Colonial Williamsburg kicks off its 40th year of African-American interpretation with film series

To kick off Colonial Williamsburg's 40th year of African-American interpretation, All Together Williamsburg and Colonial Williamsburg are co-sponsoring “How Our History Continues to Affect Us,” a video series exploring the origin of slavery and its legacy in America.

“If there’s something we’ve begun to lose in this country is actually the ability to have civil discourse about really important things, and I can’t think of any place better to have those conversations than at a museum,” said Stephen Seals, an interpretive program development manager at Colonial Williamsburg and a member of All Together Williamsburg. “So when the opportunity came to do this community series, to bring communities together and just sort of talk about those sorts of things, it just made complete and total sense.”

Seals said the group decided to start the year with a video series because it helps people understand what others are feeling better than telling them.

“When you are black and put on these costumes, people tend to already have thoughts on who you are and what you are,” Seals said. “So what I’ve learned in interpreting is its one thing to tell someone something, its another thing for them to see it, and its another thing even again for them to experience it.”

Seals said when you experience something it makes you feel something, and when you feel something you need to talk it out. He said everyone is connected by having feelings.

“When you can bring all those feeling together so that everyone understands that we’re really more alike than we’re different I think that makes bridging things easier,” Seals said.

The first screening will be of the film “Traces of the Trade” on Jan. 6. According to the movie’s website, “Traces of the Trade” is a documentary of Katrina Browne discovering her ancestors were the largest slave-trading family in U.S. history, and how Northern complacency impacted slavery in America.

There will also be a second movie screening of the documentary “13th” on Jan 13. Barbara Watson, vice president of All Together Williamsburg, said “13th” goes over the impacts of race and how there are still remnants of Jim Crow in the U.S. today.

Watson said the movie moves audiences to act on the issues. She said All Together Williamsburg wants to inspire people to talk to each other.

“Race is a difficult topic,” Watson said. “(With) the white people in our community and other communities, it’s an uncomfortable discussion.”

Seals said the film series will conclude Jan. 20 with a community discussion. The discussion will be facilitated by Seals, Katrinah Lewis, artistic director of museum theater at Colonial Williamsburg; Kurt Smith, interpreter and actor of Thomas Jefferson at Colonial Williamsburg; and Lindsey Foster, actor and interpreter at Colonial Williamsburg.

Watson emphasized that the point of this series is to encourage people to talk in a comfortable setting, and not to make people feel like they’re pushing an idea down their throat.

“We’re just trying to open peoples’ mind about maybe seeing their part or understanding their part in how we can heal the divides,” Watson said.

Seals said Colonial Williamsburg has more events planned for this anniversary year, including a special exhibition at the Raleigh Tavern titled “Revealing the Priceless: Colonial Williamsburg – 40 years of African-American Interpretation,” and three special community conversation events at the Hennage Auditorium at the Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg.

“I could say all the cliche things of course like ‘change stars with a conversation’ or any of those things,” Seals said. “But it really is true. I hope the community sees this — and will in one-way, shape or form talk to each other. That’s something we are trying to start, and hopefully, in our community, we can start a trend.”

Want to attend?

“Traces of the Trade” will show 2:30-5 p.m. Jan. 6. “13th” will show 2:30-5 p.m. Jan. 13. The community discussion will be held from 2:30-5 p.m. Jan. 20.

All three events will be held at Bruton Heights School at 301 First St. Attendance is free.

For more information on Colonial Williamsburg's events celebrating their 40th year of African-American interpretation visit

To learn more about All Together Williamsburg, or to find more of their events, visit

Heymann can be reached by phone at 757-298-5828 or on Twitter at @HeymannAmelia.

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