Davis plays slave York
who accompanied Lewis & Clark
on historic expedition
presence with Lewis & Clark
needs to be put into perspective.
Helen E. McKinney
LA GRANGE, Ky. Hasan Davis overcame many obstacles,
including a learning disability, to become a professional storyteller,
performance artist and poet. His success sets him apart as a motivational
speaker, one who speaks directly from the heart.
Davis currently portrays a character for the Kentucky Humanities Council
named York. York was Capt. William Clarks life-long slave companion
and accompanied Clark and Meriwether Lewis on their famous 1803-1806
expedition to the Pacific Ocean in search of a Northwest Passage and
subsequent return to the East.
At 8 p.m. Friday, March 21, Davis will present York to the Oldham County
Historical Society. The Society will hold its quarterly dinner meeting
at 7 p.m., with Davis performance to follow.
York, the slave of
York is my second Humanities Council character,
said Davis, who lives in Berea, Ky. The first was A.A. Burleigh,
a Civil War soldier and first black graduate of Berea College.
Burleigh was a member of the Union army and stationed at Camp Nelson,
Davis hasnt always taken such an active interest in history. It
was very difficult to get excited about history growing up. The only
time I could see people who looked like me was when we talked about
slavery or about how we were saved from slavery by the good folks in
Adept at speaking, Davis attended Berea College and received his bachelors
degree in oral communications. He is also a graduate of the University
of Kentucky College of Law.
Based upon his past experiences as a teen, Davis began his own business,
Empowerment Solutions. He works with youth through schools,
community agencies and juvenile facilities, encouraging them to aspire
to their full potential.
Davis remains busy with his business and his portrayal of York.
This year marks the bicentennial of the Lewis and Clark journey of which
Davis said, There has been little interest and or knowledge of
York and his contribution to the success of that mission. Yorks
presence at that point in our nations history needs to be put
into perspective with the others who have been heralded as heroes of
Many events will be held concerning the bicentennial, including a re-creation
of the actual route. In preparation for the bicentennial, Davis said
he has participated in the Lewis and Clark National training academy
in Washington State, Kansas and North Dakota. He has been invited to
Harpers Ferry, among other events.
It is important to Davis to accurately portray what he termed the
heart of York. James J. Holmberg, curator of Special Collections
for the Filson Club in Louisville, aided Davis as a consultant for the
necessary research to portray York accurately.
Clark and York traveled extensively, said Holmberg. He said
that because York was Clarks body servant, he probably had no
choice as to whether or not he would accompany his master on the expedition.
York could provide more that simple company, said Holmberg.
From the journals and letters kept by Lewis and Clark, it has been determined
that York accompanied the other men on work assignments, hunted, scouted,
cooked, swam (several men couldnt), and therefore did not serve
Clark full time as a servant but became more of an equal member of the
group. The Indians referred to York as Big Medicine, said
Not much is known about York. He was close in age to William Clark,
having been born in Virginia. Clarks father, John Clark, bequeathed
him to Clark in a will dated July 24, 1799. At the time of their departure
on the 1803 expedition, York and William Clark lived together in Clarksville,
Indiana territory, across the Ohio River from Louisville.
On Oct. 26, the pair departed from the Falls of the Ohio with Meriwether
Lewis, Clarks Newfoundland dog, Seaman, and a group of men who
would earn the distinction in history as the Corp of Discovery.
His presence on the expedition led the 34-year-old York to become the
first black man to cross the continent north of Mexico.
Although York had been a vital part of this group of explorers who traveled
close to 8,000 miles, he returned home to assume his former role as
slave. York asked Clark for his freedom or the chance to be hired out
near Louisville to be closer to his wife, who had a different owner.
Ten years after the expedition, York was granted his freedom. York later
died of cholera in Tennessee.
For more information on Davis, call the Oldham
County Historical Society at (502) 222-0826.
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