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July 5, 2012

African Virginians, Free and Enslaved, Struggled to Make a Better Life and Hold on to their Heritage

“More Than Slaves,” Colonial Williamsburg’s weekend of special programming, July 6-8, depicts the inspiring stories of people actively seizing opportunities to change their circumstances. During the American Revolution, African Virginians were aware that they were excluded from the rights and privileges afforded to the ruling class and race. Many became more active in seeking freedom and liberty. While doing so, they maintained strong connections to their African cultural heritage.

Culinary historian Michael W. Twitty presents special programs that reveal the historic connections to African roots maintained by the enslaved African Virginians through food and the lasting influence of this culinary tradition on the development of American cuisine.

Programs include:

  • Souls around the Hearth, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., July 7, Randolph House Kitchen. Twitty discusses enslaved chefs of African descent in white households, taverns and early restaurants who were often chefs of renowned that left incredible life stories. Many of these chefs used food as a ticket to freedom and its opportunities. Entry is included with a Revolutionary City admission pass.
  • The Golden Age of Africa in Virginia, 6:30 p.m., July 7, DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum, Hennage Auditorium, 326 W. Francis St., Williamsburg. Twitty explores the culinary culture of free and enslaved African Virginians and the cuisine that would recall their heritage and provide a means of resistance. A reception follows the program. Entry is included with a Revolutionary City or museum admission pass.
  • Foodways to Freedom, 10 a.m. to noon and 2:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m., July 8, Great Hopes Plantation. Twitty explores the connection between early African Virginians and the rich tradition of Southern barbecue. Guests learn how culinary traditions create a sense of autonomy for those early enslaved people. Entry is included with a Revolutionary City admission pass.
  • The Power of Plants, 1:30 p.m., Great Hopes Plantation. Twitty examines the gardening techniques of enslaved African Virginians. A free reservation is required. Entry is included with a Revolutionary City admission pass.

    Additional programs offered in the Revolutionary City and the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum exhibit the numerous ways Revolutionary era Virginians of African descent challenged their legal and social status to affect a better future for themselves and the next generation, while creating a new culture rooted in African traditions. They include:

    Friday, July 6

  • The Examination of Joe and Dick, 3:45 p.m., Courthouse. Joe and Dick have been called before the Williamsburg Committee of Safety after they were caught attempting to run away to join the British Army, who has been fighting Virginian forces. How will the Committee of Safety respond to the actions of these two enslaved men? Entry is included with a Revolutionary City pass.

    Saturday, July 7

  • Her Enduring Spirit, 9:30 a.m., Lumber House Ticket Office. Edith Cumbo, a free African American woman, offers a unique perspective on life in 18th-century Williamsburg. Guests join her as she conducts her business and learn the active roles that women play in Williamsburg and nearby cities. Entry is included with a Revolutionary City pass.
  • What the Future Holds, 4 p.m., Governor’s Palace Garden. Slaves abandoned by the British royal governor consider their fates before being auctioned by the patriot government. Old wounds and new terrors surface as the time approaches when they will confront a fearful future. Weather permitting. Entry is included with a Revolutionary City pass.
  • Papa Said, Mama Said, 8:30 p.m., DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum, Hennage Auditorium. Guests meet enslaved people who have learned cultural morals and values from the stories of the past as told by their elders. This delightful interactive program explores the significance of oral African tradition. This participatory experience features recollections of stories that teach moral lessons that have been passed down from generation to generation. Tickets are $18 for adults and youth ages six-12 and $9 for children under six.

    Friday and Saturday, July 6 and 7

  • African American Folk Art, 10:30 a.m., DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum. On a guided tour, guests explore 18th- and 19th-century folk art created by or depicting African Americans and discover what the art says about their lives. Entry is included with a Revolutionary City or museum pass.

    Sunday, July 8

  • Freedom to Slavery, 3, 3:30, 4 and 4:30 p.m., Milliner Shop. Guests hear the compelling story of Elizabeth, an enslaved African American woman forced back into slavery after living free with the Shawnee Indians on the western frontier. Entry into this program with a Revolutionary City pass.
  • African American Music, 7 and 8:30 p.m., Great Hopes Plantation. The African American community borrowed from the many cultures of Africa and Europe. In the 18th-century African American there were opportunities for everyone to participate, whether it was singing, dancing or playing an instrument. Guests can keep the rhythms, sing the songs and dance the dances adapted from the West African people during Colonial America. Entry is included with an $18 ticket for adults and youth ages six-12 and $9 for children under six.

    For more information, call 1-800-HISTORY or visit

    Colonial Williamsburg’s African American programming is made possible by the generous support of the National Endowment for the Humanities, Mr. and Mrs. Richard D. Parsons, Douglas N. Morton, 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, Dominion Foundation and IBM.

    The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation is the not-for-profit educational and cultural organization 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 Revolutionary City and through the award-winning Revolutionary CityTM presentation. 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, 20th and 21st 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. Philanthropic support by individuals, corporations, and foundations benefits the educational mission of The Colonial Williamsburg 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 website at

    Media Contact:
    Penna Rogers
    (757) 220-7121

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