explicitly lifting the profile. and ensuring the preservation
12:21 am
and interpretation of sights of enslavement representing a 250 year american legacy. we must face the fact that the history and the character of our nation. carved out of a chasms of racial brutality and economic exploitation and out of the self-determination character and resilience that moves our nation closer to its best self. by preserving these overlooked histories telling their stories preservationists inspire a commitment to equity and justice preserving this tapestry of our shared culture heritage and pride is an act of racial justice and should be viewed as a civil, right? we can also expand the conversation to answer bold
12:22 am
questions. how should america scale up the interpretation of its of enslavement so that we never forget their meaning and harm? what's the collaborative role of the afro-american community descendants? civic leaders preservationists artists academics and funders to envision and manifest landscapes and buildings of understanding and reconciliation how do we support presidential sites and their pursuits to create spaces in histories that equalize dual narratives and memory of all who toiled on these lands and who help to birth our democracy through unimaginable sacrifice. the purpose of preservation practice is not to stop change. but to offer tools that help with society manage change in ways that do not disconnected from the legacy of its past.
12:23 am
done right historic places can foster real healing true equity and a validation of all americans and their history this is our opportunity to value the lessons. sites of enslavement teach us that are all the more important at this in our shared history. let's start our conversation. please share with us. the power of the places that you represent was that history important? that's one. well, thank you, brent and thank you all for being here. i am on this panel as the former curator of the president woodrow wilson house in washington dc. it was the last residence of president wilson immediately after leaving the white house in 1921. he lived there until 1924 until
12:24 am
his death his wife first lady edith bowling wilson lived until 1961 and bequeath the house to the national trust. and the national trust opened the doors to the public in 1963. first lady edith wilson's vision of that house was to be a standing legacy of woodrow wilson. the interpretation was very much of course centered as you would imagine on world war one wilson's role as an international statements the first in the period to hold that distinction on the world stage and wilson, the man those were sort of the two pillars of interpretation there and when you come to the cake when you came to the house, those were the stories that were centered, right? through the african american cultural heritage action fund of the national trust the focus
12:25 am
began, of course to tell the fuller history, so when i joined i looked at the interpretation i looked at what was on display that had for the most part remain unchanged since 1961, you know, there's been shifts of objects small objects here and there but as far as the experience and the subjects and topics that were covered they have remained that that way until 2008 when i joined the team there. and so i looked at and i said wilson the man but really, who are we talking about here if we're talking about telling her history the people wilson and the people there were two african american. workers who labored in that house? obviously wilson's home is not a side of enslavement. however, the first lady in particular curated that house from the antebellum perspective gorification of the old south was where she was the way she was raised her family had lost
12:26 am
land in the civil war and she came from that ideology that those times were the good old days the two african-americans in the house were a couple mary. scott served as the head labor in that house and she and her husband traveled across washington dc which of course was segregated to that house for nearly 30 years until they were very senior in age, and they had not been mentioned much at all. who are these people so that was one important thing that i thought we needed to uncover second was another obvious glaring legacy of wilson's is rice relations as you all probably know many scholars of african american history in particular refer to that period as than they dear of race relations in this country since the civil war meaning the worst period for african americans the time of the highest lynchings in
12:27 am
the united states unchecked the protection of african americans in the jim crow south was non-existent persecuted for things that were guaranteed by the con. mission and of course the proclamation that we're never fulfilled. and wilson presided over this era his administration though often. some will say wilson was not the author of such policies. he certainly sanctioned them and those in his cabinet who pushed for things like the segregation of the federal workforce, which had never been the case the civilian the civilian service that had not been the case prior to there were people like frederick douglass and mary cloud bethune and other people and all of the different agencies in washington dc who were african american and served. with the wilson administration thinks like submitting photographs of yourself with your application became a requirement to determine and read out who was
12:28 am
african-american separation of white women for example in african american men getting rid of supervisors in the government who were african american these kind of intrinsic things happened under that administration so exploring what are the effects of that and then lastly bringing in the people who contributed to society at this time where african-american though, this is the nadir. this is also of race relations. this is also a time of great cultural expansion coming from the african-american community the popularization of jazz. thanks to the world war one soldiers who went to europe to serve. not income back, but they served and they did their duty and were honored by france before they were acknowledged by president obama in in our government so though there's this deep. there's this deep time of pain and suffering. there are significance. there's achievement. there's culture the harlem renaissance. so we wanted to explore those kinds of stories alongside that that this is not only a story of oppression, but it's a
