Ask a Slave


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nice banjo! Is that foggy mountain played slowly?

I hope Clay Jenkinson is paying attention.

Fry: You know what the worst thing about being a slave is? They make you work all day but they don’t pay you or let you go.

Leela: That’s the only thing about being a slave.


It’s funny 'cause it’s true


Most people assume that working in the house was a position of privilege. While it may have seemed that way to the slave-owners, it is clear that the people themselves didn’t share that point of view. The majority of Mount Vernon runaways were house servants.

Holy crap, sounds like the Washingtons were sweethearts.

Never been to Mount Vernon, but have seen people at other places that are supposed to be in character; wow, do people ask some stupid questions. It’s like people don’t read. Those people who are old, voting against healthcare, lobbying to take the Social Security my age group is putting in, and crying out for more war? Yeah, they’re the idiots who want to know where the slave kids went to school and why there aren’t any toilets in the 18th Century homes.

EDIT: I have to share the best idiot old-guy tourist story. This one happened in Bolder, CO, about 20 years ago, at a powwow. This was an event that, if memory serves, was mostly for vendors and competitive dancing–pretty standard powwow stuff–but there was this visiting tribe from South America that had beliefs about cameras, so the event made sure to advertise that there was to be no cameras, no photography at the event, and that they’d confiscate film if someone did it. So what do I see walking in to the event? Some old fart doddering out of the grounds, camera around his neck, right past a “NO PHOTOGRAPHY” sign. The next thing was amazing: some totally ripped guy wearing little more than a loincloth, feathers, and moccasins comes running up behind him, silent as can be, sprints past him, did a spin, and planted himself between the old dude and the parking lot and motions for security. When security got there, he says, in this Walt Longmire drawl, “This gentleman here has been taking photographs of everything.” Then he crossed his arms and gave the guy one of the angriest looks I’ve ever seen at such an event. Well, the doddering old fool stood there in shock for what seemed like forever, then started gibbering something about how they weren’t going to get his damn film, he didn’t take one damn photo, and I think he threw some crap in there about being a veteran or something.

Watching a different doddering old fool at Carlsbad was almost as good, seeing this old fool, just as the park ranger got done talking about how there was to be no flash photography, and I mean right after she got done saying it, raise his camera and take a flash photo right in her face. The entire crowd gasped, and she tensed and went silent for an uncomfortable amount of time. I choose to believe she was contemplating exactly how much trouble she’d get in for strangling him with his neckstrap.


How did they get Buddy Holly in the video?

Genius. How did she not go out of her mind responding to so many uneducated and uninformed, heartless, stupid questions. Read “The Slave Narratives”, a compendium of oral histories by ex-slaves still living collected during the Writer’s Project during FDR’s administration. Their stories are nothing less then horrific and comparable to the daily humiliation, torture, and death a certain German with a funny moustache perpetrated on millions of people during his regime.


I love the oblivious white guy explaining how she’s failing to better herself: For those of us who haven’t seen the TV show Longmire, here’s a link to a short clip that shows what a Walt Longmire drawl sounds like. I can see how that kind of voice might surprise people in that situation

There’s an absolutely fascinating podcast about the history of slavery. It starts with the idea wondering if we sent modern liberalized people who detest slavery to another planet and visited them in 500 years would we find slavery again? The reason being there’s never been a point in world history when there hasn’t been slavery. It goes over how it existed long before the horrible USA slavery of Africans and still exists today. We can’t seem to get rid of it. Unfortunately it’s no longer free but it’s definitely worth the $1.99

It’s apparently largely based off this book.

There’s also this Frontline episode about one form of modern slavery. More info here.

That was so excellent I watched the next in the series - priceless. Her delivery is wonderful and the white abolitionist who has never seen a black person is just…wow.


Thanks Xeni, laughed through both episodes, and I gotta say, this series is promising!

