History, page 4

So I booked a conference room in an old city-owned building and let it be known that anybody interested should come help us figure out what came next. After the usual airing of individual concerns and frustrations, and lots of genealogical sharing, we held a few more meetings devoted largely to getting to know each other. They were widely spaced due to the intrusion of real life. Then the dust settled, and we were delighted to discover in our midst people with clear minds, organizational skills and a willingness to work, some of whom were relatives.

 

We eventually put together a succinct statement of 'who we are and what we do.' This in turn enabled us to formulate bylaws, and then to submit an application for tax-exempt status to the IRS, with a minimum of fuss and feathers. It doesn't seem so long now, but the whole process took us about two years.

We needed to be together in the same room to discuss all the issues that came up; the telephone and email just weren't enough, although we certainly used them. And it was very important to us to reach consensus - a Native concept - and not fall victim to European tendencies toward authoritarianism. We had many a hot debate over almost every organizational issue, as those in favor of traditional Native or African structures pulled against those wanting a more mainstream organizational development process. It all got done eventually.

 

We are now recognized officially by the Commonwealth of Virginia as a legal body of Red-Black people "dedicated to acquiring and promoting a greater understanding and appreciation of our ancestry by encouraging education, raising public awareness, preserving historical information, and perpetuating our mixed heritage."

In the meantime, Hugh and I had started a professional a cappella vocal and storytelling ensemble in 1990. We called it Legacy of Weyanoke in honor of the 1619 settlement of Africans in the midst of the Weyanoke Indians, in what is now Charles City County. All current and former members have Native ancestry as well as African, and we perform songs and stories from Africa to the Americas, both Black and Red. The idea was to raise money for the Association and supplement our income, through providing educational entertainment composed of folk-based songs and stories that were sliding further into obscurity with each passing day. We have performed at libraries, elementary school PTA programs, college Black History Month observances, church events, and summer festivals, mostly along the East Coast.

We gradually realized that the two organizations are complementary in more than one way. Legacy of Weyanoke isn't just a fundraising arm of the Weyanoke Association; it's members are an important part of spreading the Association's message. We began to involve the ensemble in all the Association's programs, as a way to add power to the presentations. It has been a challenge for some of us, after years of identifying only with the Black community, to give ourselves permission to identify also with the Red. We, as individuals, had to allow ourselves to honor our Red ancestors privately before we could be comfortable doing so publicly as a group. And if it has been a challenge for us, we know it must be difficult also for those in our audiences who have never attended powwows or been exposed to other aspects of the culture they have been denied by circumstances beyond their control.

We have been frustrated in the past by the need to share information and by the difficulty of doing so. Large-scale photocopying gets expensive and runs afoul of copyright laws. We'd come across an article or a passage in a book and say to each other in despair, "This is so important. How can we share it?!" Every time I bought a new copy of William Loren Katz's Black Indians, Hugh would hand it to somebody saying, "Here, you have to read this," and it would never come home again.

I decided a web page could be a help. I bought the domain name weyanoke.org, and also -.com and -.net as insurance. I paid to have the domain hosted and to have weyanoke.com and weyanoke.net both 'point' to weyanoke.org. That way, even if you typed weyanoke.com by mistake, as a kind of reflex after visiting too many online stores, you would still end up in the right place, weyanoke.org. I spent long hours learning the software needed to design the site because I'm a librarian, not a web designer.

ABOUT US >

We are Red-Black people. We are people of both Native American and African ancestry, and give ourselves permission to honor ALL our Ancestors. We are who WE say we are, not what others call us.

Instead of whispering, "My grandmother was an Indian," do the research. Look up the records. Read a book. Go to a powwow. Learn about and participate in the culture. And stand tall.

You don't need a card

to be who you already are.

CONTACT >

Phone: 804-307-8807, 757-826-6437

Text: 804-307-8807

Email: weyanoke @ weyanoke.org

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The Weyanoke Association is an

IRS approved 501(c)(3) non-profit.

All donations are tax exempt.