Introduction

To capture precious details and memories for historical discussion and analysis before it is too late, the Nashville Chapter of the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society, Inc. is executing the Slave Grandchildren Remember project, which videotapes oral histories of the dying last generation who personally knew American slaves.

The project consists of a series of public lectures/discussions and other activities to uncover and share slave grandchildren’s memories of their grandparents who were enslaved in the United States and the Confederate States of America prior to April 1865. Two of the project’s end products are a video of oral histories and a write-up on the findings, both of which are overseen by an esteemed historian and posted on the AAHGSNashville.org website, available free to the public.

The goal of the project is to raise global awareness about what U.S.A. and C.S.A. slaves passed on to their descendants and to use discussions of the past to inform our understanding of current events. The captured oral histories are to tell the stories of slave grandchildren until the last one dies and beyond, to help analyze the legacy of their grandparents’ controversial life period.

Nearly 150 years after slavery, understanding the sentiments, behaviors, and current impact of slaves remains a critical need in our community. Preserving the last words of slave grandchildren about their enslaved ancestors is a way to facilitate public education, understanding about modern race relations, and social tolerance. Youth understanding and interpretation of new material also is a critical ongoing need, so pairing youth with elders in this way is an innovative way to access, interpret, and discuss important historical information.

The slave grandchildren are self-selected members of prisons, nursing homes, churches, and the general population. The oral historians for the slave grandchildren’s stories are self-selected teenage relatives of the slave grandchild. By being trained as oral historians and given the opportunity to practice the craft on an important project, the youth are among the greatest beneficiaries of this project. Because the youth are related to their interviewee, they learn something about one of their own slave ancestors in addition to learning and practicing an oral history technique. The elder relative also consents for the youth.

The Slave Grandchildren Remember project promotes positive growth and development in youth specifically by promoting character development, responsibility, service and leadership. The youth training, interviewing, and self-evaluations are under the leadership of historian Dr. Learotha Williams, a proven educator at Tennessee State University, trained and practiced in interviewing sources and successful student outcomes. The training uses the principles and best practices of the Oral History Association and StoryCorps guidelines.

Williams will determine what kind of information we are seeking from the interviews and what sorts of memories are to be revealed in order to tell what kind of story. He will determine how the memories will be analyzed in a meaningful way for the public/audience. This analysis will provide the context of larger historical and social forces that situate the “data” within the current issues of race that our project seeks. He is responsible for project research, write-up, in-person discussion during youth training and elder preparation, supervising videotaping, and presenting at the concluding event.

The historian’s write-up will be an interpretive guide to the histories that focuses on youth interpretation of what they learned and its significance to current events.

The kickoff public event takes place at the Nashville Public Library Bordeaux Branch, 4000 Clarksville Pike, Nashville, TN37218, (615) 862-5856, July 13, 2013, 10 a.m. to noon. Its purpose is to explain AAHGS Nashville and the Slave Grandchildren Remember project to the community and engage in critical discussion about memories of slaves and how those memories impact today.

To participate, please contact us and we will provide additional information.

The selection, training, and evaluations of 40 of the most direct participants as well as the videotapings take place in August/September 2013 at place and times TBA.

In addition to being posted at aahgsnashville.org/slavegrandchildren for ongoing online discussion, the video will be shared with the public for other discussion and screened for public discussion both at the AAHGS 34th National Conference at The Inn at Opryland October 11, 2013, and at a spring 2014 concluding event. The discussions deal with the words and perspectives, the sentiments of the period, and changing black perspectives of the dehumanization of slavery.


Header Photo Credit: Cabin of Alfred Jackson, slave of Andrew Jackson at The Hermitage. Photo by Flickr user MA1216.