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Speaking a History
Speaking a History
Reading

This reading requires seventeen people who are able to come forward and represent the generations of African Americans in the British colonies and in the United States. As you name the first generation, indicate to a person that they should stand. Each time you call a new generation, you indicate silently that another person should stand next to the previous person. The line of people will get longer and longer. When you say, "you represent..." address that person directly. When you do the "children's children's children's..." part, move along the line, indicating each person in turn. You may want to pre-arrange with the first person; the rest will follow easily.

LEADER :

1) You represent the first generation of West African people who came to this world in slavery, coming in the year 1619 to Jamestown.

2) You represent the children of those people, born between 1625 and 1650, and you remain enslaved.

3) You represent the children's children of those Jamestown slaves, born between 1650 and 1675, and you remain enslaved.

4) You represent the children's children's children of those Jamestown slaves, born between 1675 and 1700, and many of your generation remain enslaved.

5) You represent the children's children's children's children of those Jamestown slaves, born between 1700 and 1725. Many white people have come and taken land for their towns and cities. The cities and towns are doing well, but you remain enslaved.

6) You represent the children's children's children's children's children, born between 1725 and 1750. The Indians who used to live in the area have been driven out to make way for the expanding number of cities and towns in these British colonies, but still you remain enslaved.

7) You represent the children's children's children's children's children's children, born between 1750 and 1775. These British colonies have begun a way of independence, stating that "all men are created equal." But you remain enslaved.

(8) You represent the children's children's children's children's children's children's children, born between 1775 and 1800. These British colonies are now a country, the United States of America. Many native peoples have lost their lands as the United States has become bigger and bigger. The cotton gin has been invented, meaning that the farmers can grow lots more cotton and make a lot of money. It takes lots of people to take care of the cotton. Many white people choose to get the help they need with the cotton crop by buying more slaves. Thousands more West African people, kidnapped from their homes, arrive in chains. You also remain enslaved.

(9) You represent the children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children, born between 1800 and 1825. This country is twice as big as it was just a few years ago. Many white people are going West, looking for more places to build towns and cities. The cloth mills in the North are hungry for cotton, so farmers in the South grow more and more, needing more and more slaves. As more and more slaves arrive, you too remained enslaved.

(10) You represent the children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children, born between 1825 and 1850. The Indian Removal Act of 1830 is pushing Indians from their land. Many Indians die or are slaughtered. In 1848, the United States took a huge piece of Mexico and now rules over its Spanish-speaking citizens. There are now groups of people writing and speaking against slavery, but still you remain enslaved.

(11) You represent the children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children of the Jamestown slaves, born between 1850 and 1875. The country has fought a Civil War. The railroads have been built by Irish and Chinese workers. The Indian Wars continue in the West, as native peoples are forced into small areas of land called reservations. Slavery has been officially outlawed. You are no longer a slave, but people in power are working hard to limit your rights.

(12) You represent the children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children, born between 1875 and 1900. There are now laws limiting who may come to this country and who may not. The Supreme Court has declared that whites and people of color ought to be separated. You are no longer a slave, but the law says you have fewer rights and privileges than white people.

(13) You represent the children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children, born between 1900 and 1925. A world war is fought in this time, and women are finally allowed to vote. You still live and work under laws that separate you from white people.

(14) You represent the children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children, born between 1925 and 1950. The country suffers the Great Depression, when many people lose their jobs, then fights in the Second World War. Just like in the rest of society, people of color in the army are kept separated from white people. Whole towns full of new homes are built after the war for the returning soldiers; people of color are not allowed to live in those towns.

(15) You represent the children born between 1950 and 1975. This is the time of the Civil Rights Movement and of Martin Luther King. At long last, the children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children of the Jamestown slaves have achieved equality under the law.

(16) You represent the children born between 1975 and 2000, children of those who fought for equality under the law. New forms of discrimination have replaced the old ones- including a War on Drugs that targets young men of color and lack of opportunity and resources, especially for people of color who are poor. Because of generations of slavery and discrimination, people of color have a hard time getting ahead financially.

(17) You represent the generation of today, only the third to live in this country since slavery and segregation were outlawed. Barack Obama was elected president in 2008, but racial discrimination continues and you encounter it in your day to day living. It is up to your generation to retell the story of the past, to understand the struggle, to have dreams about the future- and to call all of us to act to end racial injustice in all of its forms.

Let the seventeen people stand quietly for a minute or so. Then ask them to be seated.

About the Author

  • Gail Forsyth-Vail is a Credentialed Religious Educator, Master Level, who served congregations for twenty-two years before joining the UUA staff in 2008. She is the author of a number of faith development curricula and resources. She was the 2007 recipient of the Angus MacLean Award for Excellence...

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