Major Grant for Slavery Research Project
Donnamarie Barnes, center, and David E. Rattray of the Plain Sight Project discussed East End slavery with New York University’s Jennifer L. Morgan at the Sag Harbor Cinema in 2021 at the start of a collaboration between the two organizations which led to a $200,000 grant for research and programs.
The Sag Harbor Cinema and Project Plain Sight, an initiative that aims to identify all slaves, as well as free people of color, who lived and worked in the East End and other cities in the northern United States, together received a federal grant of $200,000. sponsored by Senator Charles E. Schumer.
“It’s really exciting, and they’re great partners,” Plain Sight Project Co-Director Donnamarie Barnes said of the Sag Harbor Cinema. The money, along with the collaboration, will enable the Plain Sight organization “to further our research and interpretation of the inclusive history of the East End of Long Island and the role it has played in the history the United States”.
In a press release announcing the grant, Senator Schumer said: ‘This funding will be used to shine a light on the untold history and contributions of people of color throughout the East End, an endeavor that is more important than ever. . .”
Ms. Barnes, who is also curator and archivist at Sylvester Manor Educational Farm on Shelter Island, shares leadership of the Plain Sight project with David E. Rattray, editor of The East Hampton Star. Their pioneering initiative was founded five years ago. With the help of community volunteers, who painstakingly examined primary sources, such as birth and death records, he has uncovered more than 1,000 confirmed slaves in Sag Harbor and East Hampton to date.
Last August, Sag Harbor Cinema launched its Projections program with Forgetting to Remember: Sag Harbor’s Role in Slavery and the Path to Reconciliation. Part of the event included a panel discussion with Ms. Barnes and Mr. Rattray, and was moderated by Jennifer L. Morgan, Sag Harbor Cinema Board Member and Professor and Chair of the Department of Social and Cultural Analysis at New York University. . She is also the author of “Reckoning With Slavery: Gender, Kinship and Capitalism in the Early Black Atlantic”, published in 2020.
The collaboration between the two entities was strengthened after Mr. Rattray was accidentally introduced to Bill Collage, another parent of his son’s class at Ross School and screenwriter of a film called “Emancipation”. Picked up by Apple in 2020, the film is due out later this year. It is described as a Civil War-era action thriller and stars Will Smith as a runaway slave.
Mr. Rattray explained that a casual conversation about their respective projects turned into a much larger conversation involving Ms. Barnes and various people at the Sag Harbor Cinema, where Mr. Collage is the education chair.
Mr. Rattray thanks the staff of Sag Harbor Cinema not only for suggesting that they apply for this grant together, but also for their expertise in grant writing and their relationship in fundraising.
“But we all come from a similar place, which is that we are interested in affecting the community,” he said. “They want to impact Sag Harbor more broadly than just showing movies. They try to reach other audiences, whether young people or teachers. And so for us on the Plain Sight side, this is an opportunity to really gain organizational muscle and brain power.
Ms. Barnes and Mr. Rattray spoke enthusiastically about how the funding will help them achieve the cornerstone of their organization’s goals: to raise awareness of slavery in the North.
“It’s existed for nearly 200 years in New York State, in everyone’s hometown or resort town,” Rattray said. “It’s an American story, not a Southern story. And now we can prove it because we have the documents. They don’t lie. No interpretation is necessary. There is a person’s life documented on a piece of paper, so face it. As property, slaves were listed in household accounts and therefore listed in inventories, which allows such initiatives to rectify the airbrush of history that has operated for centuries.
The co-directors also discussed the possibility of making a documentary film, as well as creating an interactive website presenting “a heat map of slavery”. They hope to spend on social media campaigns to spread the word and develop outreach programs that would target the educational community. They would even like to create a model of their research and documentation methodology, which other communities could emulate.
“We have ambitions to research more domains across Long Island and even reach collaborators in Connecticut, Massachusetts or Rhode Island. Being associated with a large, influential organization like the Sag Harbor Cinema will really help speed up that process,” Rattray said.