12:29 am
resilience. it's a celebration it's evidence. i think of the most the deepest manifestation of what it means to be an american to continue to believe and to fight for and participate in a system that has historically denied you and continue to deny you violently and legally, so that's the framework in which i stepped into the house with and the mindset and those are what guided the kinds of programs and outreach that we tried to do. they were lucky to have your leadership. thank you. so i am a historian at the white house historical association and slavery in the president's neighborhood very near and dear to my heart and the way that this got started for us is in 2016 first lady michelle obama spoke at the dnc convention where she famously said i wake up every morning in a house that was built by slaves and in fact
12:30 am
enslaved people were essential to the construction of the white house from the quarrying of the stone to the making of bricks and then to the physical construction of the roof and walls enslave people worked alongside white wage laborers and skilled craftsman from europe and they were essential to that white house construction and then it didn't stop there. john adams moves into the white house in 1800. however, he did not we have not found evidence of him using enslave labor in the home. it is still a possibility, but then thomas jefferson when he is just a few months later then slavery becomes embedded in the white house as well slavery continues up until the zachary taylor administration. that's the last administration we have evidence of slaves enslaved people in the white house, but it's also important to note. there aren't nine presidents that used enslave labor at the white house and the names on that list are a little bit surprising one of the most
12:31 am
surprising names is john quincy adams john quincy adams in his later career in the house of representatives was a staunch anti-slavery advocate. however slavery did touch his family and while living in the white house, although he did not own in slave people. he did have a niece and nephew that had enslaved people that they brought to live in the white house. so very surprising people you might not think of in total 12 presidents owned and slave people at some point in their lives. again, this list also includes some surprising names including ulysses s grant there is evidence. he owned an enslaved person in his younger days. so really as the white house the white house is the people's house. and i think it's really important to see that every american sees their stories reflected in the white house their stories their ancestors stories. they should be able to see themselves in the building that that speech by michelle obama caused a lot of people to come head our way to look for more information about slavery in the white house, and we really didn't have a lot of that
12:32 am
information available at the time and so us launching our slavery in the president's neighborhood initiative is an effort to correct that and to add those voices into the narrative and put them into conversation with first ladies first families and presidents themselves. they are essential to white house history and american history, and they're not just witnesses to white house history. they are deeply involved one of my favorite stories and things that sort of a correction is an enslave man for a president james madison paul. he wrote the first white house memoir. it's a pretty remarkable read and in it. he actually corrects a very popular myth. there's this very popular story that dolly madison when the british come to burn the white house in 1814 that she single-handedly cuts the gilbert stewart portrait of george washington from the frame wraps it up carries it to safety herself. that is the narrative that was percolating and i still hear it today and paul jennings specifically correctsa in his
12:33 am
narrative and says, well she did order the painting to be saved but it is, you know, white house staff and enslaved people that were the ones that saved that painting. so i think it's really really important to place those people in conversation with american history and those stories really have been under told through this initiative. it lives on our website primarily it consists of a lot of research articles myself and my team spent a year and a half doing research and then we worked with a web design team to turn it into an interactive timeline. so the timeline features a lot of articles and a lot of research and there's sort of three main types of articles that we have first are general pieces overviews about slavery and race in america others are specific specifically about presidential households. so like one for thomas jefferson one for james madison, etc. those help guide the timeline and then finally what's most important to me the the stories of the individuals. so we've been able to tell these really incredible stories
12:34 am
through, you know, i want to another person that i really enjoy is a woman named alethia browning tanner. she's very inspiring to me. she may have worked in the white house. i've found some a little bit of evidence for that. it's not confirmed, but she did sell vegetables in a stand in lafayette park right across the street. there's rumors that jefferson visited that stand and her owner allowed her to do so she ends up saving her money at that stand and in 1810 purchases her own freedom for 1400 dollars, and then she goes on to purchase many many other. members of her family and to freedom and she establishes herself in the thriving free black community in washington dc and then she eventually even buys a home within really close to the white house. and so i that's why we call it slavery in the president's neighborhood. these individuals are part of the president's community. they live in the neighborhood. they live just a stone's throw from the white house and they are essential to the history of the united states. elizabeth thanks for that great
12:35 am
