Explore history of slave, prince

Artemus Gaye

Artemus Gaye wishes he had listened more carefully to the stories of Zoe Sarah Johnson, his great-grandmother. He could have learned more about his family's unusual history.

Johnson was the great-granddaughter of Abdul Rahman, a well-documented Guinean prince, enslaved in Mississippi.

Gaye will speak about Rahman, whose story is told in the documentary, "Prince Among Slaves," during three Black History Month presentations in Charleston this weekend. The film, to be shown at two of his presentations, is based on the book of the same name by Terry Alford, a professor at Northern Virginia Community College.

"When I came to the states, I began to take the history of my family seriously," said Gaye, who was born in Liberia, where Rahman died. Gaye's desire to know more about his family led him to Natchez, Miss., and records about Rahman descendants. He learned more about those who returned with Rahman to Africa and those who remained enslaved in Mississippi.

In Mississippi, Gaye learned of Alford's research. "It led me to do a lot of new research and to do new documentation," said Gaye, whose Charleston appearances are being coordinated by Abe Jenkins, grandson of the late civil rights leader Esau Jenkins of Johns Island.

"Prince Among Slaves recounts the true story of ... Abdul Rahman's 40-year enslavement and his successful fight to regain his freedom which brought him national celebrity status and an invitation to dine at the White House during the 1825-1829 administration of U.S. President John Quincy Adams," according to the film's website (www.princeamong slaves.org). The film won Best Documentary at the 2007 American Black Film Festival in Los Angeles and aired on PBS in 2008, Jenkins said.

"Dr. Gaye's personal revelations on this cinematic powerhouse about his ancestor Prince Rahman will surely resonate with Lowcountry groups involved in genealogical research and antebellum history," Jenkins said.