Legends come alive

Published 9:25 pm Saturday, February 21, 2009

John Brown was resolute, passionate and riveting while addressing an audience at Riddick’s Folly Saturday morning.

“No man or woman is free until all are free,” he exclaimed.

Before long, Nat Turner, Abraham Lincoln and Sojourner Truth joined him in his chant, “No man or woman is free until all are free.”

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Of course, most history scholars will note that each of these people died more than a century ago. But they have been brought back to life in through Sheri Bailey’s play, “Abolitionists’ Museum.”

In the play, these historic men and women are housed in one museum. A curator decides to display a Confederate flag in the museum, which leads to an uproarious debate from the abolitionists on the fate of the Confederate flag: Should it stay or should it be destroyed?

While the play ends with the question unanswered, Bailey takes the conversation to the people. And Saturday, the conversation proved to be both lively and important. When the play ended, Bailey asked the audience the question – Would you burn or keep the flag?

The vote was not a close one, overwhelmingly the audience voted to keep the flag. But the vote was not the most relevant part of the evening; it was the conversation that followed.

After one audience member compared the Confederate flag to the German swastika, B. Frank Earnest Sr., the International Chief of Heritage Defense for the Sons of Confederate Veterans spoke up.

“Not all bad centers in the flag,” he said. “Not all good, but not all bad. That’s not a flag of slavery or racism or anything else. It’s a flag of history.”

Other audience members pointed out that the Confederate flag was never an issue during Civil War times, and it was not until the civil rights movement of the 1950s that the flag was used in negative and racist acts. The Ku Klux Klan, an audience member pointed out, originated flying the American flag, yet no one has tried to ban the American flag.

Bailey pointed out she wrote the play in today’s time frame and used Civil War-era figures to show the importance of using the past to change the present.

“It’s not really their problem, it’s our problem,” she said. “We cannot change the past, but when we do move beyond that past that allows us to heal and move on in a positive way. That is why is becomes important to do this kind of work.”

The conversation carried on for about an hour following the play and covered a broad range of topics from the origin of the Confederate flag to whether it is right or wrong to fly the flag today knowing the stigma that surrounds it.

While no clear cut answers were reached, the conversation proved both enlightening and educational for many, including the play’s cast.

“I say today, after hearing from you all, I actually have changed my opinion personally,” said Natalie Baker, who portrayed Harriet Tubman in the play. “You fly your flag, but we won’t disrespect each other and coming together.”

Others agreed.

Edwin Woodson, who portrayed David Walker in the play, said many would benefit from the type of conversation held that afternoon.

“There’s nothing more important in our lives, universally, than dialogue,” he said. “There’s so many people outside this room that need to be in this room.”