Black and Blue event tells other side of history

Published 12:04 am Sunday, October 2, 2011

ERIC SHELTON | THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — Lezell Williams, left, and organizer Ser Seshsh Ab Heter-CM Boxley participate in a reenactment during the Fourth Annual Miss-Lou Region Black and Blue Civil War Sesquicentennial Commemoration Living History of Freedom Seeking Slaves Saturday afternoon at the Historic Jefferson College.

NATCHEZ — While pilgrims dote over the history of Natchez’s grand houses, other stories resonate from the shanties situated behind the “big houses,” which have a vital cultural significance of their own.

The fourth annual Black and Blue Civil War living history program at Historic Jefferson College featured volunteer actors playing roles of enslaved people on Second Creek, Natchez and Jefferson County, who planned an insurrection to take their freedom.

ERIC SHELTON | THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — Diana Kimble, left, and Malva Jones observe the reenactment during the living history program Saturday afternoon.

And those stories were suppressed for a long time — 150 years to be exact. Natchez newspapers remained silent about the slaves’ conspiracy and printed nothing. If not for private correspondence between whites, there would have been no records of slaves revolting.

Those letters were brought to light Saturday, telling another side to Natchez’s Civil War story.

The conversations, songs and letters from the period, read and performed by the actors, told of the planned annihilation of male masters, the taking of white women. The enslaved people also planned to collaborate with the Union army as freedom fighters.

The freedom-planners chose the Fourth of July to carry out the insurrection.

“While de white folks be celebrating dey freedom from dey home country of England, us slaves gon start us a fight to git us freedom on de Fourth of July,” read Ser Seshsh Ab Heter CM Boxley, playing the part of Davy Harrison, an enslaved man.

Drucilla Burns and a friend from Vicksburg made the trip to Natchez for the event.

“I came to be educated,” Burns said. “And I’ve learned quite a bit — especially about the Haitian revolution. It’s been interesting.”

Burns said the stories told still matter because it has bearing on Southern life today.

“It’s important to know where you came from in order to know where you’re going,” Burns said.

Mark Dave, who played the part of a revolt organizer, said it was his third year to attend Black and Blue, and his first to participate in the program.

Dave said the event is important because there are multiple sides to the story. He cited an African proverb that he said sums it up.

“Until a lion writes his own story, the tale of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.”

Dave said slavery was a form of capitalism at its ugliest. He said the story of enslaved people’s uprising matters to him, because he is only six generations removed from slavery himself.

“It’s just like yesterday in the eyes of God,” Dave said. “Whites and young blacks should know the truth.”

Dave said recurrence of the phrase “enslaved Africans” is ubiquitous throughout the program for a reason. He said calling them “slaves” stripped real people of their humanity.

“They were enslaved Africans,” Dave said. “Saying ‘enslaved’ takes away the action on their part, because they were people, not just a noun.”