Unearth Black History on the East End at ‘Narratives in the Making’

Narratives in the Making moderators Dr. Georgette Grier-Key, and Donnamarie Barnes
Narratives in the Making moderators Dr. Georgette Grier-Key, and Donnamarie Barnes, Photo: Barbara Lassen

In celebration of Black History Month, Sylvester Manor Educational Farm and Eastville Community Historical Society (ECHS) present Narratives in the Making: Unearthing the Stories Within Us. At the organizations’ sixth annual panel at Bay Street Theater on Sunday, February 23, moderators Dr. Georgette Grier-Key of ECHS and Donnamarie Barnes of Sylvester Manor will be joined by two esteemed panelists, Cordell Reaves and Dr. Christopher Matthews, to discuss the various pieces that make up a historical story.

The Narratives in the Making panel will explore the ways stories are uncovered through social sciences, humanities, oral history, archaeology and documentation; the methods used to present those stories to the public; and the 400th anniversary of enslaved Africans being brought into America, all of which will be analyzed through an East End place-based lens. Each speaker brings a unique perspective to the discussion, with expertise in archaeology, geography, topography, geology, anthropology, historic interpretation and other fields. “As researchers, it’s really important for all of us on the panel to take everything into context,” Grier-Key says. “We’re not interested in rewriting history but in telling it like it is.”

Panelist Cordell Reaves has been a museum professional for nearly 20 years, working with NYS Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation as a historic interpretation and preservation analyst who has worked with museums and other sites to coordinate exhibitions and educational programming and to increase cultural heritage tourism. He also contributed to the Schuyler Flatts Burial Ground Project, which gave a proper, respectful burial to the remains of 14 enslaved people found on a colonial-era Upstate New York property in 2016.

As a professor of anthropology and historical archaeologist at Montclair State University, Dr. Christopher Matthews is well versed in the archaeology of capitalism and race in the United States. The Narratives in the Making panelist has penned two books on the subject and co-edited a third. Grier-Key lauds him as “a person who disrupts the traditional framework that has not included the others—meaning women’s history, indigenous peoples history and African American history—who utilizes archaeology to unearth artifacts, places, times and collections of people’s stories.”

Donnamarie Barnes serves as the curator/archivist at Sylvester Manor, where she works diligently to preserve the remaining materials of Shelter Island’s slave-owning past and interpret their importance to the public. With so many of the East End’s early African Americans originating from the Sylvester Manor plantation, Barnes plays a vital role in piecing together the North and South Forks’ history.

As the executive director/curator of ECHS, Grier-Key is in charge of day-to-day operations, meeting with archaeologists and students about accessing the research center’s extensive resources, putting together new exhibits—such as the current 400 Years: A Place-Based Observation and The Age of Whaling: A Retrospective—and a host of other duties. “I think we have such a great collection, from our photos to our documents, and a lot of them are local, which is great,” she says. “We have a robust collection that tells part of the story of Eastville, but there are some gaps as well.”

Grier-Key continues, “What I’m hoping that people will take away from [Narratives in the Making], besides knowledge and understanding, is what they can do to preserve history today for tomorrow. A lot of times we see in our history that we have these gaps because of the way record-keeping was or the way people lived. I want people to be mindful that today is history, and we need to preserve it for tomorrow and be stewards of our history.” Take a step toward a more enlightened tomorrow by joining the thought-provoking panel discussion on Sunday, February 23 at 2 p.m.

For tickets to Narratives in the Making, visit sylvestermanor.org, and for more info on Eastville Community Historical Society, visit eastvillehistorical.org.

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