The “York” of the center helps to understand the trek of Lewis and Clark

SIOUX CITY, Iowa (AP) — The Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center recently introduced a new “face” to its collection of animatronic storytellers.

The new exhibit, ‘York Comes to Life’, depicts a slave to Captain William Clark, who along with Meriwether Lewis led the cross-country journey that first passed through what is now Sioux City in 1804.

York, the first person of color to be depicted in animatronic form at the interpretive center, joins five other speaking personalities: President Thomas Jefferson, who commissioned the exploration of territories acquired in the Louisiana Purchase, Sgt . Charles Floyd, the only member of the Corps of Discovery to die on the voyage, Seaman, a Newfoundland dog who was the only animal to complete the entire three-year voyage, and Lewis and Clark.

Tracy Bennett, executive director of the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center, described York’s addition as “a long time coming”.

“He should be considered as important a member of the expedition as everyone else,” Bennett told the Sioux City Journal. “He really helped Lewis & Clark’s communication with Native Americans because they found him so fascinating, and they couldn’t believe this big, tall black man in Native American culture. They believed there was something important about the color of your skin, and the darker your skin, the more…you had the ability to communicate with higher powers.

Bennett said York’s figure also adds to the center’s story of Floyd’s final days.

“York was very essential in nursing Sgt. Floyd when he was dying,” Bennett said. “We thought he would be a great addition to the story here.”

A grant from the State Historical Society of Iowa and Missouri River Historical Development last year gave the center enough funds to complete York’s exhibit. The approximate cost of the project was $60,000.

It’s been almost 10 years since the center introduced a new animatronic. Planning for the York exhibition began five years ago. Throughout the process, local leaders and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) were consulted to ensure the exhibit accurately and respectfully represented York’s history and look. .

“We wanted to get it out into our community to get it done right and to be something that honors York,” Bennett said. “Obviously he was a slave and wasn’t necessarily treated fairly after the trip, he didn’t receive his freedom right away, and when he did, it was a long time coming. And so, we wanted to be gentle with his story as we put the animatronics together.

In terms of the physical setting, facilities manager Joe Hlas used materials from the surrounding area to recreate what the Corps of Discovery Expedition might have encountered.

“I just sprinkled some sand that I sifted outside,” he said. “All this sand comes straight from the river. It is possible that some of this sand, York stood on it. Of particular significance is the gun’s inclusion with York’s animatronics. Guns were rarely given to slaves, but York had earned the trust of the group enough to carry one.

York’s animatronic voiceover was done by West High School graduate Antoine Smith, who is currently on Broadway in “MJ: The Musical,” with Motown Records founder Berry Gordy.

Bennett says Smith was “very happy” to be able to perform the voice lines of York’s animatronics.

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