The Remembering Slavery Radio Series
Remembering Slavery is the first person accounts of former slaves who survived to tell their stories. The two-part radio documentary is an extraordinary saga of ordinary people. They sat on porch swings and porch steps, sharing with strangers painful childhood memories of slavery and life after freedom came.
"We were slaves. We belonged to people. They'd sell us like they sell horses and cows and hogs."
These are the words of Fountain Hughes, whose grandfather belonged to Thomas Jefferson. Through his stories and those of other witnesses, listeners in Part One hear memories of lives in bondage -- the slave auctions, life on the plantation, the master-slave relationships, beatings, and escapes. Part Two takes listeners through the former slaves' experiences during the Civil War, their first days of freedom, the captivity of life as sharecroppers, the Reconstruction, and their lives up to the time of the interview.
As the voices of Fountain Hughes, Laura Smalley, Harriet Smith and other former slaves speak to contemporary Americans, slavery and its legacy comes alive. In their voices, we hear the terrible reality of slavery.
"If I thought I'd ever be a slave again, I'd take a gun and just end it all right away because you're nothing but a dog. You're not a thing but a dog."
-- Fountain Hughes
The stories of these former slaves are told in their own voices on restored recordings and through dramatic readings of written interview transcripts. Here are some excerpts:
In Remembering Slavery - PART ONE, listeners hear memories of lives in bondage -- the slave auctions, life on the plantation, the master-slave relationships, beatings, and escapes. Fountain Hughes describes life as a jail sentence where passes are needed to leave the plantation and "you wasn't treated as good as a dog now."
Former slave Josephine Smith tells how mothers were sold away from their 3-month old babies. Laura Smalley remembers plantation daycare when an old woman tending a house full of little children had to feed them from a wooden trough "like slopping hogs."
Rose Williams tells how the masters tried to breed the slaves like cattle. Arnold Cragston recalls the fear and trembling that gripped him as a boy when he fought the river's current in a row boat trying to help a frightened young girl escape "when I couldn't see a thing in the dark but I felt that girl's eyes."
Remembering Slavery - PART TWO takes listeners through the former slaves' experiences during the Civil War, their first days of freedom, the captivity of life as sharecroppers, the Reconstruction, and their lives up to the time of the interview.
Fountain Hughes recalls how when freedom came ,"They turned us out like cattle in a pasture. We had no home. We didn't have nowhere to go, and we didn't know nothing." Laura Smalley remembers that one master did not tell his slaves for a year that they were free. Sarah Debro describes a life in shacks made of mud and sticks that the Yankees built.
For former slave Harriet Smith, the end of the war meant sitting on a picket fence in Texas watching "colored soldiers in droves" marching by. One soldier stopped and invited Harriet's friend to go with him. Her friend jumped on a horse and rode off with him. Harriet never saw her friend again.
With freedom came the destructive cycle of sharecropping. Harriet Smith remembers that "when the crop come, they take every bit of that crop. You wouldn't have nothing to live on til the next year come."
The series was produced by Smithsonian Productions and the Institute of Language and Culture and can be heard on Affiliate stations of PRI, Public Radio International.
As an actress, Tonea Stewart is best known for her recurring role as Aunt Etta Kibbe in the television series "The Heat of the Night" and more recently as Samuel L. Jackson's wife in the film adaptation of John Grisham's A Time To Kill. She is a professor and Director of Theatre Arts at Alabama State University, Montgomery, Alabama and has been in acting more than 20 years. She created the original Profiles of Black Women and has performed on stage throughout the United States, at Carnegie Hall and the Kennedy Center, and has appeared on screen and on numerous television programs.
A versatile talent, Debbie Allen is a director, producer, actress, and choreographer. She recently produced her first feature film Amistad, directed by Steven Spielberg, which she had been developing for more than ten years. Winner of two Emmys and one Golden Globe for her role as Lydia Grant on the hit series Fame, she moved from acting in both television and feature films to directing. She has directed television programs for such series as Family Ties and A Different World and the feature film Out of Sync. She holds the distinction of having choreographed the Academy Awards for five consecutive years.
An actor, singer, and composer, Clifton Davis has been performing for more than 25 years. He may be best known for his 5-year stint at Reverend Reuben Gregory on the television series Amen. His other television credits include starring in The Melba Moore & Clifton Davis Show and That's My Mama. He received a Tony nomination for Best Actor in a Musical for his role in Broadway's Tony Award-winning musical Two Gentlemen of Verona. He has performed in many productions Off-Broadway and, as a composer, received a Grammy nomination for his hit song Never Can Say Goodbye.
Louis Gossett, Jr.
