Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Three Different Starting Points

African American families may bring very different attitudes about slavery to the Hempsted House. In my last post I talked about the young man that felt ashamed of slavery until he came to know Adam Jackson. Recently, I had the opportunity to hear two other local African American perspectives on slavery. 

Megan Sandberg Zakian, Danny Glover (who performed in "Roots of Liberty"), Debra Wise, and Catherine Carr Kelly. Photo: A.R. Sinclair Photography.
The large and active Haitian community in greater Boston recently provided a very different perspective. On Saturday, May 4, 2013, a theatrical performance produced by Underground Railway Theater entitled, "Roots of Liberty – The Haitian Revolution and the American Civil War" made connections between Haiti’s successful slave rebellion and the American Civil War.  The Tremont Temple Baptist Church was packed with over 1400 people, with the performance in presented in both English and Creole. For Haitian Americans, the history of slavery is linked to freedom and self-determination.

A family friend provides yet another perspective. This young woman is the daughter of immigrants from Uganda. While attending high school here in Concord, Massachusetts in 2008, she sat in a classroom one day and learned about American slavery. The teacher that day kept looking at her and addressing the content to her as if this was a very personal story. After a short while she had enough and interrupted, “Why are you looking at me? I am from Africa and my ancestors were not slaves. You should know that.” She relayed the event that night to my family. Remembering that story I asked her recently: Was she interested in learning about slavery in the United States? Was it relevant to her in some way? She told me that it was interesting to her, and that some of her friends had asked her to go to the theatrical presentation on Haiti's history on May 4th with them.

The interpretation of the Hempsted house must make room for visitors coming with very different perspectives of slavery.  What is also clear is how powerful telling that story could be.

Robert Kiihne of RK Exhibits will be participating in the teen audience research this summer and will draft the exhibitions component of the interpretive plan in the fall.

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