Hear Us, See Us: The Importance of Storytelling
The last blog “Hear Us, See Us: The Importance of Native Heritage” discussed heritage and how thoughts and memories of family members long gone invoke pride in their culture and a way of life and traditions passed down from generations. For many African Americans, knowledge of their lineage has been lost because it was never recorded. We continue to focus on the importance of preserving cultural heritage through storytelling.
Sharing family stories preserves culture. It’s a time to learn, reflect, and remember. An opportunity to keep memories, places, songs, and even recipes alive.
I am originally from Louisiana, and I’ve always loved hearing stories from my parents about when they grew up. Hearing stories from my grandmothers and great grandparents gave me a chance to “see” them in their younger years. Beautiful stories of my great grandparents meeting as young people, neither speaking the other’s language, falling in love and creating a family. Painful stories of the discrimination various family members experienced because of their heritage. These stories, both beautiful and painful, make up my family’s history. The beautiful and painful stories in YOUR family - make up your history. A few years ago, thanks to an elder in the family who does genealogy research, our family discovered copies of our family tree and photos of associated plantations. For many African Americans, this would be a rarity; as a historical researcher, it is very precious to me. I would love to know the stories of the ancestors listed, but they are lost to me and my children.
African American heritage is important. The experiences of our ancestors and the treatment of them in the past, influence the experiences we have today. Sharing those stories teaches the next generation that African Americans, as a people, have overcome horrible pasts and challenging futures. We are the descendants of those who survived. We are their legacy. Telling their stories keeps their memories alive and our heritage from being erased. As with preserving Native heritage, recognizing this and the many other contributions African American communities continue to make takes deliberate and intentional work by educational and museum institutions to educate and raise awareness within the broader community.
Being a first-person historical performer requires a lot of research. The woman I portray, Cate Sharper, has had her story lost to history, having only her name recorded in probate records and a will to prove her existence. Through slave narratives that were recorded in the early 20th century, we are able to learn about the experiences of enslaved people. We combine Cate Sharper’s name and stories of those whose names we have lost in history to interpret a fully fleshed-out figure in history. These stories that were shared, give a glimpse into the past that would have been lost forever. The clip below is an interpretation of Cate Sharper and her descendent reflecting on their family’s history, shown during our Juneteenth 2020 virtual presentation.
*NOTE: This is an imagining of how stories can be passed down through generations since we do not know what really happened to Cate Sharper or any descendants*
To learn more about how the Accokeek Foundation shares the story of enslaved people visit us at:
Through The Eyes of Cate Sharper: A Tour of the National Colonial Farm and the Enslaved Experience