Louis Gossett, Jr. has won critical acclaim and commercial success over the years for his body of work that includes over 30 theatrical feature films and over 45 television films and programs. Winner of an Academy Award for his role as Sergeant Foley in An Officer and A Gentleman, he received a Golden Globe for his role in HBO's The Josephine Baker Story. He was awarded an Emmy for his role as Fiddler in the television mini-series Roots. His great-grandmother, a strong-willed former slave who lived to be 117, provided him with inspiration for that role.
James Earl Jones
For all his success in television and the movies, James Earl Jones' career began on the theater stage. He won Tony Awards for his performances in The Great White Hope and Fences and has had a long association with the New York Shakespeare Festival. Winner of an Emmy Award for his portrayal of Gabriel Bird in the weekly television series Gabriel's Fire, his distinctive voice has become well known as Mufasa in The Lion King and Darth Vader in the Star Wars triology. Among his many movie credits are Cry, The Beloved Country, A Family Thing, Field of Dreams, and his role as Admiral Greer in Clear and Present Danger, Hunt for Red October, and Patriot Games.
An actress, comedian, and writer, Jedda Jones has won acclaim in her weekly role as Miss Dupre on the nationally syndicated Tom Joyner Morning Show on the ABC Urban Radio Network. She has appeared in feature films, television and the theater. Among her twenty-five television credits are such shows as the situation comedies Sister Sister, Murphy Brown, Coach, Martin and specials such as NBC's Showtime at the Apollo and A&E's Evening at the Improv. Among her feature film credits are Shattered, Indecent Proposal, and Angel Heart.
Melba Moore's performance in the Broadway musical Purlie launched her career as a successful actress and recording artist. For her role as Lutiebelle, she won a Tony Award and the Drama Desk and New York Drama Critics Award. Her many television credits include The Melba Moore & Clifton Davis Show and the mini-series Ellis Island. She has recorded over a dozen albums and received a Grammy Nomination for her signature song Lean On Me. In 1996 she appeared as Fantine in Broadway's Les Miserables. She is currently completing a new CD, Solitary Journey.
Esther Rolle has performed in shows on Broadway, Off-Broadway, and in threatre productions around the country and abroad. She gained national recognition for her roles in the hit television shows Maude and Good Times and received an Emmy Award for the television special Summer of My German Soldier. Other television movies include Raisin in the Sun, To Dance with the White Dog, and I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Among her many feature film credits are the Academy Award-winning film Driving Miss Daisy, How to make An American Quilt, Rosewood, and The Mighty Quinn.
Eighty-three-year-old John Sawyer, a retired U.S. Postal Service letter
carrier from Montgomery, Alabama, landed the title role last year in
Shadrach -- a feature film about a liberated slave in his 90's who
is trying to get back to his old stomping grounds by walking from Alabama
to Virginia. With no prior acting experience, Sawyer beat out the competition in a nationwide casting search. Sawyer had been interviewed by the casting team at the recommendation of Tonea Stewart who had become associated with Sawyer while working on "Slaves No More," a community-wide production of dramatic interpretations of the ex-slave narratives.
Composer, performer, producer, and arranger, Bryant Pugh began playing the piano at the age of fourteen. He has toured with Patti LaBelle, Edwin Hawkins, The Richard Smallwood Singers, Douglas Miller, Boyz II Men, The Temptations and others. A native of Philadelphia, he has served as musical director for such theatrical productions as Count Your Blessings, Yes God is Real, Lawd Ha Mercy, and A Good Man is Hard to Find. He recently completed his first CD, Bryant Pugh and Friends, which showcases his fluid jazz style in Gospel music.
Smithsonian Productions is the electronic media production center of the Smithsonian Institution, the world's largest complex of museums and research facilities. Working in computerized all-digital studios, its audio production team creates award-winning radio broadcasts, related compact discs and audiocassettes, as well as audio for film, videos, CD-ROM, and on-line services. In programs such as the Peabody Award-winning Black Radio; Jazz Smithsonian; Folk Masters; Guitar: Electrified, Amplified, and Deified; and Dialogue, Smithsonian Productions presents the best in performance and information radio.
The Institute of Language and Culture
The Institute of Language and Culture is a non-profit, educational organization founded in 1981 with offices in Montevallo, Clanton, and Montgomery, Alabama. The Institute supports research and development in language acquisition and the study of cultures. It promotes intercultural activities that foster cultural and global awareness and understanding, and provides services to individuals and organizations involved in international and intercultural activities. The Institute collaborates with scholars, institutions, and media professionals to develop historically and culturally significant media presentations for a broad public audience.
For more information on the Institute of Language and Culture, contact
Public Radio International
Public Radio International (PRI) is one of two major public radio networks in the United States and the largest in terms of program hours distributed. PRI offers news and information, classical music, contemporary music, and other cultural programming. Headquartered in Minneapolis, PRI has more than 600 affiliate stations throughout the U.S., Puerto Rico, and Guam. On the average, 18.1 million people tune to PRI affiliate stations each week.