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Connections: Our Shared Heritage

Wed, 06/12/2019 - 12:23

The logo of the Eastville Community Historical Society, a longtime nonprofit based in Sag Harbor, has three profiles, one black, one white, and one red.  When the society sponsored musical and dramatic performances at Guild Hall in East Hampton on Sunday, however, 99 percent of the people in the audience were people of color. 

Naturally, groups centered around a religious, ethnic, or cultural group are likely to draw their own constituency, but when a public program takes place in a geographic area that brags of inclusiveness and talks a lot of talk about breaking down racial barriers, we felt a bit disappointed that the audience wasn’t more diverse. A public program titled “Examining Slavery on the East End” should have drawn a broad audience spectrum. This isn’t just someone else’s history, it is our common history.

The truth is, even today, de facto segregation is still endemic on the South Fork, as it is in the majority of places in this great country. White Americans like to pretend that all of this is in our past, but most of us never do question why we often spend days and weeks at a time socializing in groups that are homogenous in the extreme.

Also on the bill at Guild Hall on Sunday was Voices of Virtue, a nonprofit choral ensemble of more than a dozen members which describes its mission as preserving music composed and arranged by African-Americans, presenting a program called “Our Heritage, Our Music.”  With the motto “Making Music Makes a Difference,” the ensemble’s overarching goal is to empower young artists to “impact the community, nation, and the world, one day at a time.” The group has performed in Austria, Puerto Rico, and throughout this country since its founding in 2010.

 I tend to enjoy music above all else, but the accompanying theater piece, “Running Scared, Running Free,” was electrifying. It was set after the Fugitive Slave Act was adopted in 1850, and the cast of three included a runaway female slave, a black “conductor” on the Underground Railroad, and a ruthless bounty hunter.

The powerful play was written by Sal St. George 35 years ago and has been presented by St. George Living History Productions for schools and nonprofit organizations ever since. Carolyn Brown brought down the house as the runaway, Dorcas, modestly noting  during a Q. and A. period that followed the perfor­mance that she had been doing it for years. As the bounty hunter, Darren St. George, Sal’s son, delivered a current message: Evil and brutality may no longer be the official law of the land, but this country has a long way to go before it can claim equality for all.

Georgette Grier-Key, the executive director of the Eastville Community Historical Society, will be honored on Aug. 24 at a benefit for the Harlem Cultural Archives Historical Society at the society’s heritage house on Hampton Street in Sag Harbor. Please watch for forthcoming publicity about the event and a chance to show your support.


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