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Valley Forge Voices Uncover African American History

National Park News

The Voices of Valley Forge workshop series was held in July and August at Valley Forge National Historical Park in order to showcase the untold stories of African Americans in our nation’s foundation and our contemporary communities. Scholars, historians, artists and performers held participatory workshops for children and their families to bring history alive through re-enactments, learning simulations, spoken word poetry, storytelling, music and dance. Community presenters brought continental attire and accoutrements, books and drums to engage their audiences in explorations of the contributions of enlisted Africans and a celebration of the heritage of African culture in the American colonies and the Valley Forge encampment. 

During the first session, historian Noah Lewis portrayed Edward “Ned” Hector, teamster and bombardier so that families could learn about Ned’s role as an African American soldier in the Revolutionary War and a hero at the Battle of Brandywine. Children were assembled into a cannon crew and learned their crucial roles in the team in a modern day simulation of the loading and firing of the artillery. In the following session storyteller Denise Valentine portrayed African American poet Phillis Wheatley who published her first story at age 12 and was the first African American to publish a book of poems. Ms. Valentine facilitated poetry writing exercises with the workshop participants as children and adults created free verse using vocabulary from Phillis Wheatley’s poems. 

For the third session in the workshop, Dr. Marion Lane, historian and author, shared her experiences conducting historical research and oral history as she uncovered stories of her ancestor’s contributions to during the War for Independence. Marion is one of the few African American members of the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) and the Society of Descendants of Washington’s Army at Valley Forge. Concluding the workshop, visitors met dancer, choreographer and storyteller, Mafalda Thomas-Bouzy who led the participants in explorations and interpretation of African history through dance and drum. Malfalda performed for the participants and led them in circle dances celebrating the African experience. 

The Voices of Valley Forge workshops are supported by the Valley Forge Alumnae Chapter, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., who sponsored and annually commemorates the Patriots of African Descent Monument in Valley Forge National Historical Park. The monument honors the African Americans who took part in the revolutionary war and encamped with General George Washington at Valley Forge. Workshop funding was provided by a grant from the Legacy of Love Foundation

The Voices of Valley Forge series is coordinated by Valley Forge Teacher-Ranger-Teacher Renee Jacobs and is the foundation for a new Parks for Every Classroom lesson plan, available soon on our Valley Forge Website and through the NPS Education Portal, which launches on September 12. 


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