What better way to preserve the memory of our ancestors than to bring them back to life? Living history allows us to explore the world of the past through carrying out daily activities as people did before our time.
As a college student I would look through the pattern catalogs at the fabric store and marvel at the historic costume section. In one of my favorite courses in college, History of Costume, we studied the different articles of clothing that were worn throughout history. Up until very recently I had never seen an outfit made in a style before the 20th century in person. Nonetheless my fascination persisted.
I recently met a now dear friend who creates clothing from the 18th century using historically accurate techniques and materials. She loaned me some handmade, period clothing to wear to a reenactment called 5 Medals in New Paris, IN. The event recreates a village of a Native American chief 5 Medals who managed negotiations between the Potawatomi and the U.S government in the 1760s through 1813. Although the village was eventually destroyed by the government, it lives on through the annual reenactment in October.
I ended up packing one of my spinning wheels along with some fiber, dressing up and going on my own to meet more friends at the event. I had such a great time talking to people about the clothing and demonstrating how to spin flax and wool. People were so eager to learn about what I was doing. Meeting all of the reenactors, and listening to there interpretations of history was a lot of fun and inspired me to learn more.
Having lost my grandparents recently I could not help but reflect upon how I got to be a third generation college graduate living a relatively comfortable middleclass lifestyle. There were no other African American reenactors at the event. I was told there are very few if any in our area that portray pre-civil war characters. I understand why, who wants to be a slave, right? Although the political status of African Americans was terrible we cannot allow it to overshadow the undisputable truth that we were an incredibly talented population of people who played a crucial role in developing America. In short, there is a difference between being a slave and being an enslaved person. The creator does not make slaves. Slaves are the invention of greedy politicians. I feel I can contribute to educating the public on my ancestors by portraying a “person” that people can engage with.
I decided to take a trip to historic Williamsburg, Virginia to experience more living history and learn more about America. It was a transformational experience.
One of most memorable moments was witnessing the recitation of the Declaration of Independence. There were two African American characters standing at there gate. The female’s reaction was hope that the words would soon apply to her and the male character was her reality check that this document had nothing to do with them. Of course we all know how it turned out.
After my trip to Williamsburg I was determined to recreate my own costume so that I could portray similar characters.