October 9, 2002
I am presently in Richmond, Virginia, working on the HBO movie, Iron-Jawed Angels that is slated to air in May, 2003. I feel very honored to be portraying the turn of the century historical figure, Ida B. Wells, who was a civil rights and women's rights activist, anti-lynching researcher, writer and teacher.
In this Women's Suffrage Movement movie, her voice is heard as one who was also involved in the Women's Rights Movement for the vote. The film takes place during 1912 - 1913.
Also cast in this important historical movie are Hilary Swank (who I play opposite) and Anjelica Huston. Audiences will learn about little known Alice Paul and Lucy Burns, who were overshadowed by suffragists, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who history books have favored.
It has been a joy working with Hilary Swank. I have found her to be warm, playful, talented and very present in her work and accessibility. We were fortunate enough to have two days of rehearsal prior to shooting.
I was able to spend yesterday with my niece, Venita, who joined me from New Jersey to spend the day. I got my heart's desire by going to Jamestown, Virginia, with her. I wanted to set foot on the soil where many of our ancestors were brought by the British in 1619 against their will as slaves.
I cried as I sat at the shore. I could feel the spirits of my ancestors in that place. I also said a prayer for those who came before me as I listened to the waves hit the shore, felt the cool wind against my cheek and heard the birds chirping. Venita and I even found five stone walls that looked as if they may have been used to shackle slaves to sell them right there as they debarked the ships.
We also journeyed to the nearby Jamestown Settlement, a tourist attraction that romanticizes Virginia in the 17th Century.
The display at the entrance speaks only of "the early settlers" and the Native Americans. There is absolutely no mention of slavery nor of African Americans. It was as if we had been erased from the minds of those who do not want to remember our painful past. There was no recognition of our blood, sweat and tears nor our incredible contributions through the slave trade that built Virginia, as well as the entire United States.
It saddened my heart to see young Anglo children about to take the journey through history who would only get half-truths of their history.
Fortunately, Venita and I were then guided to Carter's Grove where we visited a plantation on the site of 400 acres that included a replica of slave quarters that were built on the grounds of the actual slave quarters.
We met a very knowledgeable African American man, Robert Watson, who has worked for 24 years with Colonial Williamsburg Foundation in different capacities. He actually built the replica of the quarters and is at the helm of educating tourists who come through Carter's Grove daily. He has a wealth of knowledge about that era. He is a Black man who knows who he is, his history and who is unafraid to tell the truth.
He said he has walked the entire 400 acres of that plantation's property. He also said he has camped out over night on the grounds. He said the spirits don't frighten him.
I felt very full as I left Jamestown, for I had journeyed back in time. I had eventually found on that day what my heart yearned for.
What a great people I come from. A people who sacrificed much for those who have come after them.
Like Robert, I feel a calling to keep Black history alive to make sure our past is never forgotten.
Clearly, I have been summoned to Virginia for more than shooting an HBO film.