Many people tell the same story differently. Or is it a different story altogether? We all know that America became a country and we all know that George Washington was the first president. But does the story change by knowing more about George Washington? Listening to Jonathan Wood, play George Washington’s enslaved valet Christopher Shields, I would assert that it does.
George Washington was the man that put his own needs aside for a country and gave so much of himself to sustain the confederacy. He fought for freedom. Yet, the same man was “of two minds” as Jonathan eloquently reminded us. He did not fight for freedom for all people.
I found Jonathan’s first person narration and his acting acumen very powerful. I was further impressed with the unified interpretation of site. For a museum that has two separate education departments, 80 docents, and a million visitors they had their story clearly articulated. Lives Bound Together revealed the results of archaeology digs, decades of research and narratives of local decedents of enslaved people to confirm how slavery was intricately woven into every step of Washington’s life.
Yes, Washington was a man of great intelligence, strong will and selfless in many ways. The exhibit does not vilify Washington. Instead it fleshes out his life and in particular the 300 plus enslaved people that helped to facilitate it on a daily basis and the 100,000’s of others who contributed to his daily luxuries like sugar and tobacco. The exhibit presents a part of the story that is necessary to fully understanding Washington. Jonathan’s interpretation reiterated this duality and the house tour also managed to mention the enslaved people who would be lighting the fires, preparing meals and mending clothes.
For those with limited knowledge of Washington I can see how these truths that form the story of Mount Vernon might seem shocking. To this sentiment, Jonathan responded saying that telling the story of Mount Vernon is about having a conversation and telling the truth with dignity and grace. I believe that it is through conversations in great institutions like this one that people will begin to see more fully where America came from and help to shape where it is going.