Voice of the fugitive
playright pens story
about slave Henry Bibbs life
will debut at
Louisvilles Actors Theatre in May
Helen E. McKinney
LA GRANGE, Ky. (May 2009) From the moment
Carridder Jones first heard of Henry Bibb, she was enthralled by this
historical character with ties to Oldham County. Her quest to know more
about Bibbs life led her to research and write a play, Voice
of the Fugitive.
asked by the Oldham
Center to write a play
about historical figure
I found his life to be interesting, said Jones,
73. She wanted to write about him and when Nancy Theiss, executive director
of the Oldham County History Center, approached her about writing a
play, she accepted the challenge.
Jones bought a copy of Bibbs autobiography, Narrative of
the Life and Adventures of Henry Bibb, An American Slave, to begin
her search for more information about this former slave.
Her 40-minute play tells the story of a slave born in 1815 whose father
was a white man, State Sen. James Bibb, and whose mother, Mildred Jackson,
was an African American slave. Bibb did not even know he was a slave
until he came of age and was sent off to work in the fields, no longer
able to play with his white playmate, said Jones.
He resented the way he was treated and once he heard there were
no slaves in Canada, he dreamed of going there.
Before he could fully plan an escape to Canada, Bibb fell in love with
and married a slave named Malinda from Oldham County. Together they
had a daughter, Mary, but were forced to live apart because they had
different owners. Even though Bibb was eventually bought by his wifes
owner, it was unsettling for him to live near her every day and see
the things she was subject to.
He became bitter and decided to escape from slavery, in
1837, said Jones. Alone and missing his family, Bibb tried several times
to rescue them but failed. He was captured and returned to his owner
who sold him and his family to the deep South.
Bibb was finally successful in his escape attempts and made it to Canada.
He dedicated his life to helping slaves escape the horrors of slavery
and established Canadas first African American newspaper. During
the course of writing this play, I was inspired by Henry Bibbs
ability to follow through on his decision to go to Canada and the people
who helped him along the way, Jones said.
Voice of the Fugitive will premier at Actors Theatre
of Louisville on May 29, 30, and 31, 2009. The Oldham County Historical
Society wrote a grant to the Kentucky Arts Council for the Lincoln Bicentennial
Celebration and received $3,200 to help with the production at Actors
Theatre, said Theiss.
As she read Bibbs autobiography, Jones rooted for Bibb and was
hopeful he would not give up and turn back. It was as if I took
every step along the way with him and saw the hardships he endured.
She understood his need to return for his family and read on in
fascination and concern as he made his way back to Kentucky.
Jones, who is originally from South Carolina, has conducted a lot of
research on African American history in the past. She now lives in Jefferson
County, having moved to the area in 1966.
She has penned five plays that have been produced: Lady of the
House, The Mark of Cain, The Faded Quilt,
When Did I Die Anyway? and Women of Freetown.
Jones has also written a book, A Backward Glance, about
a woman living in South Carolina whose father is a sharecropper. It
can be purchased at Carmichaels and Historic Locust Grove, where
Jones is the weekend manager every other weekend.
Jones began writing Voice of the Fugitive three years ago
while on winter vacation. Because Bibb was such a good orator,
I decided he could speak for himself and worked towards building the
play around his comments from the book, she said. Jones thought
it was important for her main character to keep true to his actual
Bibb was an important person from Kentucky history, said
Laura Early, the plays director. She feels it is important that
audiences learn about him and be enriched by his story and struggles.
The play doesnt shy away from the horrific events of history,
There are three main characters in Voice of the Fugitive,
played by actors who graduated from the University of Louisville. DeAldon
Watson has the staring role and another actor portrays three different
characters, Early said.
A special exhibit, The Henry Bibb Project, will be on display at the
Oldham County History Center now through Aug. 15. Information will be
available about Henry Bibb and the research of places that we
have authenticated from Bibbs own narratives, said Theiss.
Also in the exhibit will be a hands-on dig area for young visitors and
a collection of artifacts collected from the Gatewood Plantation, located
in Bedford, Ky. The plantation was the last place in which Bibb experienced
slavery before escaping.
Bibb is important to Oldham County because the Gatewood site was
in Oldham County before the boundary lines were withdrawn in the early
1830s-1840s, Theiss said. Many of the descendants from his
stories live in our county and area.
Tickets for Voice of the Fugitive
can be purchased through Actors Theatre by calling the box office
at (502) 584-1205. There will be a free dress rehearsal for schools
at the Oldham County Arts Center at 10:30 a.m. on May 15. For more information,
contact Nancy Theiss at the Oldham County History Center at (502) 222-0826.
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