setup. yeah, so i am from james madison's montpelier, which is a 2700 acre site currently in orange, virginia. it was the home of three generations of the family of president james madison and where over those three generations the family held in bondage approximately 300 men women and children. so it was the site where? president madison studied thought prepared for the constitutional convention the creation of the constitution and hopefully the bill of rights and where he was a lifelong slaveholder. who's entire income and status derive from the labor of people he held in bondage and he never freed a single one of them. so we've been a open to the public. that's 1987 and we've been a
12:36 am
coast stewardship site of the national trust since 2000 and we are committed to what we call telling whole truth history, and we've been enormously privileged over the last 20-plus years to do this work in partnership with the community of descendants of people who were enslaved at montpelier and they've been our colleagues and our our partners since the later 1990s. we've really achieved wonderful interpretive successes with with their partnership and one wonderful outcome of this partnership as catherine said at the beginning was the creation of the rubric of best practices for descendant engagement. the interpretation of slavery at historic sites which many people in the field have told us it's been very important in their work. in addition to interpreting the institution of slavery. we also are able to continue the
12:37 am
story of african-american history or the american history and that we also have in our property the small farm of a freedmen's family the family of george and holly gilmore who were emancipated from palear and then able to acquire property right across the road from our front gate where we interpret reconstruction and then we also have a jim crow era train depot built by william dupont whose family owned montpelier from 1901 to 1983. so we interpret a jim crow era in that space. so we we talk about the entire arc of african american citizenship. and two major landmarks have come since the rubric was created in 2018 in 2019 the community of descendants organized and became a separate
12:38 am
501c3 nonprofit organization called the montpelier descendant committee. and then just this past june the montpelier foundation board voted to create a relationship of parity with the montpelier descendant committee so that the organization of the descendants of the enslaved and the organization that operates montpelier will run the site in sharing power and authority and since that historic vote in june it had there been there's been difficulty in moving forward. in the negotiations between the two boards just demonstrating how really how difficult this work is and remains but how critically important it is to the future of sites like ours. and jennifer good morning. glad to be here. i'm a descendant of jamestown
12:39 am
rose highland and i sit on the advisory council and where we where we actually share authority with with the site. so it is a real thing and i grew up in an area of outside of charlottesville. there's probably about i'd say five miles from highland probably 10 miles from monticello and maybe 20 from montpelier so that's where my family's been. for as long as i can remember, my mother's family her maiden name is monroe and i remember as a child going past. what was then ash lawn? and looking at the sign and seeing the name monroe and thinking my grandfather's name is monroe. so must be some connection, but i really didn't take it any further. i just automatically assumed it was tied to slavery, but we really didn't talk about it in
12:40 am
my family and so you really didn't have any engagement with ashlon? probably during my childhood. about five maybe five or more years ago. it's probably been a little more than that. there was an article i think that drew one of my cousins out to meet the staff at ashland. that was the article where sarah bon harper had worked hard to find the true on the true site of the house because this house that was i guess that everyone thought was james monroe's house. it was this little farmhouse and it ariana assuming very simple and truly as growing up there were no there were no buses going there. they were always going to monticello. no bus is going there. no hardly any cars going into ashland growing up. sarah found the real house,
12:41 am
which kind of in my mind symbolizes the beginning of an authentic history. at that place and that included my cousin. i'm george up there saying you know, you know, i think the only back up the article i think talked about not really having any any slave any enslaved descendants in the area and george showed up there to say. no there's a huge family of monroe's that settled here and we're still here and that was the first engagement with with what became highland also it sarah worked to cerebral and harper work to rename it james monroe highland, which is what it was called. so that's the start of getting it right and what that included was. engagement with the monroe family of enslaved descendants of the enslaved. they are my great great grandfather was ned edward ned
12:42 am
monroe and he bought about 52 acres outside of the probably about seven eight miles from from highland and and it's still in our family we still own it. and it you know, i'm probably all over the place here, but it's very important to us to preserve it because it's you it speaks volumes that a next slave could buy purchase by settle and and maintain a piece of property that close to to highland and so i'm backing up again. once george made contact. i think there was something else going on at the time. my mother had met one of sarah's best friends without even knowing they were connected and i tell this because it speaks to the fact that what's going on here with the engagement with
12:43 am
the enslaved community at this particular time? it's my belief that it is something very much bigger than than any of us. running it, and i sometimes feel like um, it's my ancestors. it's it's in the in the timing it's you know, just the kind of how it was meant to be sarah met my mom before we even became members of the council. when we were first asked to participate our my male cousins were very skeptical. they really didn't want to have anything to do with it. they and they were very vocal about it. and i remember having the conversation with with george and with francis about we need to probably give this a chance because i think we have an opportunity here and i'm thankful. they listened they you know,
