A shameful chapter in U.S history came alive Feb. 21 in front of Sierra Hall. A large crowd watched a re-enactment of a transaction abolished from America more than 140 years ago.
Men and women dressed in black hats and white masks, held red signs replicating bids for the possession of human flesh.
A student with a white beard stood in front of a podium with a cigarette in one hand and a long whip in the other.
Somber music played as the group moved into their positions.
The scene was set for the sale of black slaves. The auction was based on a skit written and directed by members of the Black Student Union.
David Horn, Pan-African Studies professor and BSU advisor, opened the skit with a description of slavery.
“Ask not whether you were a slave or a slave master,” Horne said. “Ask only where has America come to because you were a slave.”
America was built on slavery, Horne said.
“Everyone in this country lives on white privilege,” he said.
The white-bearded student, Kalic Chambers, vice president of BSU, opened the slave auction to the bidders as students who portrayed slaves walked toward the bidders tied in rope from neck to feet.
The characters in the skit included three slaves, Amantha, Samuel and Sarah, an auctioneer, five bidders and an auction overseer, said Aureal Wilson, junior CTVA major and secretary of the BSU.
The first bid was a female student who Chambers described as a slave who was suitable for breeding.
Horne said BSU members asked him to advise the production of the skit and ensure it stayed within the boundaries of education.
“It’s about education, raising consciousness of students,” Horne said.
Students in the skit bid on the slaves, of which some were offered for a two-for-one sale. Empress Nontsikelelo dressed as a pregnant woman and was sold for $450.
Several members of the audience expressed various sentiment s about the reenactment.
“It’s pretty deep,” said Dennis Mercier, senior Pan-African Studies major. “It is good to have something like this at (CSUN), so people know what it was like then.”
Joshua Jordan, junior marketing major, said the skit provided a realistic portrayal of a period in history.
“(The skit) will create a lot of thought and conversation on the subject,” he said.
Horne said the skit was aimed to provide information that could be taken back to the classroom and create dialogue among students.
He said he did not go over the script with the students, adding he and the students discussed his concerns about the skit.
Some of the original ideas for the skit included a reenactment of a lynching.
Horne said it was taken out because he believed it would have changed the focus of BSU’s message, and the audience would miss the point.
The skit was initially considered in Fall 2005, when BSU members began to organize the event for Black History Month, said James Golden, junior Pan-African Studies and English major.
Golden wrote the skit along with Aureal Wilson, BSU secretary and junior CTVA major.
“It was very powerful to me,” said Aureal Wilson. “I actually cried a bit.”
Chambers said the skit was a collective effort to address a moment history that would have been seen 200 years ago by people.
Although the auction was a skit, for Brandy Wilson, the BSU president who participated as a bidder, said she felt the auction was real.
“I didn’t think we were going to be that much in character,” Wilson said. “It felt really real – scary real.”
Wilson said she hoped people learned from the event.
Lisa Oden, senior political science major, who portrayed a bidder, said the skit was essential to race relations.
“The skit was important and necessary because we don’t want to forget that this happened,” she said. “Slavery is the reason why we have such poor race relations.”
Both, BSU members and Horne, said the skit was a success, adding that the audience was the largest they have seen attend a Black History Month event.
“We had to do (the skit) so that our peers and generation could see what our ancestors went through,” Brandy Wilson said.
Golden said the skit was well received by audience members, adding the BSU’s goal was to reach one or two students.
“It was spectacular,” he said. “One of the best programs we’ve had.”
Raudel De la Riva, senior art major, observed the slave auction about 15 feet away.
“This is shockingly real … because this is something (that really happened),” he said.
De la Riva said he was reminded of past knowledge he had about slavery.
“It’s reality, just in a different time,” he said, later adding that the skit of the slave auction was “an important reminder.”
After the skit, Tremaine Walker, senior Pan-African Studies major, said the event was a “good attempt to enlighten a lot of people.”
He said the event re-highlighted the roots of his ancestors.
“My ancestors built this country with their bare hands,” Walker said.
The term “nigger” and “nigga” was used repeatedly as part of the auction.
“We used heavy usage of the ‘n’ word. It’s a good example to where we came from before contemporary times,” Aureal Wilson said.
Empress Nontsikelelo, who played a slave, said her great grandmother was a slave.
“We are trying to place consciousness of not only the oppressed but also the oppressor,” she said. “African-Americans should recognize that we are standing on the shoulders of those slaves.”