The museum begins to honor the black carters of the Jim Crow era

Colonial Williamsburg began honoring black people riding horse-drawn carriages through the streets of Colonial Williamsburg, naming the new crew after one of them, hoping there would be more.

Colonial_Williamsburg_Black_Coachmen_22580 Colonial Williamsburg coachman Colin Ash rides his horses when he rides his coach on Thursday, February 24, 2022, in Williamsburg, Virginia. Colonial Williamsburg began to honor the coachmen, naming the new crew after one of them.

Photo by AP / Steve Helber

Colonial_Williamsburg_Black_Coachmen_25527 Colonial Williamsburg co-driver Colin Ash drives a bus full of visitors on Duke Gloucester Street in the restored district on Thursday, February 24, 2022, in Williamsburg, Virginia. Colonial Williamsburg began to honor the coachmen, naming the new car after one of them.

Photo by AP / Steve Helber

Colonial_Williamsburg-Black_Coachmen_48783 Williamsburg colonial coachman Benjamin Spraggins sits on top of the crew, which includes former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and the then general. Dwight D. Eisenhower in Williamsburg, Virginia, March 8, 1946. The Living History Museum honors Spraggins, a black man who worked at the museum during the segregation era, naming the new car after him. The homage is part of an ongoing review of the race at the museum and its past stories of the country’s origins and the role of black Americans.

Photo courtesy of Colonial Williamsburg Foundation via AP

Colonial_Williamsburg_Black_Coachmen_27858 Colonial Williamsburg co-driver Colin Ash drives a bus full of visitors on Duke Gloucester Street in the restored district on Thursday, February 24, 2022, in Williamsburg, Virginia. Colonial Williamsburg began to honor the coachmen, naming the new car after one of them.

Photo by AP / Steve Helber

Colonial_Williamsburg_Black_Coachmen_29681 Colonial Williamsburg coachman Colin Ash is preparing his horse, Commodore, to pull a carriage on Thursday, February 24, 2022, in Williamsburg, Virginia. Colonial Williamsburg began to honor the coachmen, naming the new crew after one of them.

Photo by AP / Steve Helber

Colonial_Williamsburg-Black_Coachmen_83187 Williamsburg colonial coachman Benjamin Spraggins sits on top of the crew, which includes former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and the then general. Dwight D. Eisenhower in Williamsburg, Virginia, March 8, 1946. The Living History Museum honors Spraggins, a black man who worked at the museum during the segregation era, naming the new car after him. The homage is part of an ongoing review of the race at the museum and its past stories of the country’s origins and the role of black Americans.

AP Photo / William J. Smith

Colonial_Williamsburg_Black_Coachmen_21551 Colonial Williamsburg coachman Colin Ash is preparing his horse, Commodore, to pull a carriage on Thursday, February 24, 2022, in Williamsburg, Virginia. Colonial Williamsburg began to honor the coachmen, naming the new crew after one of them.

Photo by AP / Steve Helber

Colonial_Williamsburg_Black_Coachmen_64903 Colonial Williamsburg coachman Colin Ash is preparing his horse, Commodore, to pull a carriage on Thursday, February 24, 2022, in Williamsburg, Virginia. Colonial Williamsburg began to honor the coachmen, naming the new crew after one of them.

Photo by AP / Steve Helber

NORFOLK, Virginia (AP) – Black people riding horse-drawn carriages through the streets of colonial Williamsburg, Virginia, were everywhere and invisible in the Jim Crow era.

Their wooden carriages helped visit the late 18th century for visitors including Queen Elizabeth, Sir Winston Churchill and the then-Gene. Dwight Eisenhower. And yet men were forced to use private bathrooms and fountains, among many other sanctioned evils of segregation.

“These guys were resilient,” said Paul Undra Jeter, director of the Museum of Living History for Correction and Animal Husbandry. “I tell my young (black) drivers that they don’t face anything compared to what they faced that day because (racism) was okay.”

Colonial Williamsburg began to honor the carters, naming the new car after one of them, hoping there would be more. The first for Benjamin Spraggins, who was sometimes called the most photographed man in Williamsburg – although several signatures called his name. The carriage procession and ceremony will also celebrate the Spraggins on Saturday.

The homage is part of an ongoing review of the race at the museum and its past stories of the country’s origins and the role of black Americans.

Colonial Williamsburg tells the story of the capital of Virginia in the late 1700s and includes more than 400 restored or renovated buildings. The museum was founded in 1926, but did not tell black stories until 1979. More than half of the people living in the colonial capital were black, and many were enslaved.

The drivers of the segregation era were exclusively black. And they were part of a much larger black workforce that formed the basis of the museum’s activities as chefs, service workers and landscape painters, said Yvonne Edwards-Ingram, a professor in the Department of Focused Investigations at the Commonwealth University of Virginia.

In a 2014 scientific paper, Edwards-Ingram dismissed 1979 as a turning point for inclusion because black people had worked there for a long time, sometimes in very prominent roles, even if they were not official translators.

In the 1890s, before the museum was founded, black residents served as guides for tourists and later helped renovate buildings for the museum. They also worked in archeology to help uncover material evidence of the colonial capital. And some dressed in costumes, performing tasks such as making candles, Edwards-Ingram said.

She said the drivers of the segregation era were essentially translators – even ambassadors – for passengers and dignitaries.

They were also highly skilled in horse training and “all essentially masters who were our blacksmiths and silversmiths,” said Carl Childs, the museum’s executive director of research and education.

But they received little recognition.

“When you look at a collection of photographs of colonial Williamsburg, many times their names aren’t even mentioned,” Edwards-Ingham said. “That’s why it’s important to name this car. You make things visible. ”

Driving buses from 1937 to 1953, Spraggins expressed “his perspective on the city” and “took an active role in the cultural performance of the carriage ride, largely controlling the visitor experience,” Edwards-Ingham wrote in his article.

Spraggins died in 2003. Grandson Darrell Jimerson said his grandfather was a modest and hardworking man. And although Jimerson had never heard any specific stories, he undoubtedly Spraggins and other black coachmen experienced racism at work.

They still do.

Jeter, the museum’s coach and director of animal husbandry and the first black man to get the job, said Colonial Williamsburg now employs black, white and female crew drivers. Black drivers sometimes hear racist remarks from passers-by – or someone falsely claims that black people have never lived there or ridden in carriages.

Drivers are holding on to themselves and other guests are supporting them, Jeter said. And people who make such comments “usually keep quiet and cowardly back away because they make a scene.”

“You have more people who disagree than those who disagree with them,” Jeter said.

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