CONVERSATIONS ABOUT THE PAST
Note from Carol McDavid:
As I read this now (in late 1998) I realize that most of the talking during this meeting was done by the researchers, although my recollection is that there was a very positive atmosphere after the meeting was over. I suspect that my remembrance is influenced by the "headiness" of the occasion it was the very first time most of the researchers, other than Cheryl, had met any of the African-American descendants. Also, the meeting was held in the main living room of the plantation, so the symbolic aspects of the occasion weren't lost on anyone present. None of these descendants had ever set foot in the building before, and the sheer fact of their presence was pretty important in itself.
Since this was the first time that researchers had had an opportunity to share their motivations and agendas, perhaps it is not innappropriate that our statements seem to overshadow the input we received from the other descendants that day. We needed to make our points of view known, and to begin to develop some trust in them, before anyone would really speak to us. Subsequent interactions built, in part, on this first meeting and continued with the organization of the Levi Jordan Plantation Historical Society. The meeting recounted below was one of our first attempts to build a collaboration, and in the long run I believe that it was more important than the transcript reveals.
First there was a slide show presentation of artifacts recovered at the Levi Jordan Plantation, conducted by Ken Brown
DISCUSSION FOLLOWING SLIDE SHOW:
Topic- What should happen with artifacts and information gathered about the Jordan Plantation?
KEN BROWN: Using this site, or some other site, to do that with. Wheres Cheryl?
CHERYL WRIGHT: Here I am.
KEN BROWN: Wheres Carol? [raises hand]
KEN BROWN: Cheryl has been out trying to collect oral history because of our belief that theres an awful lot that we dont have in the archaeological record that we would very much like to. Carol is going to be doing a Masters Thesis on what, if anything, were going to do with this house, and property, and site in terms of trying to interpret the history of slavery and tenancy to people who may want to do that history. But what we do is up to everybody around here in the entire community. Whats going to be here, if anything.
AFRICAN AMERICAN DESCENDANT: You should just let it stay here.
KEN BROWN: What do you mean by let it stay here?
AFRICAN AMERICAN DESCENDANT: Its really more valuable to the local people around here.
CHERYL WRIGHT: As far as the information? To have something here on this site that would educate the people not only of this area but also of possibly other people coming in. Like is that what you think?
CAROL MC DAVID: So whatever happens, you feel like the material should stay here?
KEN BROWN: To respond to that other than what has been sent to the Smithsonian for their use until 1997, all of it is staying here and that material is coming back here.
CHERYL WRIGHT: Hey, yall wake up! I told them yall were going to give them your opinions. Do you think it ought to be like some type of museum here, do you think it should be some type of living, working something that goes through the daily process of reconstructing the history or what do you think?
AFRICAN AMERICAN DESCENDANT: I think it should be the very best thing out of all of those. The very best choosing. Whatevers the very best thing to have.
CHERYL WRIGHT: Do you think only the material culture should be represented or do you think that stories should be told about families because almost everybody in this room is related to the people whose stuff were talking about. So do you think we should talk about the families on a personal basis, or just show the material stuff or what do you think?. Mrs. _____, what do you think? You as everyone in here has a vested interest in this. Would you want to see the story of __________ (African American family) told or do think it should be left as collective?
Do you think that we should...what do you think should happen to this information? Should it be anonymous or do you think we should talk about the people that were here? Like would you want to hear the story of __________ or would you want your family history to be preserved for only you and your immediate family?
AFRICAN AMERICAN DESCENDANT: I think the immediate family. What would other people want with it? It would depend on what is being told.
CHERYL WRIGHT: So as far as the stuff I talked about with everybody, is like everyday life stuff. Would that be O.K. to be presented as a collective knowledge of how the people survived in this community, but just not talk about actual family members names? Would that be agreeable.?
[general murmured assent]
PERSONAL ARGUMENTS FOR FUTURE INTERPRETIVE PROJECT
CAROL MC DAVID: So yall have to think about this a little bit?
KEN BROWN: Let me just say that the reason that we are doing this is because I have (Ill make this personal since Im running the damn thing). I have a desire to know how a group of people survived two extremely oppressive systems: one slavery and one tenancy. They did so in very interesting fashions. They combined alot of things, they redefined alot of things. Thats what were getting back there. I think telling the history as we can from that material The adaptation of the people to slavery and tenancy is to me whats important, not which family did anything. I cant put anybodys names to anything we have. I cant do it. And I dont want to do it. But I do think that historys important and people have to know it.
CAROL MC DAVID: When I was brought up, I may get personal too When I was brought up, and Im 40, I was in school in the 50s and 60s. So much of what I learned about American history I just didnt learn very much about African American history. It wasnt in the books. I dont know if it wasnt in the books because they were written mostly by White people or what. I didnt learn much. When I got older and started learning more about African American history, and like Dr. Brown says, the ways that people survived really awful things in an oppressive system Then I wanted to know more because it made me understand how people dealt with their surroundings. Creatively and beautifully. The things here are beautiful in my mind. I guess it seems to me that people might want to know. Thats one of the reasons were asking you what you think. These are your families histories. Other people may have been interested. I would have been.
ANGLO DESCENDANT: Its obvious that if the Smithsonian Institute wants some of these pieces out of this collection that other people are really interested in this. I dont think theyre going to be showing things that people dont have an interest in.
CAROL MC DAVID: The exhibition that the Smithsonian is borrowing the stuff for is called "Before Freedom Came." It was on display already in three museums and they had record attendance in all three museums. But the attendance was monumental by all races of people who came to see the show that thats why theyre having this traveling exhibition and theyre going to be going all over the country to tell people of all races in our country what it was like to be a slave or what it was like to be a tenant in America in our history. Im guessing people are pretty interested. In order to do it justice, the people who are directly involved, like yall, need to have real solid input into what happens. Its not just something were asking just to ask to make us feel good. You may want to think about it later and call Cheryl up and tell her youve got an opinion about it. That would be helpful. It concerns you and your families. Whatever is done needs to be with your advice, your counsel, your ideas because yall are the ones that matter.
CHERYL WRIGHT: Unfortunately, I dont think the history books are any better now than they were back in the 60s. Were still lacking very much in the area of Black history in all phases from the beginning of time in this country on up. This is our chance to try to educate people. Because the things that have been written I mean in some of the work Ive done Its been real hard pressed to look through some of these books that are written with these and know that theres another side. Because Ive been down here. Ive talked with people and I know that theres another side. It makes me angry that sides not being represented. Thats why I have the passion and "scariness" I do about me because I feel that this is something I feel like really needs to be done for everybody.
CAROL MC DAVID: I think Id be a different person today if I had grown up learning about the history of all the people in my country. Now that Im middle-aged I can try to make up for lost time. And then I can help other kids learn. We do alot of work with kids here, I dont know how much Cheryls told yall. We bring alot of kids here to not only learn about Archaeology, but to learn about African American history and history of the South. History of the __________ and the __________ too. (Anglo families) Were trying to look at it as a group of people ----- the _____, the _____ (Anglo families) and the people who lived back in the quarters and the people who lived in the house we havent been able to find yet. A group of people that lived together, and they figured out a way to do it. Maybe it wasnt great alot of the time, but I wish I had known that history.
HOME * Conversations * Words * Archaeology * History * Ethnography * Community * Media * Descendants
& others * People in the Past * Kids * Bibliography * Definitions * Links * Maps * Search * Table of
For information about this site or this project, contact or .
‹ Carol McDavid 1998