This is a story of a man named York.
It is also the story of how history is recorded, remembered and imagined.


Program Description

The Undiscovered Explorer: Imagining York explores the making of an American myth. This hour-long audio documentary, narrated by Danny Glover, is a production of Oregon Public Broadcasting. Through a rich weave of music, interviews, performance and dramatic readings, this program tells the story of York; William Clark's slave and the only African American member of the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

York's story is both heroic and tragic. He began life as the childhood playmate of Clark, but at age 12 their relationship was transformed into that of master and slave. On the Expedition, York experienced a rare level of freedom and equality, working shoulder to shoulder with white men. Upon their return, the other members of the Corps of Discovery were welcomed home with gifts and praise. York was plunged back into bondage and subservience, which ultimately shattered his life.

The facts of York's story are based on fragmentary evidence. Forbidden by law to read and write, York left no written record of his own. We only know about him through the writings and stories of others. Depictions of York have changed through time, always colored by the social era in which they are told. York has been characterized as a valiant hero, an insolent and sulky slave and a happy, dancing darkie. Yet, how York himself really felt about his experiences remains a total mystery.

Today, artists and historians continue to give words to this man who has no voice in history. Poetry, opera and rap -- all in York's "voice" -- are being performed as part of the current bicentennial celebration of the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

A look at how York is portrayed through history opens the door to many questions about American society at large and about how history is recorded, remembered and created. It is this aspect of York -- the "Invisible Man" who exists only as a reflection of ourselves -- that informs this documentary.


Friday, October 20 at 2pm & 8p, rebroadcasts Sunday, October 22 at 9pm

"This is a well-produced and engaging documentary about an individual who played an integral part in American history. I look forward to its release."

Ron Jones, Vice President of Programming
Chicago Public Radio

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