“you get paid to do what?”

I ran into a visitor saturday that kept referring to me as a volunteer. There’s nothing wrong with that except for the fact that I am actually on staff and get paid for this. I guess his thought was that there was no way that a site would pay a person to play an historical figure, let alone a slave. But we do. Volunteers certainly help with programs but interpreters are needed on staff for the everyday things that we have going on like school programs or to help the visitor that might come out during the week.

I get that question from visitors in reference to the interpreting in the cold, uncomfortable weather with out the comfortable warm layers (so they think) that we are used to today. There are many that can’t believe that someone would elect to cook over a fire, process flax, or just for a few hours and live life like they did in the 18th century.

From friends, co-workers not in the field, and those that know me, they wonder why I elect to portray a slave and they wonder who would pay a person to “relive” slave life. Well I would, and the site that I works for does. I don’t want to spend my life defending what I do, I just want people to see that, the same way they have found a career they love, so have I. My student loan debt alone insists that I do this for a living, and the Masters thesis that I wrote about interpreting slavery demands that I put my words into action.

But why is it so shocking that someone would want to tell the story of the slave? And then it hits me. Many are looking at slavery from the eye of the institution and therefore are only looking at slavery. They are thinking humans as property, being beat, and picking cotton. I am looking at the slave, who was a person, who had thoughts, feelings, emotions, family, and opinions. Granted we know that they were treated as property, many large plantations produced cotton, tobacco, sugar, and rice, and that they were separated from their families and beat. Can’t deny what is fact. But when you only look at that, and not examine the slave as a person, you genuinely get a feel for what it was like to make due with your situation. Yes, you can think of what life would be like if you ran away and the risk involved with that, or imagine what it was like to work in the fields as the sun came up until you could not see anymore. Think for a second about the family today. Your familial situation no matter what it is, is the result of the decisions made by the people in the family, not some outside force telling you you can’t be together.

Small things that we take for granted, I find understanding in by looking at the slave as a person, not necessarily slavery as an institution. That’s why I do this, and that’s why someone pays me to do it. Sure I could volunteer, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but to have a place acknowledge this part of their history and insure that the story is told by having someone on staff who interprets it let’s me know that they value the slave as a person. It also let’s me know that it’s important enough for them to have the story told on a regular basis, and that’s something that you can’t promise with a volunteer. I made this my career, and I’m loving every minute of it.

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1 Response

  1. tasha7896 says:

    This is great! I love it. I look forward to reading more.

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