12:44 am
there was not this immediate. i'm trust it was a moment of building trust and for me, i remember meeting sarah for the first time and we talked about her work at monticello. and she told the story about finding the graves of the enslaved there and what it was like to be expecting her child there and working with these grave sites and the power of that and she and she teared up and it was just this moment where you kind of knew she got it. you know, she really got it because not everybody does and it was a moment where? for me it was an immediate connection and it still exists today, and i'm very thankful for it. i shared that with my male cousins and and they heard it and you know, they came to the first meeting and still had their skepticism it still exists
12:45 am
sometimes and but they they've truly worked through it and i think that that is real, you know, it's you know, it's not this like wonderful fairy tale. it's it's really relationship building which is at the heart and soul of any engagement with the descendant community. and very important to believing in the shared authority because when i first heard it, i thought shared authority yet, right? but it's it's been real, you know. there's there, you know projects there the reinterpretation which has you know has come about i mean, it's it's real i used we used to sit down and talk about it and our meetings as a concept, but it is truly has started there and it was wonderful to walk in with a group of students from william and mary who by the way they own highland and to walk in there with these students and see the
12:46 am
reinterpretation for the first time. it was really truly giving voice to the voiceless. and again the invisible and there was a sense of pride in the the work and it's a testament to the fierce fierce determination of sarah. our council and and they acceptance i think by society because i think lining up finding the real house. the reinterpretation has you know is there? and you know just starting to dream which is something that is very new for me because i really didn't have dreams. and to have them now it's very important. if you're so this this work is very it's very important and it has the opportunity for us as a country to really come together
12:47 am
and understand and think one of the important things that we discussed early on in our council meetings. we talked about the the tone. of the of the reinterpretation and the exhibits and we made certain we didn't want this to be some in-your-face. you know, you did this none of that. it was just to tell the story. just tell the story and that way. whether you're on one side of the other you're coming in here face to face with history and you're learning about what it you know, what role did the enslave play there. they were there is you can't deny it. we were our people we were there and we were there when you know when james monroe was dealing with state issues. um, you we were there. and this big moment of history and growing up in that area. you really take it for granted
12:48 am
you really do but as you know, my family, we're in the middle of some serious history in the beginning of this country, and we really never as a child that i really pay attention to it even visiting monticello even going driving past ashland weekly. never really felt it, but now it has come together and and and we own it and we feel it and to have my 80 my mother's 82 and i think we started engagement probably five years ago. she was late 70s. and when she first the first time she came on property and same for me was when we engage with on the council when we started, you know meeting there and my mother i watched her she drove as we drove up this the i don't know if you've ever been there, but the driveway is lined with these gigantic beautiful trees. and and the field is cleared and it's beautiful and she just
12:49 am
looked you know looked across and she said i wonder what i wonder what our people thought when they were here just wonder and i know exactly what she meant. i did so it's good to be here to tell a story but there's a lot of emotion tied to it. so. so i heard two points of perspective one is about the power of stories and the need to have representation in the way that we interpret history. i also heard the importance of having descendant representation and this idea around structural parity. co-equal stewardship what are some lessons learned in the engagement of descendants or an equitable interpretation of slavery history because some of the work is fairly new five years montpelier really has been at the the forefront of
12:50 am
innovating preservation practice related to descendant engagement for two plus decades. i mean that is remarkable and commendable. and some of the other work it wilson house and and decatur house is fairly new. what would you share with this audience that's looking to expand their interpretation or increase their engagement with descendants. i would say that it's all about building trust. and that building trust takes time. so it's really? it's a process. it's not an event. it takes a long time and i wasn't at montpelier 22 years ago when it started, but but montpelier was extremely fortunate that the descendant the local descendant community came to the montpelier staff. when the montpelier staffed archaeologists announced that
12:51 am
they had found the site of the cemetery of the enslaved and the descendants came and asked if they could do is organizes ceremony to honor the ancestors? and that was the beginning of the relationship and the beginning of the trust building and that was in the late 1990s and the the community has grown from people in orange county virginia to people around the world through networking and research and talking and spending time together and becoming friends and colleagues and then doing work together. that is so much more truthful and authentic than we as white museum professionals can do. alone, and it has given our interpretation and our exhibitions and richness in an authenticity and a truth and the
12:52 am
