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January 27, 2009

CW celebrates the 30th anniversary of African American programs

2009 marks the 30th anniversary of Colonial Williamsburg's African American programs. In 1979 Colonial Williamsburg introduced pioneering new programs to interpret the lives of the more than 50 percent of the town’s population who were free and enslaved African Americans at the time of the American Revolution. To commemorate 30 years of dedication to telling this story a variety of special events and programs are being planned for 2009.

In addition to current programming, new programs will be offered and several of the most successful and popular past programs will be reintroduced. In the fall, a symposium will provide perspectives on citizenship, race and politics in the 21st century. Speakers will explore how revolutionary era race relations contributed to the formation of a national concept of citizenship, the long struggle of African Americans to secure freedom and equality for themselves and their families, and the intersection of citizenship, race and politics today.

lives of enslaved Virginians are detailed in several programs offered at, Great Hopes Plantation, the Peyton Randolph House and during Revolutionary City.

"These events will not only serve as a celebration of this milestone year, but also as an opportunity to further explore the roots of the continuing African American struggle to be both free and equal citizens,” said Patricia Brooks, Colonial Williamsburg’s manager of African American initiatives. “In addition, we are excited about the possibilities offered by the National Town Meeting to discuss 21st-century concerns. In the year of an historic presidential inauguration, this program provides the opportunity to examine the meaning of citizenship and explore how this concept has evolved since the Revolution to embrace the reality of an African American president.”

At Great Hopes Plantation guests watch the re-creation and evolution of an 18th-century plantation, learn about enslaved African Virginians and their masters, and learn how they lived and worked on a typical middle-sized rural Virginia farm.

While Great Hopes focuses on the rural life, the Peyton Randolph House site in the middle of Colonial Williamsburg’s Historic Area presents the life of African Americans in the 18th-century capital of Virginia. The site introduces guests to the daily work, family relationships and attitudes toward the American Revolution of the enslaved community. At the entrance to the site, orientation interpreters distribute cards identifying 23 slaves. Guests use them to learn about enslaved residents of the house, like Johnny, Peyton Randolph’s manservant, and how he struggles with the question of staying on property or joining other enslaved people fighting for the British for their freedom.

Revolutionary City and Revolutionary Stories offer guests an opportunity to interact with free and enslaved Virginians as they debate and discuss the events leading up to American independence. In Revolutionary City visitors can gain insight into the perspectives of residents such as Baptist preacher Gowan Pamphlet and Eve, an enslaved servant at the Randolph house. Revolutionary Stories provide further opportunities to understand the impact of the Revolution on the African American population through programs such as What Holds the Future in which Lord Dunmore’s slaves ponder their fates moments before being taken to auction.

Day programs that discuss 18th-century African American life include Workin’ the Soil, Healin’ the Soul. At Great Hopes Plantation, guests follow an interpreter through the reconstructed 18th-century rural kitchen, slave quarters and agricultural and livestock fields for a look at day-to-day living for rural enslaved families. One returning program is an interactive walking tour of the Historic Area which allows guests to discover the perspectives of free and enslaved African Americans through a variety of documents and props. Guests will explore the choices made by Williamsburg’s colonial African American residents and learn about the consequences of these decisions.

After the sun sets, guests can enjoy African American evening programs:

  • Papa Said, Mama Said. Through this interactive program, guests explore the significance of stories passed down from their elders.
  • African American Music. Through a combination of observed and participatory experiences, guests will explore the diverse nature of African American musical culture in colonial Virginia.

    Special African American programs offered through the year include:

  • Black History Month. In February, Colonial Williamsburg examines the role of African Americans in colonial Virginia through a variety of programs.
  • African American History Sampler Weekends, April 4-5. One weekend in the spring and one in the summer will offer visitors the opportunity to sample a mixture of the commemorative programs that will be presented throughout the year as well as to participate in special weekend activities. Guests will experience how African Americans shaped a community as they fought for equality as citizens.
  • Brothers-in-Arms, Nov. 14-15. Colonial Williamsburg’s Brothers-In-Arms Weekend program recognizes the challenges, triumphs and contributions of free and enslaved African Americans during the American Revolution. This program brings to life the contradiction of slavery and freedom through the extraordinary stories of enslaved people who became soldiers and camp followers fighting for their own freedom on the sides of the Americans and British.
  • National Town Meeting. In a fall symposium, a number of prominent speakers will discuss citizenship, race and politics and examine important issues that impact citizen’s lives today.

    The African American Religion Exhibit, located in the reconstructed Taliaferro-Cole Stable, stands near the site where the African American First Baptist Church met in the early 1800s in a carriage house. Today the stable houses an exhibit that traces the religious heritage of transported Africans and their descendants in Virginia and the development of an African American Baptist congregation in Williamsburg in the late 18th century.

    The generous support of Mr. and Mrs. Richard D. Parsons, Douglas N. Morton and Marilyn L. Brown, the Norfolk Southern Corporation and the Charles E. Culpeper Endowments in Arts and Culture of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, AT&T, Philip Morris and IBM has helped make Colonial Williamsburg’s African American History programs possible.

    Established in 1926, the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation is the not-for-profit educational institution that preserves and operates the restored 18th-century Revolutionary capital of Virginia as a town-sized living history museum, telling the inspirational stories of our nation’s founding men and women. Within the restored and reconstructed buildings, historic interpreters, attired as colonial men and women from slaves to shopkeepers to soldiers, relate stories of colonial Virginia society and culture – stories of our journey to become Americans – while historic trades people research, demonstrate and preserve the 18th-century world of work and industry. As Colonial Williamsburg interprets life in the time of the American Revolution guests interact with history through “Revolutionary City®” – a dramatic live street theater presentation.

    Williamsburg is located in Virginia’s Tidewater region, 20 minutes from Newport News, within an hour’s drive of Richmond and Norfolk, and 150 miles south of Washington, D.C., off Interstate 64. For more information about Colonial Williamsburg, call 1-800-HISTORY or visit Colonial Williamsburg’s Web site at

    Media Contact:
    Penna Rogers
    (757) 220-7121

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