The following is the production produced by the Performing
Arts Department of the Shipley
School in November of
2008, as compiled and directed by Phillip Brown.
You may use this text as a model and insert or delete
narratives as you see fit.
THE SLAVE NARRATIVES
The stage is
black. African drums are heard off in the distance. As the lights fade up, we
see African families fellowshipping with one another, full of happiness and
peace. Without warning, the drumming is interrupted by the sound of the
slave catchers. The slave catchers are symbolically portrayed by the sound of
imperialistic music. All the slaves, except one, Frederick Douglass, exit the
hears the voice of a Matriarchal Angel, singing a prophetic hymn behind him.
As he rises to his feet, he never turns around to see where the voice is coming
from. After the voice trails off, he speaks.
Why am I a slave? Why are some people slaves and others
masters? Was there ever a time when this was not so? How did that
relation commence? My name is Frederick Douglas. I was born a slave in Talbot Maryland on February 14,
1818… Why are some people slaves and others masters? These were the perplexing
questions which began now to claim my thoughts.
Slave #1 (Wilamena
Some Sundays we went to church some place. We allus
liked to go any place. A white preacher allus told us to ‘bey our masters and
work hard and sing and when we die we go to Heaven. Masrse Tom didn’t mind us
singin’ in our cabins at night, but we better not let him cotch us
prayin. Seems like niggers jus’ got to pray. Half they life am in
prayin’. Some nigger take turn ‘bout to watch and see if mares Tom
Anyways ‘bout, then they circle theyselves on the floor in the cabin and pray.
They git to moanin’ low and gentle, ‘Some day, some day, some day, this
yoke gwine be lifted offen our shoulders.’ Marse Tom been dead long time
now. I ‘lieve he’s in hell. Seem like that where he ‘long. He was terrible mean
man and had a indiff’ent, mean wife. But he had the fines’, sweetes’
chillum the Lawd ever let live and breathe on this earth. They’s so kind
and sorrowin’ over us slaves. Some them chillum used to read us li’l
things out of papers and books. We’d look at them papers and books like
they somethin’ mighty curious, but we better not let Marse Tom or his wife know
How did people know that God made black people to be slaves?
Did they go up in the sky and learn it? Or did He come down and tell them so?
All was dark here. It was some relief to my hared notions of the goodness of
God that, although he made white men to be slave holders, he did not make them
to be bad slaveholders, and that in due time he would punish the bad
slaveholders – that he would, when they died, send them to the bad place where
they would be “burnt up”… Nevertheless, I could not reconcile the relation of
Slavery with my crude notions of goodness. Then, too, I found that there were
puzzling exceptions to this theory of slavery on both sides, and in the
middle. I know of blacks who were not slaves; I knew of whites who were
not slaveholders; and I knew of persons who were nearly white, who were slaves.
Slave #3 (Henry
The next morning I went home with my new master, a Cherokee
Indian, and by the way, it is only doing justice to the dead to say that he was
the most reasonable and humane slaveholder that I have ever belonged to. They
have no respect of persons do not discriminate, they have neither slave laws
nor negro pews. Neither do they separate husbands and wives, nor parents
and children. All things considered, if I must be a slave, I had by far
rather be a slave to an Indian than to a white man, from the experience I have
had with both.
I was not very long in finding out the true solution of the
matter. It was not color, but crime, not God, but man, that afforded the
true explanation of the existence of slavery; nor was I long in finding out
neither important truth, that is to say: what man can make, man can unmake.
Slave #4 Sarah
I membahs de time when mah mammy wah alive, I wah a small
chile, afoah dey tuck huh t’ Rims Crick. All us chillens wah playin’ in
de ya’d one night. Jes’ arunnin’ an’ aplayin’ lak chillum will. All
a sudden mmammy cum to de do’ all a’sited. “Cum in heah dis minnit,” she
say. “Jes look up at what is ahappenin,” and bless yo’ life, honey, da
sta’s wah fallin’ jes’ lak rain. Mammy wah tebble skeered, but we chillen
wa’nt afeard, no, we wa’nt afeard. But mammy she say evah time a sta’ fall,
somebuddy gonna die. Look lak lotta folks gonna die f’om de looks ob dem sta’s.
