“Ask a Slave” and Interpreting Race on Public History’s Front Line

February’s issue of The Public Historian (a quarterly journal published  by the National Council on Public History) focuses in part on slavery. One article is really interesting, focusing on historical interpreters and the emotional toll of their job. The article “‘Ask a Slave’ and Interpreting Race on Public History’s Front Line: Interview with Azie Mira Dungey” is made up of an interview with Dungey who worked as a historical interpreter at Mount Vernon for a number of years. Dungey played Caroline Branham, a black slave and housemaid in George and Martha Washington’s home. She relates in the interview how she often felt burdened with the responsibility of educating the public on the history of slavery, and was very often met with hostility. She hypothesizes that this might have had to do in part with the fact that the presence of Caroline Branham for some visitors countered the historical narrative of George Washington as a great founding father of the America. Many people remember Washington for his emancipation of his slaves following his death, however he kept slaves for his entire life, and in fact Caroline Branham was not emancipated following Washington’s death as she was not George Washington’s slave but his wife Martha’s.

 

Following this experience, Dungey created a webseries called “Ask a Slave” based on her experiences as a historical interpreter. The comedic series was nominated for a Satellite Award (awards given by the  International Press Academy). A video link to the pilot episode is below, and here is a link to the website.

 

If you’d like to read the article you can do so here.

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