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March 30, 2009

Experience 30 years of CW's African American programs during a special event weekend April 4-5

Colonial Williamsburg observes a 30-year milestone of interpreting the African American experience in early America with a special weekend to celebrate the past and future Saturday and Sunday, April 4-5. Following three pioneering decades of telling the story of Williamsburg’s free and enslaved African American residents, Colonial Williamsburg embraces the philosophy of the African word Sankofa — returning to the past to discover what was lost before moving forward into the future.

The official opening weekend of 2009’s African American programs reprises the best of the past, debuts new directions and offers guests the opportunity to participate in special activities that help them discover the roots of the continuing African American struggle to be free and equal citizens.

Commemorative programs permit guests to discover how 18th-century African Americans played an active role in the development of the American narrative by seizing opportunities to resist the legal system of oppression and by establishing a community that sought equality through individual and collective means.

Presentations Saturday center at Great Hopes Plantation, located between the Historic Area and the Visitor Center, with supporting programs at the Governor’s Palace, the Peyton Randolph House and the Capitol. In addition, a new one-hour walking tour debuts.

Throughout the day at Great Hopes Plantation, “Rhythms of the Day” brings a rural 18th-century African American community to life 9 a.m.—5 p.m. The vast majority of colonial Virginians lived in the countryside. While most African Americans were enslaved, there were also small free black communities. Interactive experiences permit guests to assist with the daily tasks of running a small family farm as they discover how both the free and the enslaved created a unique community within a community.

Younger guests can lend a hand to the children as they complete their daily tasks. A visit to the fields unearths the story of tobacco productions while historic trades artisans relate the important role that skilled trades played in the lives of free and enslaved craftsmen. Guests discover what’s cooking in the kitchen as they begin to appreciate the African influences on early American foodways.

Enslaved Baptist preacher Gowan Pamphlet delivers a sermon about the struggle to become free and equal during “Leading God’s Children” at 10 a.m. at Great Hopes Plantation. “Healing Hands” introduces guests to traditional African, Caribbean and Anglo-American herbal medicine, superstition and religious practices at 11 a.m. and “Working the Soil, Healing the Soul” offers a window at 2 p.m. into the lives of enslaved families, their relationships and how they survived and resisted slavery.

At the Peyton Randolph House in the Historic Area, “Two Worlds, One Roof, One Law” explores the paradox of American freedom and slavery in one household 9 a.m.—5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Guests are invited to compare and contrast the lifestyles and perspectives of Peyton and Elizabeth Randolph with Eve, Johnny and more than two dozen other enslaved people living in the Randolph home.

At the Governor’s Palace, guests learn about Lord Dunmore, the last British governor of Virginia, and what his proclamation promising freedom to slaves meant to the local African American community during “Life Altering Choices,” presented 9 a.m.—1 p.m. Saturday and Sunday during tours of the Governor’s Palace.

Escaped slaves who joined the British forces in return for their freedom comprise Lord Dunmore’s Royal Ethiopian Regiment. Members of the regiment invite guests to drill with them 10 a.m.—noon Saturday at the Magazine before they march with Colonial Williamsburg’s Fifes and Drums at 1 p.m.

The seat of representative self-government in the Virginia colony, the Capitol was the scene of discussion, debate and enactment of legislation which controlled the institution of slavery. “Slavery And The Law” invites guests to explore the impact these laws had on both free and enslaved African Americans 1 p.m.—5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday during tours of the Capitol.

A new, one-hour interactive walking tour is offered Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays Fridays and Saturdays in 2009. “In their Own Words: African Americans in the American Revolutionary Era” provides a comprehensive overview of the struggle for free and enslaved African Americans to be both free and equal despite laws, religious institutions and social customs that denied them citizenship. The Historic Area serves as a stage as guests discover the choices, decisions and consequences faced by free and enslaved blacks. The tours begin at 10 a.m and 1 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at the Greenhow Lumber House at the south end of Palace Green.

Saturday evening brings a musical experience to the Hennage Auditorium in the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum at 7 p.m. “From Ear to Ear: African American Music Through the Ages” explores the roots of 18th-century music as the audience takes a musical journey from Africa to the Caribbean and finally to America. Intricate rhythms abound while guests discover how African musical origins transformed into a distinctly African American sound.

Daytime programs resume Sunday at the Governor’s Palace, the Peyton Randolph House and the Capitol. At the Magazine, the Rhode Island Regiment prepares for the siege of Yorktown in 1781. Just four years earlier, the patriot forces allowed free African Americans and slaves to join their ranks. The Rhode Island Regiment numbered 150-200 free blacks and former slaves, promised their freedom in return for three years of military services to the patriot cause. Guests are invited to join them for drills 10 a.m.—2 p.m.

Baptist preachers James Ireland and Gowan Pamphlet, one white, the other an enslaved black, discuss their trials and persecutions as followers of a dissenting faith, and their hopes for new freedoms in the Revolution in “Advice & Dissent” at noon Sunday in the backyard of Charlton’s Coffeehouse.

“Storytelling and the African American Oral Tradition” examines stories passed from generation to generation and the importance of oral history to cultural preservation and the teaching of moral lessons. The program begins at 1:15 p.m. in the coffeehouse backyard.

The special weekend experience concludes with Sunday’s episode of The Revolutionary City®—emphasizing an African American focus—which begins at 3 p.m. in the managed access area at the east end of Duke of Gloucester Street.

Colonial Williamsburg began creating programs portraying the African American experience in colonial America in 1979 and has taken a leadership position ever since. Many other museums and similar institutions have followed Colonial Williamsburg’s lead by adopting and adapting program ideas to fit their own educational missions.

Three decades of Colonial Williamsburg’s African American History Programs have enjoyed 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.

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:
Jim Bradley
(757) 220-7281