Words by Sarah Deloach
The Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) honored two important figures in American history in the university’s new short film titled “A Thousand Miles and Counting,” that celebrates the legacy of William and Ellen Craft and their daring escape from slavery. A film screening and conversation was hosted on November 15, 2021, at the SCAD Museum of Art in Savannah that commemorated the liberating journey where the film is now on view. The conversation was led by Joël Díaz, the director of SCAD MOA's Evans Center of African American Studies, and included Dr. Walter O. Evans, historian Vaughnette Goode- Walker, and Craft descendants Gail DeCosta and Vicki Davis Williams. The discussion explored the importance of preserving African American history and documentation of acts of resistance, the Crafts bravery, and SCAD’s ongoing mission to showcase their story for the past five years.
The eight-minute documentary is based on the book “Running a Thousand Miles for Freedom,” a written account by William and Ellen Craft, which was first published in 1860. In 1848, the Crafts, an enslaved African-American couple, escaped from their enslavers in Macon, Georgia, to embark on a perilous four-day journey to the Northern free states. To make their escape, the couple had to devise a plan: Ellen, who could pass as a person because of her lighter skin, would disguise herself as a deaf, male slave owner, and William as her enslaved person. Upon completing the first stage of their journey, the Crafts arrived in Savannah, passing through the Central of Georgia Railway depot— the exact location where the SCAD Museum of Art stands today. Safe passage through Savannah was the first divination of their successful journey, one that would ultimately land them in England in search of refuge.
Additionally, to help promote and preserve the Craft legacy as an active part of the SCAD Museum of Art learning experience, SCAD created an in-depth curriculum guide for K-12 audiences to engage with museum exhibitions, featuring a published educational guide for schoolchildren based on the Crafts’ inspiring story, to be shared with the schools in the area. The curriculum guide includes original illustrations by esteemed SCAD artists. SCAD Museum of Art’s Evans Center for African American Studies has partnered with the Savannah-Chatham County Public School System to share the Craft story with students in Savannah for community-engaged learning experience.
In this two-part experience, SCAD Museum of Art will host an hour-long film screening and contextual conversation in local schools, followed by a 90-minute tour and workshop at SCAD MOA to learn about elements discussed in the film: legacies of enslavement; historical preservation; and the importance of advocacy and activism. SCAD would eventually like to expand this initiative to schools around the state and nation.
To find out more and view the film, visit scadmoa.org/crafts.