visitors come and see the faces here the voices hear the stories of present-day. americans talking about their family stories in putting those stories next to the stories of james and dolly madison and seeing that they all are a critical part of the the tapestry of our history and i think it's the it's the trust building. it's the working it's the staff in descendants working together and building something really important and you have to give it time. i would echo the time thing i think for us coming in just recently within the past five years. i think we've had to start doing that trust building and the main way we've done that is to do the research first, so we spent a lot of time internally doing the research ourselves writing these articles putting them out and we launched our initiative in february of 2020 just weeks before covid-19 pandemic, so, is
12:53 am
sort of our first step like putting out the information and now we're moving into a second phase that i hope will pick up again as we start to more normalize we want to do more community outreach. we want to engage more with descendants right now. we have a genealogist that is working to trace some of the individuals that built the white house see if we can find descendants of them and also we plan to collaborate more with other sites in the future, but that trust is really important and i and i personally in my colleagues felt we couldn't move forward with contacting, you know descendants until we had done the work and grounded ourselves in it ourselves. so that's where we've started. there's a lot more to do. i always say this work is just the beginning it will keep going and time is essential. i hope will continue to build relationships and build trust and also i will say we did a really cool project last year. we sort of honed in on decatur house since that is our headquarters and we coast steward the property of the national trust and we wanted to really in corporate that slave
12:54 am
quarters better provide more humanity to the people that lived there until their stories and one of the ways that we've done that is we formed in an advisory council we brought on a historical archaeologist. we brought on a curator and then we brought on a man named steve hammond who is descended from a woman named nancy sifax who lived in decatur house and he was absolutely a wonderful resource and we ended up making these beautiful silhouettes for decatur house that represent three people charlotte de poi, james williams and nancy syfax, and we worked specifically with steve to create the image of his great great great grandmother, and that was really really special. so i hope to continue to do a lot more projects like that moving forward and making those connections. in our lastly say obviously as a site that's not a slavery site nor where the scots the domestic workers who work for the wilsons enslave people. of course, we don't know yet
12:55 am
their genealogy of their history. we know they come from virginia, but we don't know the details about their safe people, but i will credit the form of curator prior to me john powell did a lot of research and outreach to the descendants of the scots to get family photos to understand things like the bill of sale for their first house the note that she wrote to mrs. wilson thanking her for employment and being able to afford a house in washington dc. so the outreach for is understanding through john powell was as simple as picking up the phone finding people sending an email tapping into networks and i would say for sites who aren't slavery sites. it doesn't mean the slavery should not be addressed at your site right because of the foundational nature, especially a presidential sites as lena shared. not just the presence who owns slaves but obviously the continuation and the legacy of
12:56 am
slavery post emancipation through the first half of the 20th century and still with us in policy ways and experiences of african-americans today. it's relevant to everyone and i think humanizing hearing from descendants, but humanizing the story. we don't treat humanity and other stories of suffering in our history with the distance. that we unfortunately do with slavery in america. it's all of our stories. african-american history is american history. i just have a professor at morgan state who would say the boardrooms of america have always been segregated but not the bedrooms if you will and that is a direct correlation to obviously real trauma and violence, but also to the integrity of humans. shared experiences. we've been here together and as our responsibility to tell everyone's story and understand how that's foundational to america not only as an indictment. but as a reminder of that we
12:57 am
know we can do better because we come through that we know that we can do anything. we had a picture blown up of mary scott. at wilson house in place on the servant stairs because there was no visual representation of the house of african americans at all and the importance of just seeing right and i would touch her stare touch her pictures and reproduction for any collections folks in the audience. i would touch her in the morning because the service stairs for anyone who's ever toured are a real beast and especially in washington dc heat when the elevator in the house is broken and i would touch her pictures say if this woman in 1920 could get on a streetcar every day. and work in this house with no air conditioning and nonetheless in the segregated washington dc for a first lady who believed that she was the best of the old-time virginia -- stock which meant she knew her place. she she did she spoke. of her mrs. wilson is very
12:58 am
wonderful language, but her mentality was very much in the 1800s. i will say she different from wilson in that and one of the scholars we work with at wilson has to expand after american stories said, oh actually eat if this one that needs a little more exploration if you want to delve into a really the social implications of race and how that is really insidious in in mentality and culture, you know, unfortunately, that's where she operated from while at the same time being a part of the progressive error one of the first women to drive and washington dc, you know, there's these contradictions these paradoxes these very complicated interesting stories and i believe when we approach it from that and rather than a scary place if i don't want to talk about that i want to offend or i don't want to hurt. i can't go that if as a black person ever just slave people which i am as well. i don't want to go there but we have to our ancestors did it our
