Untold stories reveal 'Imprint' of African-American culture

Contact Reporterhbridges@vagazette.com
Jamestown's "African-American Imprint" celebrates Black History Month through story and song

Jamestown Settlement bears the title of America's first permanent English settlement, a fact found in many American history books.

But, "it's really much more than that," said Lara Templin, assistant interpretive program manager at Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation, describing Jamestown's intersection of cultures.

On Feb. 13, Jamestown Settlement presents "African-American Imprint," a Black History Month event illuminating African culture and heritage in America. The event includes storytelling from Sheila Arnold Jones, and musical performances from Legacy of Weyanoke and the Charles City Spiritual Ensemble.

"Our community is a community of people from all different cultural backgrounds and walks of life," said Templin, event coordinator. "We understand each other better if we understand where we're coming from."

As a professional storyteller and character interpreter, Sheila Arnold Jones has traveled the country, though she is based in nearby Hampton. On Saturday, she portrays Ol' Bess, a composite of female slaves working in 18th century taverns in Williamsburg.

"She always pulls people in," Jones said of the character. "It's not reading a text book."

Through folk tales and personal stories, Ol' Bess provides a slave narrative, drawing audiences into realistic experiences and raw emotions.

This is important "because people don't often want to talk about slavery," Jones said.

The Charles City Spiritual Ensemble uses a different medium to highlight this experience. The group performs Negro spirituals to shed light on the heritage and history, and particularly the faith experience, of black people in America throughout slavery.

Legacy of Weyanoke, an a cappella ensemble, performs songs and stories of the African Diaspora, from African chants to spirituals to Cherokee invocation.

"They take you on a sort of musical journey through history," Templin said.

The group's focus on the connection between African and Native Americans is an aspect of American history that often goes unaddressed, Templin said.

"There is a sort of tradition of helping each other that goes way back into colonial history," Templin said. "They had a deep connection."

On Saturday, guests can further explore cultural connections at Jamestown's Powhatan Indian village, comparing Powhatan and Angolan cultures through canoes and fishing, and at the re-created fort, comparing African and English warfare techniques.

"The bringing of cultures together, that's one of the things that makes our country strong," Templin said. "There are so many effects to our language and our lifestyle today, that we just don't even think about that come from this mixing of peoples."

At the ship's pier, a role-play experience will depict the 1619 arrival of Africans to Virginia, captured by English privateers.

Permanent gallery exhibits at Jamestown illuminate more of this story. A diorama, with a full-scale dwelling and artifacts, portrays the Ambundu culture of Angola, the parent culture of the first Africans brought to Virginia. A dramatic multimedia presentation explains African encounters with Europeans, the effect on African culture and development of transatlantic slave trade. Other exhibits explain the evolution of slavery in Jamestown and depict aspects of the slave experience.

"It's important to talk about…these untold stories," Jones said. "Because we need to remember why we have some of the issues we even have now."

"These lessons are so important, so that people can begin the conversation," she said.

Bridges can be reached at 757-275-4934.

Want to go?

When: 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Feb. 13

Where: Jamestown Settlement, 2110 Jamestown Road

Tickets: $17/adults, $8/ages 6-12 (Residents of James City and York counties, city of Williamsburg and William and Mary students receive complimentary admission with proof of residency)

Info: historyisfun.org, 757-253-4838

Schedule of events

10:30 a.m. – Powhatan Indian and Angolan canoe-making comparison; Powhatan Indian Village

11 a.m. – African mask craft; end of Great Hall

12 p.m. – Storyteller Sheila Arnold Jones; Robert V. Hatcher, Jr. Rotunda

1 p.m. – 'African Arrival' role play; ships' pier

2 p.m. – Legacy of Weyanoke; Robert V. Hatcher, Jr. Rotunda

3 p.m. – Charles City Spiritual Ensemble; Robert V. Hatcher, Jr. Rotunda

4 p.m. – Comparative English and African warfare; re-created fort

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