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Shared History is about  the complex contemporary and historical relationship between black and white families connected to Woodlands Plantation.  The connection began before the Revolutionary War and continues to the present today.  Although its focus is on the specific families connected to this particular place, everyone is invited to post comments about the project and film and their own experiences and comments related to the topic.  More information is available at www.sharedhistory.org where you can buy a copy of the DVD. 

Woodlands is near Bamberg South Carolina and what’s left of it–it was burned by Sherman–is still owned by my family.  A much smaller house was built by the former enslaved people using the brick remaining from the “big house.”   My ancestor, American writer William Gilmore Simms, was the last slave owner at Woodlands.

What started out as a family oral history project became the PBS documentary, Shared History.  The one-hour film is based on the conversations and encounters of our families as they came together to begin a conversation about the realities of our connected past.

For generations, descendants of slaves and slave owners at Woodlands have passed down stories about the ongoing relationship between their families.  While independently researching their families’ histories, three contemporary descendants, Rhonda, Charles, and myself, meet and begin to uncover the mythologies about the old relationship. 

Rhonda is descended from one of the enslaved families who stayed on at the plantation after the Civil War.  Charles’ family left.  He did not know his great grandfather had been the coachman, much less a slave, at Woodlands.  I am a member of the Simms family, which has owned the plantation since 1821.  I was told as a child that our ancestors had been “good masters.”

Using an extraordinary collection of historic images, documents, and oral histories as well as family photographs, film footage, and videos, this program documents the living descendants’ efforts to examine the persistence of the relationship and expose the myths that have sustained their connection for more than two centuries.

Shared History personalizes contemporary views of an American history—a history that includes slavery, its aftermath of segregation, and its ongoing inequalities.  By witnessing the interactions of Americans directly connected to each other through slavery, viewers hear the stories and see the behaviors that made this particular relationship possible.  In doing so, they are challenged to examine their personal responsibility for perpetuating or transforming the national mythologies of slavery and race that we all live with today.

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