History, page 3
A memorable moment occurred when a Chickahominy woman cried while relating that the tribe had ostracized her because she married a Black man. An Assistant Chief responded with a warm, personal statement of tolerance for and appreciation of difference. The woman's husband was then told by the local historian that even though he might identify with the African American community, his grandfather had been one of the founders of the reorganized tribe. The wife was later seen being hugged by the Chief's daughter.
During the very first discussion period a White audience member, upset because she couldn't understand how we could leave the British out of the conversation, took us to task for it. Our explanation was, and remains, that information on the British is the constant background hum of American life; there is no shortage of such information, and there has been no attempt to suppress that portion of the country's history. On the contrary, it has been emphasized, and the British have been given credit for some of the accomplishments of others. Our focus was on two groups not receiving such preferential treatment.
Then in 1999 we decided our heritage needed to be celebrated, not just talked about. The 1619 'Arrival' of Africans into Jamestown had been observed twice previously in recent years at Jamestown Settlement, the first time successfully and the second with a token effort that left a sour taste in our mouths. Surely, we thought, we could do better than that even on a 'grass roots' level.
Our aim was to again honor both the Red and the Black, since for most African Americans the two are impossible to separate without dumping a goodly portion of family history. We sought to enable people to continue the discussion begun by the symposium series, to compare notes with others, and to enjoy an informal outdoor setting. We looked for Indians and Africans, dancers and drummers, vendors of food and non-food items, and speakers willing to share informal conversation with an interested audience. We decided to hold the event, called "Coming Together: The Link and Legacy of Native and African Americans," in our large front yard in Charles City. We paid for everything out of our own shallow pockets, and used all our discretionary time in planning. We sent out more press releases and flyers, and talked about it everywhere we went. We wore ourselves out again.
And oh my, what a moving experience it was. The gorgeous day, the pine woods, the drummed and chanted procession, the Native and African prayers to Creator and the Ancestors, the generous presenters, the informal conversations on history, genealogy and culture, the evocative fabrics and feathers, the singing, the horses, the fried fish sandwiches, the Fire Dance at the end, and the open hearts and minds of everyone in attendance, all contributed to an atmosphere of goodwill and exploration.
So we did it again the next year, and have been doing it every year since then on the second Saturday in August. From 2000 on, it has been held at the Harrison Lake National Fish Hatchery in Charles City, Virginia, thanks to the interest of the Project Manager there. The Hatchery has over 400 acres, including an area natural for a program, a wonderful 90-acre lake with a boat ramp, and extra fishing poles. City kids love it. We have tried to offer an informal, consistent opportunity for interested people to talk about the history and culture that have been largely left out of, or distorted in, most textbooks and encyclopedias, concerning the intimate relationship between Native and African Americans.
We still pay for it out of our pockets, but are surrounded by interested people who volunteer to do certain tasks or donate particular items. Each Coming Together is a bit different as a result of the weather and the particular cast of individuals, but each is a precious experience. Every now and then we encounter people who say, "I was at the very first Coming Together you had at your place."
Which is, of course, how the Weyanoke Association was started. We reached a point at which more and more people were saying, "You need to have programs the rest of the year," and, "What can we do to help?"