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March 16, 2010

A Dream Fulfilled? Colonial Williamsburg’s African American Forum examines the significance of the 2008 presidential election

What does the election of the nation’s first African American president portend for the future of race relations, African American identity and citizenship in our country? Colonial Williamsburg will explore these and other issues during A Dream Fulfilled? Race, Citizenship, and the Presidential Election of 2008 at 6 p.m. Friday, May 7 in the Hennage Auditorium, The Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg, 326 W. Francis St., Williamsburg, Va. This is the concluding event commemorating the 30th anniversary of Colonial Williamsburg’s pioneering African American programming.

Five distinguished panelists will bring their rich and diverse perspectives to what is sure to be a stimulating and thought-provoking discussion on the significance of the 2008 presidential election; the role of race in modern national political debate and policymaking; and the lessons history has provided as we work to bridge racial and cultural divides in order to form a national consensus about how best to confront the challenges facing our democracy today.

Prize-winning historians Annette Gordon-Reed and David Blight will discuss the promise of the American Revolution and freedoms denied African Americans in the late 18th and 19th centuries. Former governor of Virginia, Douglas Wilder, the nation’s first elected black governor, Professor Melissa Harris-Lacewell and Dr. Rex Ellis will reflect on how President Obama’s election has influenced ideas about citizenship and cultural identity.

“The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation is proud to host these distinguished scholars and leaders who will address a topic integral to the future of our democracy,” said Colin Campbell, president of the Foundation. “Set in the context of Virginia’s colonial capital where principles of freedom, equality and diversity were debated and forged, this forum promises to be an exciting exchange among some of the foremost thinkers on the subject of our national identity.”

Veteran journalist and broadcaster Barbara Hamm Lee, WHRO’s chief community engagement officer, will serve as moderator of the forum. She is producer and host of “Another View,” which examines issues of particular interest to the African American community throughout Hampton Roads, broadcast each week on WHRO-TV.

The forum’s speakers are:

  • David Blight is Class of 1954 Professor of American History and director of Yale University’s Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance and Abolition. He is one of the nation's foremost authorities on the U.S. Civil War and its legacy. Blight is the author of several books, including “A Slave No More: Two Men Who Escaped to Freedom, Including Their Narratives of Emancipation,” published in 2007.
  • Rex Ellis is associate director of curatorial affairs at the National Museum of African American History and Culture of the Smithsonian Institution. He served as Colonial Williamsburg’s vice president of the Historic Area from 2001 until 2008. Ellis is the author of several books, including “Beneath the Blazing Sun: Stories From the African-American Journey” and “With A Banjo On My Knee,” about early African American banjo players, published in 1997 and 2001, respectively.
  • Annette Gordon-Reed, a professor of law at New York Law School since 1992, is recognized as one of the United States’ most distinguished presidential scholars. She published her first book, “Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy,” in 1997. She captured the 2008 National Book Award and the 2009 Pulitzer Prize in history for her book, “The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family” (2008).
  • Melissa Harris-Lacewell is associate professor of politics and African American studies at Princeton University. She is the author of the award-winning book, “Barbershops, Bibles, and BET: Everyday Talk and Black Political Thought,” published in 2004. In 2009 Harris-Lacewell became the youngest scholar to deliver the W.E.B. Du Bois Lectures at Harvard University. In 2009 she also delivered the prestigious Ware Lecture, becoming the youngest woman ever to do so.
  • L. Douglas Wilder is a former governor of Virginia and the first elected African American governor in U.S. history. During his administration, Wilder was praised for his sound fiscal management and his ability to balance the state budget during difficult economic times. He graduated from Virginia Union University with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry in 1951. He studied law at Howard University in Washington, D.C., and received his degree in 1959. His most recent political office was mayor of Richmond, Va., from 2005-2009.

    Admission is free but a free reservation is required. Reservations can be made at any Colonial Williamsburg ticket office or by calling 1-800-HISTORY. A reception will follow the event.

    Programs and exhibitions at The Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg are supported in part by the DeWitt Wallace Endowment Fund.

    Colonial Williamsburg’s African American programming has been made possible thanks to the generous support of Mr. and Mrs. Richard D. Parsons, Douglas N. Morton and Marilyn L. Brown, the Norfolk Southern Corporation, the Charles E. Culpeper Endowments in Arts and Culture of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, Altria Client Services, AT&T, Philip Morris and IBM.

    The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation is the not-for-profit educational institution dedicated to the preservation, interpretation and presentation of the restored 18th-century Revolutionary capital of Virginia. This town-sized living history museum tells the inspirational stories of our journey to become Americans through programs in the Historic Area and through the award-winning Revolutionary City program. Explore The Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg and discover the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum featuring the best in British and American decorative arts from 1670 – 1830 and the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum home to the nation’s premier collection of American folk art, comprising more than 5,000 folk art objects made during the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. Colonial Williamsburg Hotels feature conference spaces and recreation activities from spa and fine dining to world-class golf. Colonial Williamsburg is committed to expanding its thought-provoking programming through education outreach on-site and online. Purchase of Colonial Williamsburg products and services supports the preservation, research and educational programs of the Foundation.

    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. 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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