August 29, 2006
One-woman interpretation features the stories of three women spanning three centuries
Colonial Williamsburg introduces a new program, “To Be Seen as an American,” featuring the lives of three women who changed the history of our nation. Colonial Williamsburg interpreter Valarie Holmes portrays these women on the grounds of Bassett Hall, the Williamsburg home of Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller Jr.
These three women span three centuries and include a freed slave who witnessed a country’s revolution from the household of a founding father, a school teacher who realized the lengths the nation still had to go in order to achieve racial equality and a woman who experienced a time of war, segregation and change. “Each woman builds on the other woman,” Holmes said. “That’s our story. It’s a human story.”
Starting her research in March, Holmes said she became engrossed by the histories of these African-American women. She already was interpreting Lydia Broadnax, a freed slave of George Wythe and a true nation builder who lived in Williamsburg in 1796. Colonial Williamsburg’s NATION BUILDER’s program brings both the famous founding fathers and lesser known historical figures to life to interact with the visiting public.
Her second character, Katharine, is a composite of women at the end of the 19th century. That character comes to the stage outraged, brandishing an unusable textbook with which she’s supposed to teach her segregated school children.
The third portrayal is of Clara Byrd Baker set in 1944 during World War II. She was a teacher in Williamsburg and talks of the time period in which the United States fought against a racist regime and yet, ironically, fought with a segregated army.
During the presentation, Holmes uses symbolism to indicate the status of the women she’s interpreting. Lydia appears from behind the house and stands in the background because she’s a slave. Katharine comes from the garden path and stands a little further out from the tree. Finally, Clara also takes the garden path and stands the closest to the audience. Each of the women also has her own distinct personalities, movements and costumes. “The messages of these women ring true even today,” Holmes added, especially her World War II character’s story. “A lot of the issues we faced at the time, we face today.”
The program can be seen through October on Mondays and Thursdays at 1 p.m., weather permitting. A Colonial Williamsburg admission ticket or museums ticket is required. For more information, call toll-free 1-800-HISTORY.