So to preface – after a 2 + hour adventure on my extremely cool Saturday night, I am tired and feeling a little bit like a loser given that last night I stayed in to read Notes on the State of Virginia and tonight I devoted another night I could have been socializing [cus i do have friends, i promise!] doing history instead.
“I was born a slave” was a play/reading of sorts that was really powerful. The lights dimmed, the crowd hushed – and a narrative of the life of John M. Washington began. There was a narrator that guided the story through several quotations of John himself and several other female excerpts from the Fredericksburg community. The reader for John had a very deep voice, almost artificially so to me. This reading was an effective way for the audience to get a better sense of the life of Mr. Washington without having to have read the book of his autobiography [which was being advertised heavily tonight]. There were musical interludes, with a powerful ending of “Glory Glory Hallelujah” which Davis informs me is the “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” buuutt for those of you who recognize the song by my title of it, your welcome because obviously it’s more easily recognizable by that name. Anyway – this ending was very powerful because the entire crowd sang along and the man singing lead was an amazing vocalist.
Once the reading was over, the historian we came to see was introduced and took the stage. David Blight is an engaging public speaker with a good sense of humor and a passion for what he does. He seems to wish he was a novelist because he mentioned on several occasions how nice it would have been to make up facts and have the two men that he had compiled memoirs on meet for a more dramatic effect. He demonstrated that much of being a historian is being persistent, thinking outside the box, having a good assistant who is also persistent and intelligent, and having the luck of getting to something or having an idea to do something first. He summarized briefly the lives of both the men – Turnage and Washington, and how they came to achieve their freedom. They had interesting stories and I am sure the book would be a page turner.
After his “lecture” he introduced Ruth, the grand-daughter of Washington and she delivered a well rehearsed speech that got a standing ovation – for that reason, I think I should simply put my speaking career on hold, honing my skills until I am 89 when people will admire the fact that I am still living and not care about how I speak or read from notes because they are just in awe. She seems like an amazing woman. She still drives herself around, is a TA in FL and is very lively. It was cool to hear her story. Next the great grand-daughter got up [and to be fair by this time i was wishing we were leaving] and she spoke for another 10 to 15 minutes. She was very emotional as I am sure I would probably be if this were happening with my family – but dragged on for a while, given how long the audience had already been sitting. She did make a valid argument that we should pass down information about our lives to our children and their children and let them know where they come from. This was obviously a big deal for her and it was pleasant to see her reaction to such a monumental event in her family’s history.
One thing I just can’t wrap my head around is – How can someone not even know the name of their Grandfather? I know the names of my Great Grandfathers! Then again I did have the privilege of meeting and knowing one of them. It is strange to me that they didn’t know more about their family and it took a historian to figure basic things out for them. I think that is sad. It is important to know and love your family… and it is silly to not know a thing about where you come from.