don’ shine as bright as dey did back den. I wondah wy dey don’. Dey jes’
don’ shine as bright. Wa’nt long afoah dey took mah mammy away, and I wah
On de plantation wah an ole women whut de boss bought
f’om a drovah up in Virginny. De boss he bought huh f’om one ob de
specalaters. She laff an’ tell us: “Some ob dese days yo’ all gwine be
free, jes’ lak de white folks,” but we all laff at huh. No, we jes’
slaves, we allus hafta wok and nevah be free. Den when freedom cum, she
say: “I tole yo’all, now yo’ got no nothing’, got no home; whut yo’ gwine do?”
Slave #5 ( Tempie
Cummins, Age Unknown)
The white chillum tries teach me to read and write but I
didn’ larn much, ‘cause I allus workin’. Mother was workin in the house,
and she cooked too. She say she used to hide in the chimney corner and listen
to what the white folks say. When freedom was’clared, marster wouldn’
tell ‘em, but mother she hear him tellin’ mistus that the slaves was free but
they didn’ know it and he’s not gwineter tell ‘em till he makes another
crop or two. When mother hear that she say she slip out the chimney
corner and crack her heels together four times and shouts, “I’s free, I’s
free.’ Then she runs to the field, ‘gainst marster’s will and tol’ all
the other slaves and they quit work. Then she run away and in the night
she slip into a big ravine near the house and have them bring me to her.
Marster, he come out with his gun and shot at mother but she run down the
ravine and gits away with me.
If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who
profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation are men who want crops
without plowing up the ground’ they want rain without thunder and lightning.
They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters.
Slave #6 (Walter
Rimm, 80 )
My pappy wasn’t ‘fraid of nothin’. He am light cullud
from de white blood, and he runs away sev’ral times. Dere am big woods all
round and we sees lots of run-awayers. One old fellow name John been a
run-awayer for four years and de patterrollers tries all dey tricks, but dey
can’t cotch him. Dey wants him bad, ‘cause it’spire other slaves to run
away if he stays a-loose. Dey sots de trap for him. Dey knows he
like good eats, sodey’ranges for a quiltin’ and gives chitlin’s and lye
hominy. John comes and am inside when de patterrollers rides up to de
door. Everybody gits quiet and John stands near de door, and when dey
starts to come in he grabs de shovel full of hot ashes and throws dem into de
patterrollers faces. He gits through and runs off, hollerin’, ‘Bird in de
One woman name Rhodie runs off for long spell. De hounds
won’t hunt her. She steals hot light bread… when dey puts it in de window to
cool and lives on dat. She told my mammy how to keep de hounds from
followin’ you is to take black pepper and put it in you socks and run
without you shoes. It make de hounds sneeze. One day I’s in de
woods and meets de nagger runawayer. He comes to de cabin and mammy makes him a
bacon and egg sandwich and we never seed him again. Maybe he done got
clear to Mexico,
where a lot of de slaves runs to.
Frederick Douglass into the distance to reflect he hears,
Swing Low, Sweet Chariot in his head.
The Great Poet
(Dark Symphony )
pathos in our voices
Saddens the great
And the wizardry of
our dusky rhythms
shadow-shapes of ante-bellum years:
Black slaves singing
(cast) One More River to Cross
In the torture tombs
Black slaves singing Steal
Away to Jesus
In jungle swamps
Black slaves singing The
In slave-pens at
Black slaves singing Swing
Low, Sweet Chariot
In cabins of death,
Black slaves singing Go
In the canebrakes of
the Southern Pharaohs.
_ We all know what the negro has been as a slave. Now if
we are ever to get free from the oppressions and wrongs heaped upon us, we must
pay for their removal. We must do this by labor, by suffering, by
sacrifice, and if needs be, by our lives and the lives of others.
Slave #7 James Cape
After I gits in de army, it wasn’ so much fun, ‘cause
tendin’ hosses and ridin’ wasn’ all I does. You’s heard of de battle of Independence” Dat’s whar
we fights for three days and nights. I’s not tendin’ hosses dat time. Dey
gives me a rifle and sends me up front fightin’, when we wasn’ runnin’. ‘Nother
time we fights two days and nights and de Yankees was bad dat time, too, and we
had to run through de river. I sho’ thought I’s gwine git drowned den!
