Slavery is a tough role, hard sell at Colonial Williamsburg says the headline in the Washington Post:
Even as Colonial Williamsburg and other historic sites have tried to do justice to the story of slavery and attract more minority visitors, they’ve sometimes had difficulty persuading black actors to take jobs interpreting enslaved figures.
Part of his job, Seals said, is to ensure that the actors remember that they are not who they interpret. “We’re taught to be detached from your character. Doing these roles really tests that hypothesis,” he said. “It’s not for everyone.”
The costumes can be psychologically problematic. So, too, can guests, who often aren’t sure how to respond when confronted with a shameful chapter of American history.
Sympathetic visitors to Williamsburg have been known to bump or block white actor-interpreters who are haranguing or otherwise mistreating enslaved black characters. Occasionally, they’ve grabbed prop guns or started to shout about fighting back.
Racist and demeaning comments aren’t uncommon. Willie Wright, a veteran actor-interpreter, said a child once asked him if he was a slave. When Wright said yes, the boy, who was white, demanded that Wright bring him a soda.
Colonial Williamsburg has struggled to fill one slavery role: that of a young, black male.
The position, a full-time job that pays between $13 and $18 an hour, has been open for two years, said Weldon, the organization’s director of historic area programming. “Some people turned us down because they didn’t want to portray an enslaved character.” Other sites in Virginia and Maryland have hit similar roadblocks.
…the increased emphasis on black history hasn’t helped position Colonial Williamsburg as a major destination for African American tourists.
In the late 1990s, African Americans accounted for just 4 percent of the site’s approximately 1 million annual visitors. Over the past few years, as overall paid attendance has dropped — it was just over 650,000 last year — the percentage of African American visitors has also fallen. By between 2 and 3 percent over the past few years, according to Colonial Williamsburg officials.
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