Neighbors join in recreating historyPublished 12:47pm Thursday, September 17, 2009
By JOHN EBY
CASSOPOLIS – “Kentucky at Sunrise,” a tableau telling the story of slave raids which occurred in Cassopolis and Vandalia in August 1847, was featured Sunday at Ross Beatty High School as the centerpiece of the seventh Minority Coalition of Cass County International Festival.
“I lived in Cass County for quite a while before I heard about the Kentucky raid,” said Ruth Andrews of the Human Services Coordinating Council and project director of the Minority Coalition, established in 1996. “But when I did, I thought, ‘This is the story of our community. This defines who we are as a community.’ This is a really special performance for us.”
Andrews organized the event with funding support from the Arts Council of Greater Kalamazoo and the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs.
Playwright Von Washington Sr., Fran Washington and Von Washington Jr. narrate stories of the Underground Railroad, which spirited more than 1,000 people of African descent from southern bondage, through Michigan and to freedom in Canada.
Characters include free blacks Samuel Strothers (Peter Anderson), Katie Tann (Michelle Anderson) and Turner Byrd (Michael Anderson); fugitives Mose (Norman Tubbs) and Mamie (Martha Bailey); and the Quakers, Erastus (Mike Smith) and Sarah Hussey (Sharon Tubbs) and Stephen Bogue (Steve Kaszar).
Drama centers not just on foiling the Kentucky slave catchers, but whether resorting to violence is justified.
The title refers to how long the raiders expect it to take to return home with their “property” in tow.
Washington, an Albion native, has directed Western Michigan University’s Multicultural Theatre program for the last 20 years.
“Kentucky at Sunrise” was originally performed in 1994 in Battle Creek, when the W.K. Kellogg Foundation commissioned Washington to write the play to celebrate the unveiling of an Underground Railroad statue in collaboration with the Historical Society of Battle Creek.
As the costumed characters strike poses, the narrators bring their individual stories to life through a narrative rich in facts, thanks to historian Buddy Hannah.
Cast members also include: Brendon McCullin as Howell, attorney for the fugitives; Karl Crisler, Turner, attorney for the Kentuckians; Diane Bailey, Anna Byrd; Mark Jones, Charlie Parker and James; Shaun Notten, Kentucky Raider No. 2; and Hope Anderson, Patty.
Ruth Crawley directed a choir of Jonna Bacon, Leozie Broadnax, Benise Bufkin, Rayvon Bufkin, Joanne Cogdell, Sarah Davis, Liz Gilliam, Mark Jones, Patricia Jones, Robbie Lawson, Georgia McNeary, Maxine McNary, Henrietta Stewart, Dora Strong, Sharon Tubbs and Georgia Yarbrough.
The technical crew consisted of Tom Rea and Debbie Hackworth, with Jean Schultz, Kadie Ford, Connie Bailey, Michael Bailey and Manuel Bailey responsible for costumes and props.
Freed blacks and abolitionist whites who were often of the Quaker religion orchestrated the illegal operation of helping free slaves along the escape system that crossed several state lines – and was often called the Quaker Line.
In Cass County, the route merged with one coming from Illinois and became known as the Michigan Central Line.
This line began near Vandalia and went through Schoolcraft and Battle Creek.
Other small towns and villages were included along a path which led to Detroit and, ultimately Canada and freedom.
In the raid of August 1847, the Quakers, free blacks and townspeople collaborated to prevent 13 Kentuckians from returning to Bourbon County with nine blacks who fled that state on the Underground Railroad.
Zachariah Shugart and his companions brought the fugitives to Battle Creek.
Erastus Hussey and his wife, Sarah, the Battle Creek “stationmasters,” had but two hours notice to prepare for 45 fugitives.
With the help of townspeople, they were fed and bedded down for the night.
The families of William Casey, Perry Sanford, Joseph Skipworth and Thomas Henderson stayed in Battle Creek.
Eventually, the potentially violent confrontation in Cass County was resolved non-violently and ended happily for the fugitives – many of whom escaped to Canada.
Several other blacks remained in Cass County, where their descendants live to this day alongside the Quakers’ descendants.
Many believe the Kentucky raid and the escape of valuable slaves from the South on the Quaker Line played a part in the creation of fugitive slave laws and eventually led to the Civil War in 1861.