Last month I received an email from a Felicia Furman who is the producer of the awesome “Shared History” documentary. The timing of her contact was very ironic because I had done a post & discussed with friends about the significance of Black history, Oprah’s slave roots, background research & her direct link to Africa in addition to all of this, our communication was right before Al Sharpton revealed the news about his genealogical research that reveled that his descendants were once owned by racist Strom Thurman’s descendants.
Anyway, Felicia was contacting me because she was interested in getting my opinion on her production. Of course I could not resist this great opportunity especially after she told me that she had been checking out the Mindspill.
While Felicia & I were exchanging emails she shared with me that the film was about the interactions among a group of contemporary black and white people connected to each other by a plantation in South Carolina, so after checking out her site & viewing the trailer, I was even more excited to see what she had to offer.
Now it is a little over a week later & I have “Shared History” in my hand & I could not wait to pop it into my baby (MacBook Pro). I had originally hoped to get some friends together to watch but the weather was horrible & I could not wait so I took the journey alone.
Shared history is really Felicia’s history as she is a descendants of author William Gilmore Simms, the last slave owner at Woodlands. This made the story even more intriguing for obvious reasons (well the reasons should be obvious, if not read between the lines).
So after I watched the film, I immediately email Felicia & stated the following:
“I watched Shared History last night & all I can saw is WOW. It was very interesting hearing accounts from the various perspectives on any given story like the sale of the property where there were several truths & then the reality.
While watching, I had a range of emotions from laughing to tears, very powerful & thought provoking!
I am going to do a review for my blog as an ending note for Black History Month. Ironically your story came to me as the Al Sharpton/Strom Thurman story hit the news.
You truly did a remarkable job pulling this together & I appreciate you contacting me with this GEM.”
As mentioned in above note to Felicia, one of my favorite moments from the film was when one of the slave owner’s descendants recounted the story of the slave owner giving a large piece of property to a former slave as a goodwill gesture & then the truth came out. The slave descendant was like hold up what a minute, we, were not given anything, we paid for this. Then she produced the documentation showing that her ancestor really did pay for the land, which meant that the slave owner was not as generous as people thought. I laughed out loud at this point because I could see it on her face how bad she wanted to say BOOYAHHHH!!! Then there was that social security moment, for which you have to see & heart to really believe.
My bottom line on this is that it is a must see especially for those of us that have a desire to dig into our own pasts but are afraid of what or who we may find.
Other important & prominent individuals from this real life story:
Charles Orr is the great grandson of Isaac Nimmons, the slave coachman of Woodlands who left after the Civil War. Charles is a social worker in Detroit, a writer, historian, and a collector of African American popular art.
Rhonda Kearse is a descendant of Jim Rumph, who was born in Africa in 1810 and died in 1922 at Woodlands. His descendants remained closely connected to the white slave-owning family—the Simms—after the Civil War. Rhonda was born in New Jersey and is an architect with the New York/New Jersey Port Authority.
Advertised Movie Synopsis:
Woodlands Plantation was the home of William Gilmore Simms, a 19th century American literary figure. He lived there with his family and approximately 70 members of enslaved African American families. The descendants of some of these families have maintained a connection with the Simms family and the land to this day. Woodlands is still owned by the Simms descendants.
With an extraordinary collection of historic images and documents, oral histories, as well as family photographs (19th and 20th century), “home movie” film footage (beginning in 1942) and “home video” footage (from 1968 to the present), this unique program documents the living descendants’ efforts to examine the persistence of the relationship and expose the myths that sustained the connection through more than two centuries.
The descendants of slaves and slave owners of Woodlands Plantation have for generations passed down stories and anecdotes about the relationship that existed between their families. It was while independently researching their families’ history that three descendants of the families met and began to uncover through family interviews and archival evidence the unspoken “truths” about the old relationships.
To wrap, I would like to share with you a Q&A correspondence between Felicia after I viewed the film.
Bygbaby: After you completed the film how did you change your perceptions on racism & the current effects of slavery on African descendants?
Felicia: I can’t say that my perceptions of racism necessarily changed after the completion of the film. I guess I’ve felt more deeply the debt this country owns to African Americans for building the US and that we all benefit—even (or especially) those who’ve only “just arrived.” No one can claim they have not benefited from US slavery. I’ve always believed that slavery didn’t happen so long ago. It is still very much a part of who we are—it is who we are– and continues to cause tremendous grief.
Bygbaby: How are people reacting to it?
Felicia: Most people have responded positively to the film. It seems to give black and white people a chance to identify with at least one of the “characters” so that they don’t necessarily (at least at first) have to think of it personally. In other words, people seem lulled by its “softness” and aren’t fully aware of what I’m getting until the end of the film, so they stick with it.
Bygbaby: Have you considered possible blood ties to Rhonda, Charles or others?
Felicia: Charles and Rhonda and I and others have had many discussions about blood ties. Rhonda’s family doesn’t think so. Charles has never heard any family lore about it but he and I have worked out a plausible scenario that would connect us. I think we can assume that over a connection of 260 years, SOMETHING would have happened.
Bygbaby: What’s next for the film?
Felicia: The film has been screened at several US and European festivals. In April it will be part of the program of the Collegium of African American Research in Madrid, a consortium of Europeans who study US African American experience and history. I’m really looking forward to it because the scholars will provoke more discussion. It’s been broadcast via PBS stations around the country since last year and is for sale through www.etvstore.org. We also have a small grant to screen the film in community settings in SC this year and then work to have organizations like the United Way incorporate into their volunteer or leadership training.