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Thursday, August 22, 2013

James D. Russell's Sperryville

The Sperryville Documentation Project is an audiovisual collection documenting the Sperryville, VA community. It contains video interviews with historian James D. Russell (1921-2011) about his work preserving the history of the community, his family, and particularly his great grandmother Sister Caroline Terry, who was born into slavery in Rappahannock County, VA. Due to his family's strong ties to the area, Mr. Russell's familial history offers an insightful historical account of the town and the community as well.

In an effort to document his story and that of Sister Caroline, Russell wrote two books: Beyond The Rim: From Slavery To Redemption In Rappahannock County, Virginia (2005) and The Resting Rock: Ghosts, Memories & Folk Tales (2006). The video interviews contained in this collection serve as a supplement to Russell's written historical accounts. In the interviews, he discusses Sister Caroline and various aspects of her life as a slave (including the hymns she sang and lessons she passed down to him) as well as his own memories of civil rights milestones, such as attaining the right to vote. Russell states that he wanted his family's story documented to remind younger people that what they have now is the result of the struggles of those who came before. In keeping Sister Caroline's memory alive, Russell breathes life into the history of an entire community.

Mr. Russell sits next to a sign he posted on his land to mark the location of the now empty burial site of enslaved persons on  the former plantation where his ancestors labored. Photo by Steven Cummings.

Sister Caroline's grave site, located just a few minutes from Mr. Russell's Sperryville home. Photo by Steven Cummings.
The Sperryville Documentation Project Collection, which is housed in the Anacostia Community Museum Archives (ACMA), contains all of the original miniDV tapes, DVCAM masters, and VHS access copies of the recorded video documentation of Mr. Russell and the community, as well as digital photographs taken at the time of taping. The original miniDV tapes in this collection are currently being transferred to digital file formats to make them available for online streaming. Below is the newly transferred James D. Russell Interview, Part 1 (Note that the first part of the video is B-roll footage of the area. The interview begins at 00:14:37):

To view more videos from the collection, visit the Anacostia Community Museum's YouTube Channel.

Taylor McBride, Audiovisual Archivist
Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum

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