Honoring the Enslaved Community
Often, in program planning, the staff of the Hermitage must revisit the rewards and challenges of designing events and activities that best tell the story of a group of people whose names, relationships, work, and origins are not always clearly known. Black History Month 2014 successfully celebrated the theme “African-American Contributions to Nashville.” By exploring different ways in which African-Americans contributed to the success of the city of Nashville, visitors had a chance to engage with their heritage, gain new knowledge, or try their hand at some practical skills. We were gratified to have the participation of several important partners: The Friends of Tennessee State Library and Archives and historian John F. Baker provided their genealogical expertise to assist visitors with understanding the complexities of African-American genealogy. The Hermitage staff led a textile preservation workshop and discussed the impact of archaeology to understand the work of clothing the enslaved at the plantation. Dr. Carole Bucy, Davidson County Historian, provided context to understanding women’s roles and relationships in early Nashville. Supporting all these events was the Metropolitan Nashville Airport Authority, whose generous sponsorship of Black History Month events at the Hermitage allows us to bring in speakers and activities that enrich the lives of our visitors.
Black History Month always concludes with a memorial service designed to pay final honor to the 150 people enslaved at the Hermitage from 1804-1863. In partnership with the National Museum of African American Music, one of Nashville’s newest cultural institutions, The Hermitage hosted The Princely Players for a concert of song and spoken word performance that chronicled the African experience in America, from slavery through emancipation. The jubilation present in the singing transmitted to the audience and led to a deeply poignant tribute to the men and women of the plantation. In keeping with a Hermitage tradition, 150 white flowers—each bearing the name of one slave—were placed on the Enslaved Memorial near the Hermitage Church. Descendents of the enslaved community joined us and we were honored by their presence.