SCAD premieres short film honoring couple who escaped enslavement in Georgia

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SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – SCAD Museum of Art screened a short film documentary Monday evening about the lives of William and Ellen Craft and their journey to freedom.

The premiere event included remarks from Savannah Mayor Van Johnson and Paula Wallace, president and founder of the Savannah College of Art and Design. There was also a vocal performance from Candice Glover, winner of the 12th season of American Idol.

A panel discussion followed the screening of “A Thousand Miles and Counting,” with members of the Craft family.

The short film produced by SCAD is based on the Crafts’ autobiography entitled “Running A Thousand Miles to Freedom.” The film also features narration by descendants of the Crafts.

The film is just one part of a series of moves made by the museum to honor the legacy of William and Ellen Craft. The museum also placed a marker on its first floor commemorating the Crafts in 2016 and has developed a curriculum to teach middle school students the story of the Craft family.

“It begins to trace a history that we’re often uncomfortable to confront,” said Joël Díaz, the director of the Walter O. Evans Center for African American Studies. “It begins at least to kind of acknowledge the vast array of stories that maybe exist that we ought to commit to.”

Díaz said the film is another way to honor not only the Craft family’s legacy but the lives of those who did not have the ability to write their own stories. Anti-literacy laws prevented enslaved people from being taught how to read or write.

“We’re kind of boldly standing in place and saying, ‘Here’s what you need to know,’” said Díaz.

The Crafts are most known for the method in which they escaped enslavement.

Film poster for “A Thousand Miles and Counting” (provided by SCAD)

“They were able to devise this plan for what Ellen, posing as a white southern young planter, and William as her slave,” Vicki Davis Williams, the great-great-granddaughter of the Crafts, said.

This plan was possible because Ellen was white-passing.

The primary motivator for the two planning this daring escape was their desire for their future children to be free.

“They did not want to have children while in slavery because they themselves had witnessed being torn away and experienced being torn away from their siblings and from their parents,” Williams said.

The original Central of Georgia Railway in Savannah was the Crafts’ first stop on a long journey and is now the location of the SCAD Museum of Art.

The two reached freedom in Philadelphia on Christmas morning of 1848. From there they traveled to Boston before eventually fleeing to London after the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act in 1850.

In 1868, they returned to America and later settled in Charleston.

“I do believe that this story isn’t over yet. I believe there’s stories to come,” said Peggy Trotter Dammond Preacely, a great-great-granddaughter of the Crafts.

In addition to the screening, the film will be shown in perpetuity by the museum and a larger display is already in the works for the second floor of the museum.

The SCAD Museum of Art is open to the public from Wednesdays through Mondays.

The film is also available on the museum’s website at scadmoa.org/crafts.

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