By exploring your ancestors’ history, you may find that your family tree has deep and far reaching roots; roots that stretch through the common ground all of us share regardless of the racial, ethnic, religious or socio-economic differences that seem to divide us. That’s the message of two free events offered in March by Converse College.
On March 9 at 6:30 p.m. in Hartness Auditorium, Converse will host a discussion led by filmmaker Felicia Furman and a screening of her acclaimed documentary “Shared History.” Furman says that the film “is the intimate story of an unbroken connection of black and white families forged in slavery.”
On March 14 from 10 a.m.-12 p.m. in Dalton Auditorium, Dr. Alexia Helsley, a retired historian from the S.C. Department of Archives and History and frequent leader of genealogical training sessions, will lead a genealogy workshop specifically designed for African American decedents.
Both events, which are free and open to the public, are made possible by Converse’s Creative Collaboration Initiative, an internal grant program designed to promote the development of innovative thinkers and leaders who effect positive change on the Converse campus and beyond. The events are organized by the College’s History and Political Science Department, and Chaplain’s Office.
The one-hour “Shared History” documentary explores the almost 300-year relationship between black and white families connected to Woodlands Plantation in Midway, S.C. Furman is a member of the Simms family, the plantation’s owners since 1821. She will be joined on the Converse stage by Rhonda Kearse, a New York architect and descendent of the Rumph family. Kearse’s great, great grandfather, Jim Rumph, was a foreman at Woodlands and stayed on there after the Civil War. Furman and Kearse met in 1996 through Kearse’s grandmother. Both had been working separately on their families’ history.
“The story (of the Woodlands families) had to be told because it has such a forceful contemporary message—that we are who we are because of each other, that there are many experiences but only one history. It is something we all accept more now with the election of Barack Obama, but when I began preliminary research for ‘Shared History’ in 1993, this country was still thinking in terms of black history and white history,” said Furman from her Colorado home. “The relationships between the black and white families of Woodlands were/are complex because despite of—or because of—their connection through slavery and then later sharecropping and other exploitative economic realities, the families needed each other to survive. For instance, the black families who stayed (on Woodlands Plantation) after the Civil War needed my family as a buffer to the outside world to help arrange credit and to protect individuals from possible lynching and unfair police actions.