JUNETEENTH Virtual Tour 2010

Choosing to Run or Stand Strong
 

This speech from Braak's play about the steel driving man clarifies the white view of blacks during and after slavery. Delivered by Henry to one of his friends, it is bitter, powerful and honest. Featuring Michael Way

Mike Way plays John Henry the Steel Driving Man, a figure of African American triumph and tragedy, who is talking to another character in the play. His monologue sets the stage for a vision of the African American experience in slavery, and even today it is hard to hear but a strong foundation for the rest of the tour. 
Henry is embittered by his imprisonment in Braak's work and the monologue reflects his passion for life crushed by the commerce and racism of the world he lives in. Iron Age premiered this play in 2009 and Chris Braak is a Norristown native playwright.

Episode 1: John Henry

from THE LIFE OF JOHN HENRY by Chris Braak

The first stop on the 2010 Juneteenth Tour moved its position. It originally at Zummo's Hardware store. This was an original location of the Underground Railroad. 
This Tour is thematically tied to the idea of standing or running and how each choice is powered by hope, fear and tragedy. Because of the overall length of the tour, this scene was moved to Tone Realty on Main and DeKalb to shorten the walk. The video reflects that change but the core ideas of the event and the first four tours all took the longer route. 

 

 

 

 

 


 

Featuring Richard Bradford 

The tragedy of a slave escaping from his masters and the hard choices he makes to assure his son is never a slave. Great work by Rich Bradford

Crixus runs from his masters but at a high cost both in lives and to his soul. The scene gives the modern viewer a sense of the real experience of a runaway slave and sets the stage for the comforting presence of Tubman and the underground railroad. In a moment, every man has to choose to act with only a hope that the fates will favor his choice and the consequences will be what was expected.

Harriet Tubman shares some thoughts on her work on the Underground Railroad and love. Performed by Seidah Hill Durante and written by Bonita Hadrick.

 

Part one of two Walter DeShields as Martin Luther King reading from Letter from a Birmingham Jail in front of the historic, closed Montgomery County Prison in Norristown as part of the Norristown Juneteenth Celebration and Tour produced by Iron Age Theatre and the NAACP Youth Council.
 
Maurice Tucker brings Frederick Douglas to life on the steps of the Montgomery County Courthouse during the 210 Juneteenth tours by Iron Age Theatre and the NAACP Youth Council. This speech is about emancipation and women's suffrage.
 
Bob Weick performs a scene from Slave Narratives Revisited by Ed Shockley at the Norristown Juneteenth Celebration. What makes a man choose the moral path in an immoral time? Performed within a block of Anne Street in Norristown, site of the abolitionist HQ in Norristown where Mary Shad taught.
 
Tiffany Joyner is the culminating presentation at the 2010 Juneteenth. An amazing poem that touches the themes and characters of the tour. To purchase Sneed's full book of poems visit http://www.amazon.com/Imagine-Being-Afraid-Freedom-Slavery/dp/080505474X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1308925930&sr=8-1

Episode 2: Crixus

from Keith Glover's Coming of the Hurricane

This episode is one of my favorite monologues. It ends the first act of the Glover's play and is a mighty reflection on the choices one needs to make to save their own life and keep their promises. It is tragic, moving and beautifully performed by Richard Bradford. Crixus runs from his masters but at a high cost both in lives and to his soul. The scene gives the modern viewer a sense of the real experience of a runaway slave and sets the stage for the comforting presence of Tubman and the underground railroad. In a moment, every man has to choose to act with only a hope that the fates will favor his choice and the consequences will be what was expected.

 

Episode 3: Harriet Tubman

Running alone and without guidance was a dangerous adventure as Crixus' story relates. This next monologue written by Bonita Hadrick for the 2010 Norristown NAACP Banquet, give insight into Harriet Tubman, one of the most important conductors on the Underground railroad.The scene was performed on Penn Street at the sight of the birth home of Charles Blockson, internationally recognized African American historian and the beneficiary of Harriet Tubman's estate. The scene played right in a Norristown neighborhood. The piece gives context to the Underground Railroad and helps understand who Tubman was and what sacrifices she made to save others.

 

Episode 4: Martin Luther King: Letter from a Birmingham Jail

at the closed Montgomery County Prison

In this inaugural Juneteenth tour, it seemed fitting to include Martin Luther King and the Montgomery County Commissioners graciously offered to open the doors of the Montgomery County Prison for the event. Walter DeShields brings King to life in the passionate presentation of an edited verion of the Letter. King's works are still radical. They call for people to get out of their safe zones, rethink their roles in society, and refuse to take the easy and the socially accepatble route. King sees a big picture. Editing this was one of the hardest things I have ever done as a director or designer and an essay on that proccess can be found at the Iron Age Theatre Production Blog...Here. The tour is no longer in historical order but King's speech is a great centerpiece as it talks about individual responsibility for making a change and the need for a larger societal change. Tubman is the individual taking King's path and Frederick Douglass' next speech in the tour will relfect the institutional changes needed.

Episode 5: Frederick Douglass

on the steps of the Montgomery County Courthouse

Frederick Douglass speaks on the Marble steps of the Montgomery County Courthouse. His speech relates his beleif that freedom must come before sufferage and tells the story of his relationship with noted Women's Rights advocates. It is a speech about standing for your own convictions even when respected friends say otherwise and for sticking to the clearest goal. Douglass gives and folksy, intellectual appraisal of the way to make social change. The piece was performed across from the site of First Baptist Chruch, now gone and replaced by One Montgomery Plaza. 1st Baptist was a hub of abolitionist activity in Norristown and the region.

 

Episode 6: An Abolitionist from Slave Narratives Revisited by Ed Shockley at Hancock Square

This monologue from Ed Shockley's play Slave Narratives Revisited, relates how an individual encounter with slavery and the beauty and humanity of African Americans can change a passive, complicite southerner into an advocate for abolition. Shockley let's the metaphor of the white southerner and the beautiful slave girl draw the audiene past preconceptions and into a clearer understanding of the core reasons for abolitionist activity. It also shows that by changing the heart of each person, we can conduct positive social change.

 

Episode 7: IMAGINE BEING MORE AFRAID OF FREEDOM THAN SLAVERY by Pamela Sneed

The final stop on the 2010 tour is a poem I found at Larry Robbin's Bookstore in Philly during the run of Citizen Paine. The poem by the amazing Pamela Sneed, a contemporary African American lesbian poet, sums up the entire journey of the tour. The title and main ideas reflect Crixus and John Henry's view of slavery. The references to Harriet Tumbman enhance the monologue by Tubman in Episode 3 of the tour. The struggle is reflected in Martin Luther King. Her focus on Women's issues is connected to Frederick Douglass and the overwhelming beauty and need for a decision... and action is a fitting followup to the Abolitionist. Sneed references history throughout the poem. She is aware of history and it is valid to her personally and intimately. Ending the tour on petry is important to me. The literary experience has been undersold in today's culture. The need for passionate encounters with poetry will develop the soul of the nation.

Event Sponsors: Norristown NAACP, Iron Age Theatre, The Centre Theater.
Special Thanks to the Montgomery County Commissioners, Steve Nelson, John Corcoran, The Centre Theater, Shoprite, Barbara Milligan, The Norristown Police, Chief Bono, The Norristown Municipal Council, the residents of Norristown. 
If you would like to sponsor the event, please contact us.

Directed and Designed by John Doyle