by Karen Fields PhD.
Shared History is the intimate story of an unbroken connection between black and white families that was forged in slavery and three descendants who try to come to terms with the realities of these ties.
Shared History is a story told through the complexities of the contemporary and historical relationship of families descended from the enslaved people and slave owners of Woodlands Plantation. The families have maintained often-close personal ties through slavery, the Civil War, Reconstruction, the legalization of segregation, the Great Depression, both World Wars, the mass exodus of African Americans from the South, and the Civil Rights Movement. The relationship survives today.
Through their interactions, these families contributed equally to creating traditions and culture that they share today. The connection between the Woodlands families was perplexing and often frustrating. But their encounters created, even demanded, relationships tied to a common history, the land, and to each other. Long after the legal ties of slavery were dissolved, those connections, though profoundly flawed, endure.
Their sustained encounters have produced parallel and overlapping stories, congruent and conflicting memories, and dramatic and mundane traditions. And they come together in Shared History to face the truth of their age-old bond, and negotiate—as they did over the several centuries they have been connected—a new relationship that will take them into the 21st century.
The film examines how and why black and white families of unequal status consciously or unconsciously maintained relationships, specifically those created in a racially charged US in the 19th and 20th centuries. Through the eyes and experiences of the Woodlands families, we can examine the traditional chain of transmission that re-enforces the habits of racial etiquettes through several generations. We can experience the families’ process of remembering and forgetting, how they continue to invent their history and how they conspire with each other to create ways to live with and, perhaps, sometimes even celebrate, the actions and conduct of their ancestors.
Starting from an acceptance of the disorderly and ever-changing views of race in this country, we invite viewers to examine the survival of the relationship of these families—whether based on genuine affection or for economic and psychological reasons no longer effective or needed today—and consider what choices and compromises we all might make in the same situation.
Woodlands Plantation, 1952
The plantation originally contained over 4,000 acres; it now comprises about 2,000 acres and is owned by descendants of William Gilmore Simms.
Charles Orr, Rhonda Kearse, & Felicia Furman
(from left to right)
1860 slave census, William Gilmore Simms