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A modern man brings his slave ancestor to life, revealing America's complex story

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Belle Montgomery

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A modern man brings his slave ancestor to life, revealing America's complex story
Joseph Rogers said he sees his work as a "public service, a way to meet a very real need for a better understanding of our history."

00:16 /04:24

Portraying a slave: Re-enacting a family history
Aug. 29, 201904:24



Aug. 30, 2019, 8:51 AM EDT
By Janell Ross
FORT MONROE, Va. — Joseph Rogers started with his tie, unwinding the broad Balthus knot he’d wound that morning.
Then, he slipped out of his shined leather shoes, his slim-fit gray vest and the matching trousers he’d worn for the trip to Fort Monroe, on the Virginia coast, for a commemoration marking 400 years since the arrival of the first Africans enslaved in what would become America.

As Rogers stepped into a pair of mahogany cotton trousers, borrowed from the American Civil War Museum’s replica clothing collection, this 21st-century black man — with a cloud-based calendar full of obligations and a habit of walking double-time, chest out, shoulders back — began to recede. Rogers was approaching character now, ready to embody a 19th-century slave.
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Joseph Rogers puts on his costume before portraying James Apostle Fields, a 19th-century slave. Julia Rendleman / for NBC News
“I am James Apostle Fields,” Rogers said slowly, almost haltingly, to a woman who inquired about his outfit just outside the men’s room where he’d changed. Then Rogers shifted back to his own voice. “I’ll be portraying Fields,” he told the woman, “my ancestor, an enslaved man who during Reconstruction was elected to the Virginia Legislature.”
Rogers, 28, lives in Richmond, about an hour and a half west of the coast. On Saturday, Aug. 24, he was one of about a half-dozen people stationed around Fort Monroe to provide what is known as a living history interpretation during a federal 1619 commemorative event.
Rogers works full time as a tour guide at the White House of the Confederacy, guiding groups through the three-story structure where Confederate President Jefferson Davis and his family lived during the Civil War, offering a deeper and more troubling account than often found in romanticized stories of plantation life. But he has also developed a specialty in animating the sometimes free but more often enslaved black men and women whose names and experiences, struggles and insights have been lost or intentionally excluded from common understandings of American history.
Rogers is one of at least dozens of people who do historical interpretation work by acting as slaves at public and private historical sites around the country. At Colonial Williamsburg, where more than half a million people visited last year, enslaved and free black historical figures have been a part of the experience for 40 years.
But the work is trying. Some historical interpreters at Colonial Williamsburg have described white visitors who touched them without request like animals, asked if they could be purchased, yelled racial slurs and whistled “Dixie,” according to Trend and Tradition, the historic site’s quarterly magazine.
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When Joseph Rogers is portraying a Civil War-era character, he restricts himself to the rules of decorum and laws of the time. Julia Rendleman / for NBC News
The transformation these historical interpreters undergo to embody a slave is not easy. When Rogers portrays the enslaved,...
Rest of article including VIDEO: https://www.nbcnews.com/news/nbcblk/modern-man-brings-his-slave-ancestor-life-revealing-america-s-n1048021

Hope you see this post @CLuckJD
 
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lelliott19

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Rogers works full time as a tour guide at the White House of the Confederacy,
He actually did our tour of the WH of the Confederacy. He was amazing! Super engaging. You guys know how much I like Fort Monroe. I would have loved to have been able to be there for the living history interpretive event. My hat is off to Joseph Rogers for participating in the event and bringing his ancestor's story to life.
 
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