One December morning in 1848, William and Ellen Craft, an enslaved couple from Macon, Georgia, risked everything to live free. From Macon to Savannah, Charleston to Boston, they faced many dangers and the never-ending fear of discovery. Their story demonstrates courage, inventiveness, and determination in the relentless pursuit of what should have been theirs from birth: liberty.
Along their journey, the Crafts passed through the Central of Georgia Railway depot — the very place where the SCAD Museum of Art stands today. In A Thousand Miles and Counting, the Crafts’ daring escape is retold by descendants of the Craft family — Gail DeCosta, Peggy Trotter Dammond Preacely, and Vicki Davis Williams — along with Dr. Walter O. Evans, benefactor of the SCAD Museum of Art’s collection of African American art, and Joël Díaz, director of the museum’s Evans Center for African American Studies.
The film premiered in November 2021 accompanied by educational programming, including a public conversation on the importance of preserving African American history and documenting acts of resistance, as well as workshops for students in the Savannah-Chatham County Public School System. Now on view at SCAD MOA as part of the museum’s new season of exhibitions and coinciding with the university’s celebration of Black History Month, the film acknowledges and provides context for a painful history, seeking to both commemorate the Crafts’ liberatory journey and play a key role in ensuring a just, equitable, and inclusive future.
This documentary was born of the desire to see the story of the Crafts told with the care and detail that put overdue focus on their brave journey.
Dr. Walter O. Evans originally shared the story of the Crafts with SCAD President and Founder Paula Wallace during the SCAD Museum of Art’s expansion in 2011, sparking an ongoing dedication to sharing this history that has extended across the past decade. As Dr. Evans observed, “This acknowledgment by SCAD — recognizing the passage of the Crafts through this place that today stands as an educational and cultural junction of the highest order — is a perfect illustration of how SCAD rises to every occasion, taking care to celebrate narratives both well-known and lesser known so that we all might share in the universality of the human experience.”
During the discussion Dr. Evans talked about how 16 years ago, he went to the City of Savannah and many others numerous times to try to create something to recognize the contributions of Ellen and William Craft, but he says not enough people were interested.
“I had been trying to get state and local officials to create a marker to recognize, not just the Crafts but for other luminaries that had come to Savannah and there was no interest at all...until I made some statements in the New York Times. A reporter wanted to tell the story of how tourists and people come to Savannah and never know anything about the African American contributions to the city,” said Dr. Evans.
In 2016, SCAD commissioned and installed a commemorative bronze medallion designed by SCAD graduate and foundation studies professor Andrew MacDonald, in the lobby of the SCAD Museum of Art to illuminate the Crafts’ remarkable feat.
“In these times, we hear words like inclusion and equity. By acknowledging and providing context for this history, SCAD seeks to play a key role in ensuring a just, equitable, and inclusive future. I am also glad the SCAD Museum of Art’s Evans Center for African American Studies has partnered with Dr. Ann Levett and the Savannah-Chatham County Public School System to share the Craft story with our students,” said Savannah Mayor Van Johnson, who was at the screening of the documentary.
SCAD Museum of Art’s Evans Center for African American Studies partnered with the Savannah-Chatham County Public School System to share the Craft story with students in Savannah for a community-engaged learning experience. In this two-part experience, SCAD Museum of Art hosted an hour-long film screening and contextual conversation in SCCPSS schools, followed by a 90-minute tour and workshop at SCAD MOA.
More than a dozen SCAD alumni contributed to the documentary, which, in addition to serving as a testament to the university’s lifelong commitment to providing new platforms for the work of SCAD graduates, provides exceptional value as an educational tool. The film uniquely engages the Crafts’ descendants to keep their story alive in the hearts and minds of the Savannah community and beyond.
“For more than four decades, SCAD has celebrated real histories, real stories of unsung heroes in Savannah, Georgia,” said the university’s President and Founder Paula Wallace. “We honor the legacies of those who drove decisive change. The journey of William and Ellen Craft, as beautifully told by SCAD creatives in this short film, is one more example of SCAD’s commitment to the men and women who envisioned a better future, believed in themselves and each other, and took courageous steps to change the world for generations to come.”
Supplemented by public programming and a curriculum guide for teachers and students, the film offers a unique experience for study, discovery, and reflection. With nearly 11,000 views on YouTube, the film has outperformed all other SCAD-produced video content on the platform. Through its exhibition at the SCAD Museum of Art, it continues to reach countless others.
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