“Though slaves, they were rebellious slaves.” They bore
themselves well. They did not hug their chains, but according to their
opportunities, swelled the general protest against oppression… and the future
of the colored race – the human race? Well as we march forward, our
future will reflect our past.
Music: African Waltz, Cannonball Adderley. Slaves and
I am not a propagandist, but a prophet. I do not say that
what I say should come to pass, but what I think is likely to come to pass, and
what is inevitable. Races and varieties of the human family appear and
disappear, but humanity remains and will remain forever. The American
people will one day be truer to this idea than now.
Fires in the
Mirror (Anna Deavere Smith)
I mean I grew up on a
A one-block street –
That was black.
My grandmother lived
on that street
My cousins lived
around the corner.
I went to this
Private Black grade
I was extraordinary.
Everybody there was
You were told you
It was very clear
that I could not go
to see 101 Dalmations at the Capital
Because it was
And at the same time
I was treated like I
was the most extraordinary creature
So I’m on my street
in my house,
At my school-
And I was very
spoiled too –
So I was treated like
I was this special special creature.
And then I would go
beyoun a certain point
I was treated like I
Hosing me down or
calling me nigger.
It was just that I
You know what I mean
so it was very clear of
(teacup on saucer
strike twice on “very clear”)
You know what I mean.
That I was
extraordinary as long as I was Black.
But I an-not-going-to
In relationship to
I will talk about
your whiteness if we want to talk about that.
What am I saying?
My blackness does not
Exist in relationship
to your whiteness.
(Not really a
question, more like a hum)
It does not exist in
You know what I mean-
Like I said, I, I, I,
I come from-
It’s a very complex,
At times destructive
Reality, but it is
And totally a reality
Contained and, and,
And full unto itself.
It’s all the stuff.
That’s the way I grew
So that therefore-
And then you’re
And then there’s a
And then these two
things come into contact.
They stood at opposite extremes of ethnological
classification: all black on the one side, all white on the other. Now,
between these two extremes, an intermediate race has arisen, which is neither
white nor black, neither Caucasian nor Ethiopian, and this intermediate race is
My names is Dennis Gandleman. Around this school I am the
object of ridicule from most of the students, simply because I have an
extremely high I.Q. It’s 176. My father wanted me to enroll in a special school
that deals with geniuses like myself, but Mother was firmly against that. She
wanted me to have a normal education, and not be treated as some kind of
freak…Which is ironic, because that’s exactly what is happening to me
here. The whole concept of education is a paradox: High School is
supposed to celebrate education and knowledge, but what if really celebrates is
social groups and popularity. In a perfect world, a did like me would be
worshipped because of my scholastic abilities, instead of someone who can throw
a forty-yard touchdown pass. I supposed I could complain, and bemoan the
unfairness of it all. But I am bright. I know something that the others
don’t…the rules change. What matters is power. Financial power.
Power that comes from making a fortune on cutting-edge computer software.
Software that I am already developing. (Pause.) Some call me a
nerd. I call myself…ahead of my time. See you on the outside.
And lastly, let know man forget the name of William
Wilberforce. It was Wilberforce’s faith, persistence, and enduring enthusiasm
that finally thawed the British heart into sympathy for the slave, and moved
the strong arm of government in mercy to put an end to this bondage. Let no
American, especially no colored American, withhold generous recognition of this
stupendous achievement – a triumph of right over wrong, or good over evil, and
a victory for the whole human race. It is truly grace.
(Lights rise on all the slaves, the Matriarchal Ancestor,
and the Angelic Matriarch of now. The Angelic Matriarch is down stage left. She
sings Wilberforce’s “Amazing Grace”. All characters on stage are looking
at her. When she’s finished, a soulful, liberation spiritual hum starts to rise
from all characters in unison. The Matriarchal Ancestor reaches her hand out to
the nearest slave. Like a domino effect, each character clasps hands with
another character on stage, one after another. The Angelic Matriarch should be
the last hand clasped.