12:59 am
not just mine the slaveholders and the enslaved. together live that and so what are we going to do? how are we going to approach that to move our children and ourselves forward? let's expand on that this idea of balancing public memory. actually, yeah, i'm sorry. yeah. no, go ahead. yeah. i was just gonna say because i am really inspired in the way that you told the story connected to your mother and the way that she and essence is reclaiming her connection to her ancestral homeland. and this idea of balancing public memory which we all know that slavery is is rooted in a racial and a painful past. but we also know that there are overlooked stories of black resilience and protests and entrepreneurship. and even romantic life and love how do we make sure that we are
1:00 am
interpreting the fullness? of the enslaved workers story at historic sites. it's i think it's it's challenging. it is challenging and i think that there are a couple things that kind of happened with during the five years of the process because it is a process and i think that one thing that comes to mind is most recent challenges with dealing with the new generation during the george floyd protest because it just kind of brought up. a lot of emotions and need for expression that can easily get we can can easily go awry fast. i think the fact that we didn't that we're a country that has denied this happened and it's just living it's just connected.
1:01 am
life with what happened is kind of at the root of it because we had we're not healed and so there's this he's just it plays out in very interesting way. so that's one thing and and i'm i this the business during 2020 i think. and it's hard to express but i think we ran into it because in highland was almost defunded behind this because the students found out that that they were paying to upkeep highland and so at the at the root of the challenge i think is funding because you have these big dreams about what you want to do and you may be on course, but then something happens in society to make everything stop and you're suddenly faced with how we're going to make these dreams come true if there's no funding and william and mary they were in a position where
1:02 am
they backed the students and they did not back the work at highland and so to stay on course and believe as the as a descendant group and trust william and mary. it's been a challenge and so these stories need to be told. though, you know the and they are at the heart and soul of what i believe will be the the true healing in this country, but if it's not funded and you have to deal with lots of politics, i'm not going to stray away from that and things going on behind the scenes. you may be on course to do all this great work, but you have people behind the scenes. we're not necessarily on board with it for their own agendas and their own own reasons and and to stay the course and to trust is not easy and and to in an understanding and i think you
1:03 am
know. i think there's great opportunity. for you know, and i i will speak about highland to be this wonderful beacon of so many is so so much so much healing and but if you cannot get the the establishment that owns it to fully understand that it takes funding to do it and if they're not willing to fund it. those dreams go the opportunity goes this wonderful piece of property that sits in the middle of albemarle county and we and is starting to become something that the entire community can enjoy learn about and in our hopes are for it to sustain itself into actually give back to the community in many many ways if we don't have the start. we will not have the finish and
1:04 am
so that's that's a big challenge and also dealing with the new generation. because their thoughts about history. i think we could heard about it during the first panel last, you know, yes yesterday. that's real and they really have a very interesting way of looking at things and i think before the pandemic hit we were sitting around our and one of our meetings discussing, how can we get the the next generation engage because my mother's in her 80s we have other cousins in their 80s as well, and i'm you know, we're i'm in my i'm late 50s we have to get the next generation in place and on board and then pandemic hits and then george floyd is murdered and then the protest and then we have this one student that decided that she needed to have a petition to defund highland because jameson road own slaves is complex. you cannot take this out of
1:05 am
context. one of the things that i'd you know story that i tell is there's a you know, there was research done and the historians uncovered the fact that there were five families sold from james monroe to a gentleman in a possibly was moving to casa, bianca, florida. and i often tell that story because it symbolizes the complexity of slavery. while he owns slaves in the horribleness of owning other a human beings selling them in families was just and unheard of i mean, it's just you know, and in that story is someone trying to get it right as twisted as it is, i mean, but it speaks to the fact that it's complex and that there's so much there and though you don't glorify him. but at the same time you have to put the life in context into tear down statues on the campus because he owns slaves. no highland is real there was no
1:06 am
i'm that students did not know that we were engaged the descendants were engaged and we're doing this work. so and and some of that is quietly doing the work. just getting it done, and i'm so put in the word out. there is important. engaging within the next generation to kind of lead them. and help them understand you have good intentions, but you have to have the whole story before you go go off and do things and i don't want to take up all the time, but i think what you just shared is is really powerful and i will come back to to everybody around blm black lives matter movement in protest of of 2020, but it sounds like an order to inspire the next generation of advocates or activists. they need to fully understand that preservation is a tool for social justice. yes, and they need to visibly see.
