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Making a Life: History Through the Eyes of the Enslaved

President Polk State Historic Site program will examine how the enslaved made meaningful lives

Editor’s Note: Joseph McGill will be available for telephone interview Thursday, Sept. 28. Contact Scott Warren, (704) 889-7145 or Fay Mitchell (919) 807-7389, for details.

A living history village will be created for the program, “Inalienable Rights: Living History Through the Eyes of the Enslaved,” at the President James K. Polk State Historic Site, Saturday, Sept. 30, 10 a.m.-3 p.m.  It is the conclusion to the Slave Dwelling Project Weekend held jointly with the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African American Arts + Culture, which will host a communal dinner led by Joseph McGill Friday, Sept. 29.

Visitors to the Saturday program will see how enslaved people cultivated a sense of community as they performed daily tasks such as cooking that blended African traditions with European and Native American ingredients and methods. Storytellers will share stories that have been passed down through the generations and explain the important role the tradition of storytelling played in the lives of the enslaved. There also will be a talk expanding on the wider history of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. 

Children and adults can learn about what life would have been like for enslaved children. A reenactor will share not only the responsibilities of enslaved children, but also talk about some of the ways they found to add play into their lives using the simplest of items to create toys and games. Children can try their hand at creating crafts that show the resourcefulness of people who could turn common trash into a humble treasure.

At each station, questions will be provided to encourage visitors to take a deeper look at this important part of our past. Conversation and dialogue are key components to understanding how our history connects with our present. The day will show how people carved out meaningful lives, survived, and sometimes even subtly thrived, despite impossible adversity.

Preceding the living history day at the President James K. Polk State Historic Site, there will be a Friday dinner at the Harvey B. Gantt Center in Charlotte. The communal dinner will bring Joseph McGill, executive director and founder of the Slave Dwelling Project, to lead conversations about race, history and culture in a safe space. McGill identifies extant slave dwellings and works for their preservation and interpretation. Although tickets are still available, they are going fast. You can purchase yours at

For additional information about the Saturday living history program and President Polk site, call (704) 889-7145. The President James K. Polk State Historic Site is located at 12031 Lancaster Hwy, Pineville, N.C. It is part of the Division of State Historic Sites within the N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources.

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