Former Weeksville Workers Speak Out

On April 19, 2021, the Humble Hunterflies, a collective of former Weeksville Heritage Center (WHC) staff, released a letter “To the ancestors, Black cultural and memory workers, and the beloved Weeksville community.” Published on Medium with the title, “The Erasure of Ego from the Black Cultural Institution,” the letter shares worker experiences at Weeksville during the tenure of former executive director Rob Fields and is a declaration of how the Humble Hunterflies would like to see Weeksville and other Black institutions managed moving forward.

Marabou amplifies this letter because it shares a perspective that doesn’t usually get the press or audience it deserves: that of the worker. Workers’ stories should inform and shape institutional narratives just as much as those of institutional leaders and historians. The Humble Hunterflies write,

“This letter is a call for the respect and acknowledgment of collective work and the organizational structures that support this ideological concept. Deading the great man of history trope, we proclaim: The future will be birthed by way of collective leadership.”[1]

Their assertion of doing away with the single male hero narrative is a direct response to former executive director Rob Fields. On April 6, the New York Times published the article, “How Weeksville, a Center of Black History, Fought to Survive,” in which Weeksville’s new CEO, Raymond Codrington, was announced and the institution’s ups and downs over the past few years were discussed. When the article was initially released, Rob Fields was not mentioned at all, so on April 7 he took to Instagram and his own blog to tell his side of the story. Fields asserts,

“My presence at the helm of this organization during this crucial period was written out of the story… It is always important to claim what you know to be true. More importantly, I didn’t want to let this story sit out here with my contributions expunged, as if I was never there. I refused to be silent and carry that around with me. To do so would be to accept the violence and harm that erasure entails.”[2]

The Times has since amended the article and added Fields to the story. Fields is right about the violence of erasure. However, what he calls “Correcting the Record” (the title of his blog post) was about clarifying his contributions to Weeksville and his alone. What Fields shares about Weeksville during his tenure is also an incomplete narrative and does not fully rectify erasure, but is its own form of modified erasure. The Humble Hunterflies fill in the gaps of Fields’ account and provide a summary of their experiences when Fields was executive director, including examples of his “ego-driven leadership.”[3] The Hunterfiles detail a timeline of events from Fields’ tenure and address pay discrepancies, unhealthy work interactions, mismanagement of funding and programs, and other offenses that led to the staff collectively asking for Fields to be removed in February 2020.

In his video, Fields acknowledges that he did not do all the work alone. However, the main emphasis is put on what he did without expanding the story to include or call attention the collective efforts of the many workers who kept the organization functioning through the years. The Hunterflies write that they are not looking to be individually recognized for their work. They, “request and hope that we can all redirect our attention away from this one individual and back to the celebration of this collective triumphant moment of WHC entering a new and exciting chapter in its journey.”[4]

The Humble Hunterflies are doing more than just responding to Fields. They are providing a vital perspective on the reality of working at Weeksville during Fields’ tenure and offering a reframing that de-centers single-story heroics and instead honors the collective efforts of a community.

The Humble Hunterflies conclude their letter with the following:

Please join us in uplifting Weeksville Heritage Center, other Black cultural institutions, and Black cultural workers in the following ways:

      • Support Weeksville financially, become a Board member, volunteer, or participate in its programs, many of which are free to the community
      • Listen to Black cultural workers and stand in solidarity with worker-led movements
      • Reshare this open letter on your social media platforms and within your networks
      • Continue to focus on the collective work needed to sustain Black institutions
      • Support and donate to Black Art Futures Fund, an organization founded and led by Black women that extends grants and emergency funding to Black arts & culture institutions across the country[5]

Marabou asks you to read the letter, act on one or more of the points outlined above, and to continue seeking, supporting, and amplifying worker voices and stories.

[1] Humble Hunterflies, “The Erasure of Ego from the Black Cultural Institution,” Medium, April 19, 2021.

[2] Rob Fields, “Correcting the Record,”, April 7, 2021.

[3] Humble Hunterflies.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

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