1:07 am
diverse representation in helping to reimagine these historic sites and out of that engaged out of that comes and came some good we were able to engage with with a part of the wood college, william. well you william and mary. and i'll just leave it at that. they've changed their name so that that our students that wanted to know the full story. and so we have actually have relationship with the student by the student group and they are wanting to help do more so out of conflict can come good things and i do want that message message to get across so our hopes for engaging the next generation came about faster than we thought it would so you speak it and happen. well, i remember. during the the protest that an unnamed protester would spray paint on the side of the decatur house. these words. why do we have to keep telling
1:08 am
you black lives matter? and in many ways that has become the inspiration for the work of the action fund is to respond to what is both a statement and a question. how did that inspire some of your work at the decatur house? yeah, i mean decatur house was to all the black lives es mayette park where a lot of those protests occurred and so it was very powerful to see that i went to see it painted on the building. it was extremely powerful and it's also painted on the side of the historic slave quarters to make it even more powerful. and so after that happened we realized we really need to actually interpret the lafayette park space as a site of protests, which it has been for over a century started with women protesting for the right vote to the wilson white house, and that's really extended. you've had a lot of communities come to lafayette park to
1:09 am
protest for their cause that includes anti-linching protests that includes protests for civil rights that includes anti vietnam war protests all of that. so we actually in the wake of george floyd and the 2020 protests we put together a collection of research articles speaking to that site of protest in the park and talking about all of those things and putting them into context. so i thought that was really important, but it was really striking and was very powerful. did it inspire any? shifts at montpelier so we are located about 20 miles from charlottesville and many of the people who work at montpelier live in charlottesville. so we started in early august of 2017 and then moving into you know, 2020. so i think what it what it really? told us was that we had been all of this work we had been doing
1:10 am
since the late 90s. we've been you know, we had been sort of building to a moment and that what we saw was that the the future of historic sites can be a future of the kinds of conversations that this country needs to have and that that these sites where the aslani bunch calls it the unfinished business of the american revolution, you know, we can sit down we can think of ways and be the change and be a place where these conversations can. and i also want to say for the future of the field that the field. has to diversify yes, or we're just not going to yep be here. i think i think. crystallized for us the importance of what we can do. i'm curious hope. your organization's define descendants so at montpelier
1:11 am
they're absolutely are descendants of people whose names we know and who occur and written documents. of people that were enslaved by james and dolly madison by james madison senior and nellie conway madison, but we have we have always from the beginning. defined the term very broadly really people whose families were enslaved in orange county, virginia in central, virginia in virginia in the us south or just people who identify with our work and want to be a part of it. we've had a very always had a very broad and i would say, you know welcoming open definition of who's at ascendant. similar. yeah, i would say we're our definition, but i think keep it as broad as possible, and i actually had several people reach out to me that say, you know, i think i'm descended from this president. i think this president and they don't have the dna evidence yet, but it's really fascinating to see and so i like to keep that
1:12 am
door really open for everyone to reach out. i don't like defining it to specifically and i also think the white house is unique in that it is a place where people live for four to eight years or less. so it's not a home where it's not like a montpelier or highland where these are generations of families necessarily a lot of times. it's it's bringing their enslaved people from their home plantation to the white house, so it's kind of this transitory environment. so it's a little bit hard to define. so again, yeah, i like to keep it very broad. i think oral history. i think trust in the oral history is really important. so we i think that we are also working to define it but i think we've been very open to because it's been owned by several different people. i think we embrace anybody that you know need any enslaved or workers that have been there. so we're still what we're still kind of refining the definition.
