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PBS broadcast pays visit to Slave Relic Museum

professorgatesBy George Salsberry reporter for The Press and Standard

Henry Louis Gates Jr. stood on the sidewalk waiting.

He  looked skyward and remarked, “It’s going to rain, you can feel the water in the air.”

With that the director said, “Action!”, and Gates began his slow Saturday morning walk to the fron door of the Slave Relic Museum on Carn St.

Gates’ stroll would provide the establishing shot of Gates and author Heather Andrea Williams visit to the museum.  It was a visit filmed by a crew from the Public Broadcasting System.

In the background, museum owners Danny and Laura Drain watched the filming.

“They called us on Wednesday from New York and told us about the project,” Drain said.  “They wanted to use the museum as a backdrop.”  Gates’ newest PBS project will examine African Americans from slavery to the present, he said.

When it was decided to film Saturday morning, Drain said, “we had to move our calendar around to accommodate them.  I’m glad we did.  We got to see Dr. Gates in person, he is a very famous African American historian.  I was honored to have him, I love his work, all the documentaries he’s done over the years.”

Drain said he was also glad to meet Williams, “unfortunately I’m not familiar with her, she’s a new scholar.”

The visit had been scheduled to last four hours.  It took between six and seven hours.  Filming, Drain found is a slow process.

Also visiting the museum that Saturday was Eugene Peters, a professor at Farmingdale University in New York, and a fellow collector of slavery relics.

Gates did a scene inside the museum with Peters showing Gates how African slave shackles were made and demonstrated how they were used in the 1800′s.

2profsPeters, a professor of English and the director of the W.E.B. DuBois Institute for African and African American Research at Harvard, has hosted a number of PBS series including “Wonders of the African World”, “African American Lives”, and “Face of America.”

Gates, a graduate of Yale, was the first African American to receive the Andrew W Mellon Foundation Award.  His bestselling memoir, “Colored People”, described his youth in the small town of Piedmont West Virginia.

His “The Signifying Money,” a scholarly work, received the 1989 American Book Award.

Williams, an assistant professor of history at the University of North Carolina, enterred academia after a career in law.  She was an attorney for the U.S.Department of Justice, and the New York State Attorney General’s Office.

Her first book, “Self Taught”, examined the self education of African Americans in the years before, during, and after the Civil War.  It received the 2006 New Scholar Book Award from the American Educational Research Association, and the 2006 Lillian Smith Book Award from the Souther Regional Council.

Williams’ visit with Gates on the front porch of the Slave Relic Museum in part focused on William’ recently released “Help Me to Find My People.”

Williams’ book examines the forced separation of family members during slavery and following the Civil War, and the search for those missing family members.

“After the Civil War, a lot of African Americans put advertisements in the newspapers to try to locate their loved ones, she did some of her research based on that”, Drain Explained.

Drain said he and Laura were excited by the visit to their museum.  “She shares my passion for history, it is a special calling in our lives to do this.  Slavery is a poignant subject, we try to tell a balanced story.”