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This Woman Is Making Sure Historical Reenactments Get Slavery Right

Re-enactor Cheney McKnight is single-handedly changing the landscape of historical interpretation.

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There are countless museums and historic sites around America, many of which host historical re-enactors wearing the clothes of the times. Just take a walk around colonial Williamsburg or Philadelphia and you’ll see plenty of white-wigged men in breeches and gold-buttoned coats. Same goes for Southern battlefields and their Civil War characters.

But where are the slaves? That’s what Cheyney McKnight wanted to know.

“I went to historical sites and I was really pissed off by the interpretation of African-Americans,” says McKnight. Slaves are often totally absent from the accounts and imagery at historical sites, or else misrepresented without attention to accuracy or humanizing details.

McKnight started reenacting in 2013 and has worked with more than 40 different historical sites since with her company, Not Your Momma’s History. She creates all her own garments and encourages visitors, especially kids, to touch the clothes, analyze them, try to imagine themselves in them, and therefore better understand the history.

As she puts it, “I am telling a story with each layer.”

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