OUR STORIES DEFINE US …
I’ve performed one-person acts showcasing African-American women such as Harriet Tubman, Mother Rose, and Elizabeth Keckley – and others – for more than a decade. These important life stories serve as the platform for the education and enlightenment of audiences from throughout the country (numbering more than 20,000). I also weave a few threads of entertainment throughout my work.
I use plantation songs, abolitionist stories and replica props. When I visit with school age kids I pass the props around for them to touch and feel. All of my programs comply with Illinois educational standards for grades K – 12.
I also encourage audience interaction during my performance, especially with kids. In fact, if a teacher-instructor needs my presentation to align with a particular course outline, let me know and I will customize my words and ideas to fit with your outcomes.
For hundreds of years, African-Americans endured the horror of slavery. It is a stain on our nation’s history and one that cannot be pushed aside and forgotten. The institution tore this nation asunder and resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people through the Civil War. Subsequent periods of American history resulted in even more pain and loss for our people – Reconstruction, the Civil Rights Movement and the contemporary issues of poverty, violence and unemployment.
Yet, these issues and the stories I tell about the past are pure American. As you will learn, the people I talk about are true American leaders and it’s important to bring their voices back to life – to meet new generations.
HARRIET TUBMAN 1820 -1913
My character explains how signal quilts and songs communicated information about safe routes for runaway slaves – including Steal Away and Wade in the Water. Following the presentation, I take questions and let anyone who is interested touch my replica props, which include a turtle shell, quilt, shackles, rolling pin, and animal hides. The presentation offers a message of strength, courage, and faith as represented through the deeds of Harriet Tubman. Even though she lived more than 150 years ago, her ideals remain relevant to a contemporary audience. Thousands of people have seen my program, including the Carbondale Chautauqua, schools, universities, libraries, museums, churches along with state and federal agencies
MOTHER OF YORK 1750 – 1820
Eyes on Rose, an African-American enslaved mother tells, a compelling York Story about the Lewis & Clark Voyage of Discovery; I am able to bring Rose alive as she tells the story of York, through a series of letters sent from William Clark to his sister Lucy Clark Croughan back in Louisville, KY. Through costume, song, communication, and demonstration this living history program is about the African-American experience through first person portrayal of York’s mother Rose. Rose tells of her son’s boyhood with William and then of his adventures west during the Expedition up the Missouri River. She also tells how his life changed after he and his master returned from the Pacific Coast along with the rest of the Corps. This behind-the-scene character was a very important part of York’s life, an early American Slave and member of the Corps of Discovery Exploration experience. Hear Rose talk of her son and his exploits from a slave’s mother’s voice and eyes. Little is mentioned, related or known about the roles of historic female figures. I think it is very important that historic interpretation programs include all members of the community groups, to hear from the women who had no voice or choice in history finally be heard. This program targets middle school children but is appropriate for almost all groups and audiences.
ELIZABETH KECKLY 1818 -1907
Elizabeth Keckley (Lizzie) of Dinwiddie County Virginia, an intimate freed person of color witness accounts of the Lincoln presidency. Lizzie was born a slave, bought her freedom at the age of 37 and set up a dressmaking business in Washington, D.C. She secured Mary Todd Lincoln as one of several important clients, whose husband had, recently, been inaugurated as President of the United States. Mrs. Lincoln supported Elizabeth Keckley’s efforts to help freed blacks through her works with the Contraband Relief Organization. Keckley’s written memoir, Behind the Scenes, caused a break in her relationship with Mary Todd Lincoln, but provided a rare personal glimpse into the Lincolns’ family life because she was often present in the Lincoln’s private living quarters and privy to conversations that no non-family member heard. In becoming Lizzie, I depended on excerpts from her book to reminiscence about Mrs. Lincoln family life. How Mary Todd Lincoln worried that her husband needed to be reelected in 1864 so that her shopping debts would get covered. If President Lincoln did not get re-elected she would be found out. I wanted to help the audience to see the relationship between Lizzie, a bi-racial woman, and that of Mary Todd Lincoln which developed in the mid-1800’s. How they became friends during the turbulent years of the Civil War and how that friendship continued after the President’s assassination. This program targets middle school children but is appropriate for all groups and audiences.
EMMA THOMPSON – 1830’S – 1920’S
This dramatization is based on my own family’s genealogy as seen through the eyes of Emma Thompson as she tells about her mother as a Splintered Indian and her husband, John Butler. By utilizing history handed down by my great-grandmother and the historical events of the 1800’s, Emma Thompson’s, story is told at the beginning of the Great Depression. Emma tells about her mother, a Cherokee
native captured as a young girl from Southern Illinois and taken into slavery in Mississippi. Emma tells how her mother and children all returned to Southern Illinois. They disembarked at the Marine Ways located alone the Ohio River in north Mound City, Illinois. The family arrived on the U.S. Louisville an Iron Clad (aka) “Rattle Two” as contraband. I become Emma to tell not only her side of the story but that of my great-grandfather John Butler who fought for the Union Army during the Civil War.
This program shows, the migration of this bi-racial family, and the history surrounding them as they gain their freedom in Illinois where Emma’s Mother said “I know where I’m from – Longreach.” This program has local Southern Illinois connections and will keep audiences of any age spell-bound.