Telling The Story Of A Slave
Tue September 27, 2011
Telling The Story Of A Slave
Nicole Moore has an unusual job. She's a 30-year-old African American woman who spends her days dressed up as a slave and often does the work of slaves on a cotton plantation. She's a slave interpreter. Up until last week she worked at Historic Brattonsville in York County, but she's moving to Florida soon to do the same work there. For her, it's not a job, but a calling.
When I tell people exactly what I do, there are often a few jokes. I've been called Kunta, Harriet Tubman and heard "So you're literally slaving." But it's what I do.
I find it easier talking to children about slavery because they have very few preconceived notions. I can be honest and forthright and, in return, they're open to hearing about the lives of the enslaved. Adults, however, tend to either feel they know enough about slavery based on information given to them when they were younger, or they just don't want to know.
There's more to slavery than Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad, Frederick Douglass's famous narrative or speeches, or multiple viewings of Roots. Slavery varied from place to place, even between the slaves themselves. And it can be hard getting adults to understand and accept that.
Usually my interactions with adults are similar no matter what their color. However, I have been approached a few times by some African Americans who will ask me in a whispered tone, "Ok, so what's the real story?" They ask me this thinking that I gave them what the site has told me to say, but I am withholding an explosive secret. I then get a reaction of disbelief when I tell them, "That's it." I can't create the image of slavery they have in their mind which tends to be slaves were beaten and worked all day long. Yes, on some plantations that was true, but it wasn't the same experience for every slave. I can only tell them what I know based on the research that I have.
Likewise with whites who are looking for some kind of peace in certain slave owners. "Surely they were kind to their slaves, right?" I can't create the silver lining they're looking for since there's a lot we don't know about slaves' everyday lives. That, I think, is the hardest thing for adults to grasp. You can't create the history they feel most comfortable with. You can just tell what you know.
I interpret slave life because I don't want slavery to be something that someone learns about from an outdated text book. I want it to be something they can see, feel and start to understand, on whatever level that is. I want them to understand how wrong it was to own another person and that it was done so slave-owners could prosper.
I want the visitor to see slaves as not just property listed alongside the couch, the horse and the buggy. I want them to see a person with thoughts, feelings and emotions, who had a story to tell. I am helping to tell that story. I believe that I am what the enslaved hoped those who came after them would be. Not only an educated African American with a strong sense of where she's going, but one who refuses to let their story be forgotten.