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October 12, 2011

Equiano Forum Examines Race, Politics through the Centuries

Colonial Williamsburg’s Equiano Forum on Early African American History and Culture presents “From Black to White: Challenging Racial Identity and Politics” that explores the connections of the past and present by considering the relationship between racial identity and politics on Oct. 28-29. The forum brings together historians, anthropologists, Colonial Williamsburg actor-interpreters, as well as special guest speaker former Virginia Governor and Mayor of Richmond Douglas Wilder for a lively discussion of race and politics throughout history including the election of the first African American president.

The forum explores the connections of the past and present by considering the relationship between racial identity and politics. The forum also discusses how should history acknowledge and remember people of African ancestry who were legally classified as white or those who “racially passed” as white in American history and how past religious beliefs, laws and court decisions reveal the ambiguity of racial classification in the United States.

The first program is “Meet Caesar, Barber of Yorktown” at 10:30 a.m. on Oct. 28 at the Coffeehouse backyard. The obstacle of race prevented Caesar from fully integrating into society. His refined and respectable appearance, or “public face,” contributed to his success as a barber for white clientele, but what was behind the “mask?” Talk with Caesar and discover why other described him as “so good an Example to all in his circumstance.” This program is included in all Historic Area admission passes.

During “Jane’s Struggle” at 11:30 a.m. on Oct. 28 at the Coffeehouse backyard, a free woman of mixed heritage struggles with her racial identity and the nuances of a society where the color of her skin can be both beneficial and harmful. Jane hoped that the ideals of “man’s natural rights” would improve the lives of free people of color. Witness a woman in the midst of a struggle between how she is perceived in society and her self-perception. This program is also included in all Historic Area admission passes.

The panel discussion, “Challenging Racial Identity,” addresses historical and contemporary perspectives on racial identity, religion and politics at 6:30 p.m. on Oct. 28 at the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum. Using various historical and contemporary references, the discussion will explore the historical impact of racial classification on identity, religion and politics and examine how new research in the science of human DNA challenges the use of biological justifications, as well as popular assumptions, about racial classification.

Panelists include:

  • James O’Toole, professor of history at Boston College;
  • Michael Blakey, professor of anthropology at the College of William and Mary; and
  • Robert C. Watson, professor of history at Hampton University.

    No tickets are needed but a free reservation is required and can be made by calling 1-800-HISTORY.

    The Equiano Forum continues at 10 a.m. on Oct. 29 at the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum with “Race, Identity and Politics: Then and Now,” a discussion of how new discoveries in American history, science and genealogy may impact future concepts of race and politics within the United States.

    Speakers include:

  • L. Douglas Wilder, former Virginia Governor and Mayor Richmond, who addresses the politics of racial identity and theory of a post-racial society following the election of the nation’s first African American president. He also will examine how politics shaped African American’s perceptions of citizenship and race, both past and present.
  • James O’Toole, professor of history at Boston College and author of “Passing for White: Race, Religion, and the Healy Family 1820-1920,” who tells the fascinating story of Catholic Bishop James Augustine Healy, a biracial man born in the South who passed as white in the North.
  • Michael Blakey, professor of anthropology at the College of William and Mary, who challenges the idea of “race” from scientific and anthropological perspectives.
  • Robert C. Watson, professor of history at Hampton University, who addresses the challenge of racial identity from a historical and political perspective.

    No tickets are needed but a free reservation is required and can be made by calling 1-800-HISTORY.

    Programs and exhibitions at The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation’s DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum are supported by the DeWitt Wallace Endowment Fund.

    Colonial Williamsburg’s African American programming has been made possible by the generous support of the National Endowment of Humanities, Mr. and Mrs. Richard D. Parsons, Douglas N. Morton, Marilyn L. Brown, the Norfolk Southern Corporation, the Charles E. Culpeper Endowments in Arts and Culture of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, Altria Client Services, AT&T, Philip Morris, and IBM.

    The Equiano Forum on Early African American History and Culture is an ongoing forum for historic and contemporary discourse that incorporates scholars, educators and performers to broaden the public knowledge about African and African American history as well as culture in Virginia and the Atlantic world.
    The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation is the not-for-profit educational and cultural organization dedicated to the preservation, interpretation and presentation of the restored 18th-century Revolutionary capital of Virginia. This town-sized living history museum tells the inspirational stories of our journey to become Americans through programs in the Historic Area and through the award-winning Revolutionary City program. Explore The Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg and discover the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum featuring the best in British and American decorative arts from 1670 – 1830 and the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum home to the nation’s premier collection of American folk art, comprising more than 5,000 folk art objects made during the 18th, 19th, 20th and 21st centuries. Colonial Williamsburg is committed to expanding its thought-provoking programming through education outreach on-site and online. Purchase of Colonial Williamsburg products and services supports the preservation, research and educational programs of the Foundation. Philanthropic support by individuals, corporations, and foundations benefits the educational mission of The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.

    Williamsburg is located in Virginia’s Tidewater region, 20 minutes from Newport News, within an hour’s drive of Richmond and Norfolk, and 150 miles south of Washington, D.C. For more information about Colonial Williamsburg, call 1-800-HISTORY or visit Colonial Williamsburg’s website at www.history.org.

    Media Contact:
    Penna Rogers
    (757) 220-7121



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