This past weekend I was at Colonial Williamsburg for a conference that highlighted five different woodworkers, two of them enslaved: John Hemings, head joiner at Monticello and Poplar Forest, enslaved by Thomas Jefferson, and Cesar Chelor, the first recognized Black plane maker, enslaved by Francis Nicholson. During the course of the weekend, I had the opportunity to talk to many who worked at Colonial Williamsburg, and I was impressed with their honesty on the question of enslavement in America. I fully anticipated hearing excuses or glossing over, possibly listening to a brief mention of the enslaved people in Williamsburg. To my surprise, it was not a side piece of the conference, but a major portion, taking up at minimum 40% of the total conversation. Continue reading “239 Records Total”
Today was the first day of the 21st Annual Working Wood in the 18th Century conference in Colonial Williamsburg. This year, the focus is on five different woodworkers who all had different stories and places from which they came. In remembrance of 2019 being the 400th anniversary of the first documented enslaved Africans being brought to the North American British colonies, two of these five makers are enslaved woodworkers: John Hemings, a master joiner and carpenter who was owned by Thomas Jefferson, and Cesar Chelor, a unspeakably gifted hand plane maker who was owned by Francis Nicholson. Continue reading “It Takes A Village”
Woe to him who builds his house by unrighteousness, and his upper rooms by injustice; who makes his neighbors work for nothing, and does not give them their wages (Jeremiah 22:13, NRSV).
Listen! The wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts (James 5:4, NRSV).
Have you ever noticed those big signs they put outside of renovations of buildings? They are normally in a kind of triangle shape and have a long list of all the people associated with the remodel. If it is a city building, they typically have the mayor and other elected officials on the list, perhaps a project date, and usually the architect and probably a general contractor. What is always absent from these lists, though, is the actual people who did the renovation. The people who literally built the building, did the remodel, or whatever the sign may be showing get little to no credit for the labor they do. Continue reading “Preliminary Theological Perspective on Building”
America has long ignored the incalculable contributions of people of color, specifically Africans brought to this continent. So often our history books downplay the institution of enslavement and portray the enslaved people as simple-minded field hands, cogs in a machine who helped their masters put some food on the table. This version of history serves to maintain white people as dominant and benevolent actors who saved Africans and other people of color from themselves: their beliefs, their histories, and their own families. In so doing, Africans go from actor to acted-upon by white people, not having any type of history or personality from which to draw a more truthful narrative. While the people who were enslaved certainly were acted upon, given the very nature of their enslavement, the idea that they were not actors who resisted and shaped their own history could not be further from the truth. Continue reading “A Primer”