+1 for truth

-Aimé Césaire

Yeah this was excellent on a couple different levels, thoroughly enjoyed it. Her website is great, too, for context around the videos:

Studying American history and the lives of these women, while virtually living in their heads and experiences each day, made me feel like I was in some sort of twisted time warp. This was also the time of Barack Obama’s first term in White House and his subsequent run for a second term.

I ask you to remember the racial tension that was all around. We had people saying that the President would be planting watermelons on the White House lawn. Emails were forwarded proclaiming that this was the beginning of a race war and the end of the country as we know it. People bought guns. (A lot of guns.) A scientist reported the evolutionary explanation as to why black women were the least attractive of all the races. The Oprah Show ended. It was mass chaos.

And in the midst of all this, I was playing a slave. Everyday, I was literally playing a slave. I mean, I was getting paid well for it, don’t get me wrong, and we all need a day job. But all the same, I was having all these experiences, and emotions. Talking to 100s of people a day about what it was like to be black in 18th Century America. And then returning to the 21st Century and reflecting on what had and had not changed.


These people asking the questions are actors, so I can’t really comment on the specifics of how the question was asked or the motive behind the question. Often the body language and intonation change the tone considerably. However, you’re going to get dumb questions if you give tours anywhere where the environment is very different from the experience of those visiting. I used to work on a ship and would sometimes give tours. You’d get questions like, “does the ship drop you off in your country when you finish working there?” or “how many times has the ship sunk?” Tragically, when we were in West Africa one of the questions was, “what do you do with all the bodies when people die at sea?” In this case, I think many of the people asking honestly find it difficult to imagine this situation. Their knowledge comes from some scattered half-remembered bits of information like “George Washington freed all of his slaves when he died” or “some black people could get an education in Massachusetts”. They don’t think of the person in front of them as an actual slave who will get offended by their dumb questions. She’s a historian who is helping them to understand the world of someone in that age.


Yeah - I really like history and re-enactments, especially where you have people who can explain how the average person lived, made horse shoes, or what ever their character is about.

Of course - sometimes this can be… awkward.

I’m from Kansas. You most likely read a paragraph or two about it in your history books, but before Kansas entered the Union, there was the issue of whether it would become a slave or free state. Kansas’ neighbor, Missouri, was a slave state at the time. With the Kansas-Nebraska Act the territory would vote on if it were going to be free or slave. This brought many abolitionists to the state to try to keep it free, as well as many pro-slavery groups, mostly from Missouri. There were many small skirmishes and a fairly large attack on Lawrence. It also lead to lots of voter fraud. There were something like 1500 eligible voters, and 6000 votes cast in an 1855 election.

A few years ago I visited Missouri Town 1855 in Lees Summit, MO. It’s a pretty neat place with lots of role players wearing period dress, doing period tasks, in a quaint little town that runs from a run down shack to a church to a mansion. One of the most interesting places I stumbled on to was the Lawyers office. In there they were discussing politics. I don’t know why before hand I hadn’t realized that this town is from 1855, before the civil war, and I was in a slave state. I don’t remember the whole conversation, but I remember being asked what I thought about Kansas becoming free or slave. I said something like, “I reckon it’s up for them to vote on which way they want to go.”

Some other guy piped up, “Yup, that’s right. Some of us voted 5 or 6 times too!” At that point I started to remember Bloody Kansas and I was just kind of surprised that they were sitting here with an obviously pro-slavery stance. Then again - that’s history. Wealthy men from that area were exactly the kind of people to come over to Kansas to run raids or influence voting.

Anyway - I do value these types of living history places. I think even though that women had to put up with some really stupid questions, she hopefully enlightened more than one person. The average person seems to have a very mild understanding of history. Most of their questions I am sure were out of pure ignorance of what was going on at the time. Lets face it - the concept of owning another person is barely comprehendible today. When my 7 year old learned about it she simply could not understand why anyone would do that. I think experiencing it as “real” people and not words in a book really drives home points that people can relate to and understand better, such as an abolitionist, while against slavery, would still be considered a racist.


Hilarious show, but Missoula is in Montana, not Idaho!!! Go Grizzlies!

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