Documentary using local actors concludes tonight

Published 12:00 am Thursday, February 17, 2005

NATCHEZ &045; Picking cotton in the fields of Frogmore Plantation brought to Darrell White a startling realization.

&uot;I realized that doing that for one or two days is one thing, but doing it for a lifetime was another,&uot; White said.

&uot;It was an opportunity for us to see, if only for a brief moment, what it was like for those who were enslaved. And I can tell you, if I had work like that my whole life, I’d be dead by now.&uot;

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The &uot;it&uot; to which White was referring was the spring 2004 filming &045; in and around Natchez, with many Natchezians as re-enactors &045; of a portion of the PBS film &uot;Slavery and the Making of America.&uot;

More than 20 locals had non-speaking roles during the five days footage was shot at the antebellum house Melrose and at Frogmore in Concordia Parish, said Sally Durkin, local production coordinator and casting director for the series.

Four locals had principal roles, including Carlo Smith, who portrayed slave Louis Hughes; Jeremy Sheppard, who played Hughes as a young boy; Robert Sizemore, who played a plantation owner; and Sherry Bearden, who portrayed his wife.

The series, the first part of which aired Feb. 9, continues at 8 tonight with the final two hours, including the filming in which White and his daughter, 17-year-old Darah, took part.

White said his daughter was also visibly affected by the experience. &uot;But it just scratched the surface as to what that generation had to endure,&uot; White said.

The series follows slavery from its origins in 1619, when settlers in Virginia bought 20 Africans from Dutch traders, through the arrival of the first 11 slaves in New Amsterdam, the Civil War and, finally, the adoption of the 13th Amendment and Reconstruction.

Hours three and four, which debut tonight, look at slavery in the first half of the 1800s, focusing on the conditions slaves endured, and go on to spotlight the role black people had in the Civil War and what emancipation really meant to them.

Throughout the series, accounts of what individual slaves went through are highlighted, including:

4Harriet Jacobs, author of the autobiography &uot;Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl.&uot;

4Solomon Northup, a free black New Yorker who was captured, caged and sent to Mississippi as a slave in 1841 &045; at age 33.

4Louis and Matilda Hughes. At age 11, Louis Hughes was sold to planter Edward McGee for $380 &045; and suffered innumerable beatings in the years to follow.

He later married Matilda, who gave birth to twins. Her workload almost killed her and forced her to neglect her babies, who died within six months of their birth.

4Robert Smalls who, disguised as the white captain of the Confederate ship The Planter, piloted the ship while the crew slept on shore &045; and sailed his wife, children and fellow enslaved soldiers to freedom.

After the Civil War, Smalls returned to Beaufort, S.C., and bought the home where he had grown up as a slave. He later became a state and U.S. representative and lobbied to stop violence against Republicans in the South.

The accounts were produced with the help of 25 prominent scholars.

In addition to the series, WNET’s outreach includes a compansion Web site, New York Life Insurance Co., which funded the series, set up a second Web site for educators at

Featured historian James Oliver Horton has co-authored, with Lois E. Horton, a 256-page companion book published under limited release by Oxford University Press. And a four-disc DVD version of the series is available through Ambrose Video.