Not Just a Conversation

“I say – many felt slavery was wrong, many wanted to end slavery, but nobody did.” – Peter Manos, Oh Freedom – the Story of the Underground Railroad. Our touring show for Black History Month, Oh Freedom, speaks of the Underground Railroad, and the fight that brought many together against odds to lead people out of bondage. Sure, it is historical education, but is it merely history? Do we not find ourselves today, faced with some similar “conversations,” where many want bondage to be done with, but few do anything about it?

As a Christian, I see Jesus as the original Abolitionist. He has gone to great lengths, for thousands of years, to free captives, like myself, from various forms of bondage; some that would be considered invisible, some that we put on each other. Have we changed? Do we still talk about setting people free from bondage, while in some ways keeping each other in it? Do we neglect abolition by not working to break the lies of identity that are so rampant in our culture? I do not think these modes of bondage down-play the slavery that the Underground Railroad dealt with, if anything it makes it stand out as more appalling. That we, who are often oppressed by simple cares of the world, would oppress one another; there is not even a hint of excuse.

It has not been an easy production. There are a lot of people to portray with a small cast in a short amount of time. Also, there is the unfortunate disconnect between “then and now,” and the distractions that make our way of story telling less entertaining than the latest app for many of our audiences. Nevertheless, Oh Freedom is undeniably relevant. And we will work to promote the repentance from what we have done to each other, celebrate what we have done for each other, and as the script suggests, “Let’s talk about the people who tried, because yes, some people tried to end slavery.” We will teach this history so that we can take example from those who chose to lead people out of bondage. Perhaps, history is the most relevant thing for us to look into. I leave you with a note from our talented director:

“Turn on any television today and from Entertainment Tonight to Fox news, people are talking about race relations: Black on Black crime, White police officers shooting young Black men, Islam, refugees, the Oscars. I keep asking myself what would the thousands of men and women in the South and North think of what we’ve done with what they fought so hard for? They would probably ask, ‘what about our history? Do you know what we did for you? Why are you fighting each other and not working together for the good of this precious country that we bled for?’ How do you start to make our ancestors proud? … By knowing your history. Oh Freedom is not just an ordinary play about slavery. It will make you think about everything that is happening today. It will move you to debate about then and now. It will allow you to see that there was a time when Blacks and Whites, North, South, East and West came together and died for the freedom of a people that were thought of as less than. They lived in a world of less ‘I’s’ (Me, myself and I, Ipads, Iphones, Ipods, I, I, I) but in a world of, ‘if not me, who will help?’ I want you to enjoy this beautiful play, but I also want it to encourage you to, talk, debate, research … and want to know more. – Tracey Copeland Halter

Visit www.wordplayers.org for performances of Oh Freedom – The Story of the Underground Railroad that are free and open to the public.

Talk to me.

Ethan Norman
Artistic Associate, The WordPlayers