1:13 am
we definitely acknowledge it and and trust the oral history because that's at the heart of everything. i mean. stories passed down i think and balancing that with the need to kind of prove it but accepting it and trusting it in the beginning is the story so it sounds like an inclusive approach is the strategy for engaging new audiences in the work. i'm curious about in building and what you shared earlier the opportunity. once you all's personal and professional dream. for achieving structural parity coast stewardship and innovation in slavery interpretation at your site what does that look like 10 years from now? i mean i think for me i hope that we are able to build our own descendant community and have more input from them and
1:14 am
again structural parity is essential. we really do need to diversify this field and a lot of historical institutions are primarily white. that's just how it is and i'd like to really disrupt that and start to bring in and make it more inclusive. i think that's really essential to telling these stories. you can't just tell one side. you need to include a lot of people and i think for me 10 years from now another thing, i'd love to see i'd love to see a plaque in the white house or some sort of acknowledgment actually in the building itself acknowledging these people that were so essential to its history. so that's the personal dream of mine. i hope to see the rubric that we created with many many other people in 2018 being put into practice really really widely in the field and to have many sites not just sites of enslavement, but sites of working towards this achievement and practice of structural parity and i'd like
1:15 am
to see presidential sites. serve as sort of a voice and an umbrella for other descendant groups to get organized into i mean, we have a dream of an of a social justice or an equity center there at highland where all the descendants can actually come function have resources come together with ideas about how to move this across this across our country and and give that voice that really needs. to be given to the descendant communities. who are just starting now? so it's i visited brattonsville in south carolina. i was amazed at the the work that had been done by descending community. they did not have the notoriety of a presidential site and they had done great things, but they didn't have the voice and i think the presidential sites
1:16 am
help give that voice. yeah. what do you think? well, i'll say briefly expound upon what dr. tuesday elizabeth said about the rubric having that be played out across sites who aren't dealing with enslavement for the wilson house in particular. it would be fantastic to see research continue at that place. it's such a gem of a house. it's such a gym. i mean literally any interest can be delved into there delved into at that site, so i would love to see that the investment and staff who can really help move this forward in a consistent way. i think personally my hope is that montpelier becomes the example? for realizing co equals stewardship between the existing steward and operator of that site and the descendant committee. and that that becomes the new world model.
1:17 am
for innovative governance at presidential sites that's the kind of transformation and the opportunity that presents itself. for all of us in this moment. and i think we all believe that if that's achieved and replicated. then that demonstrates not only the power of place. but that black americans are sharing in real power. and the influence of interpretation programming and the long-term stewardship of these places. and our last three minutes i want to ask you all to share your one. piece of advice for this audience whether it's to expand. programming related to slavery
1:18 am
interpretation and dissented engagement or whether it's strategies for engaging descendants and the stewardship of flights. which are one bit of advice that you want to leave this audience with? i'll say be bold and prioritize funding is always there is always it plagues the largest of institutions now the need to fund initiatives, it's critical, but i think institutions i've seen done a successfully it's taking a look at the budget that you have and we probably thinking about what's your priority because you can always say we don't have the money to do anything that is always can be there even if your budget is multimillion. i don't have any billion dollar sites, but if you have a large bud, it's about prioritization. that's what i would say. i would say that my best piece of advice is to talk about it to be open about it. i think there's often a fear that people don't want to hear it or they're not ready to hear it. but in my experience every time
1:19 am
i've talked about our initiative every time i've talked to a younger audience of students, yeah younger people they've been so receptive that you're eager. they're they really want this information and i think that there's with a lot of people that it's been hidden from them. and so i think that it's just really important to keep talking about it. they are ready to hear it. everybody is ready to engage in this conversation. i would say be bold be brave if you get pushback meet someone where they are and keep talking and keep talking and to make sure that the send an engagement is happening at every level of your organization as early as possible. everything they said and trust the process. yeah, because it really is a process and no matter what you do to try to to deter it to try to to get in the way of it. it's really something bigger than you and i moving this and
1:20 am
you just need to understand it and be open to it. and the process takes time. i want to leave you all with words from walterhood and his recent book called black landscapes matters where he writes in the afterward? people should see that they themselves. and landscapes have multiplicities. should be moving through space that constantly reminds us that women are equal. that we owe responsibility to natives who were here beforehand. the black hands built our landscape having landscapes with multiplicities forces us not to reconcile. to see that maybe all these forces are irreconcilable and that is okay. thank you all for sharing your
1:21 am
wisdom and inspiration with his.


info Stream Only

Uploaded by TV Archive on