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Multimedia Project On Slave-Turned-Spy, James Armistead Lafayette, Premieres This Week!

by Tambay A. Obenson
June 20, 2011 3:19 AM
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In New York City this week, Kenseth Armstead premieres his Creative Capital-supported project, Spook™ (a multi-media project on the life and times of James Armistead Lafayette, a slave-turned-spy who provided intelligence to help end the American Revolution).

... After extensive historical research, Armstead re-tells the story of this man through a variety of contemporary media formats, including hand-drawn images, collage, performance-based work and HD video production. The exhibition Spook™: INVOCATION is comprised of thirty graphic novel inspired drawings depicting three months in the spying life of James in 1781, when he was successfully working as a double agent for America's first Director of Central Intelligence, George Washington... This re-mixed take on the story of the American Revolution forces the viewer to examine whether all of our history has been told. James, a lost hero, is drawn in context, for the first time, as a fully realized character. The artist invites the viewer to join him in ambitiously inserting an African Founding Father into the pantheon of heroes traditionally celebrated on July 4th.

As I said in my previous post about the so-called "arsonist slave," here's another fascinating, rarely-mentioned story that I'd like to see developed into a feature film narrative to be released on the big screen.

For more on Kenseth's project, click HERE for its Creative Capital page. Opening night reception is on June 23rd. I might be able to attend.

Watch a brief profile of Armistead Lafayette in the video below, courtesy of the African American Trailblazers series:

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  • Vanessa | June 21, 2011 2:34 AMReply

    I saw a re-enacted documentary. Fascinating.

    Robert Smalls "From Slave To Politician" 1839 - 1915

    Slave Robert Smalls had been hired out by his owner to work in the Charleston, SC, shipyards when he was 12 years old. By the spring of 1862, at age 23, Smalls was piloting a steam-powered side-wheeler through the waterways around Charleston. The shallow-draft Planter, built as a cotton transport with a capacity of 1,400 bales, was perfectly suited for maneuvering through South Carolina's coastal waters.

    For many months the Planter and its slave crew had been chartered to the Confederate government for critical missions throughout the Rebel-controlled waterways. In the predawn hours of May 13, 1862, Robert Smalls, with his wife and two children and 12 other slaves, commandeered the Planter. Dressed as the boat's captain and knowing the proper signals that would enable him to pass Fort Sumter, Smalls set out toward the Union navy's blockading fleet and offered his boat to the Union ships.

    In addition to the Planter, the Union received the armament and cargo of four cannon and vital intelligence about the Confederate defenses. Their best plum, however, turned out to be Robert Smalls himself. He was made the civilian captain of the Planter, participated in 17 engagements, provided services as a pilot- and he learned to read. Smalls became a celebrity during the war. He met President Lincoln and participated in fund-raising activities.

    At the end of the war Smalls bought his former master's home, including the slave quarters where he was born, and lived there for the rest of his life. He served two years in South Carolina's house of representatives and three years in the state senate. Smalls was sentenced to three years in prison for having taken a $5,000 bribe as a senator, but was pardoned. Beginning in 1875, Smalls was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives for five terms. He served as collector for the port of Beaufort, SC, for his last 19 years. In 1897 Congress awarded him a pension of $30 a month, and in 1900 he was awarded $5,000 for his role in the capture of the Planter.

  • CareyCarey | June 20, 2011 10:01 AMReply

    Well Vanessa, move over, it looks like we are sleeping in the same bed.

    Again I have to tip my hat to Tambay becuase the man continues to bring us news that's significant and speaks to the cries, demands and suggestion that we need to see more of "our" stories. And check this out, it's not a "black" story, it's an American story. An American story with a black and white cast, but nevertheless, "our" story.

    Keep it up Tambay, somebody is listening.

    And on a side note. Tambays two recents posts on slaves and their struggles reminds me of what I don't like about Black History Month i.e. the championing of the safe negroes, and the messages that the power structure only wnats us to hear. And don't get me started on the reguired reading in or school systems... "Nigga Jim" and "Kill That Black Mockingbird". Oh yeah, great American Classics!

    So again, Hip Hip Hooray for Tambay who said:

    "As I said in my previous post about the so-called “arsonist slave,” here’s another fascinating, rarely-mentioned story that I’d like to see developed into a feature film narrative to be released on the big screen"

    Btw Vanessa, you'll have to school me on Robert Smalls?

  • Vanessa | June 20, 2011 4:43 AMReply

    I love stories like this. Another story that should be brought to the big screen is ROBERT SMALLS! The captain that escaped with his fam and other slaves on a confederate ship during the Civil War.

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