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Reflections on ‘Created Equal’

On the Fourth of July we celebrate the Declaration of Independence, which asserts that “all men are created equal” and endowed with certain unalienable rights, including “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” The question posed by Frederick Douglass in his 1852 speech, “What to the Slave is the 4th of July?” must have been on the minds of enslaved people of Williamsburg in 1776.

What did the Declaration mean to those who were enslaved at the time that it was written? How did they process the cognitive dissonance and emotional anguish they must have experienced when they juxtaposed the rhetoric of freedom and equality against their daily lives of servitude and bondage?

And what does all of this mean for modern descendants of enslaved people who live in a society still plagued by racism and inequality today?

Created Equal is a program that explores what enslaved people in Williamsburg may have been ruminating on in 1776 as they listened to the ideas of the time swirl around them. The program also makes connections between the 18th century and more modern events to explore what the words and ideals put forth in the Declaration mean to us now and can mean for us in the future.

In developing Created Equal, Actor Interpreters Deirdre Jones, Jamar Jones, Jeremy Morris, and I put our heads and hearts together to develop a truly unique museum theatre piece. Pulling from primary resource material from the 18th, 19th, 20th and 21st centuries, we have utilized our collective experience as theatre artists, historical interpreters, musicians, and Black Americans to create an experience that aims to honor our ancestors; engage, entertain, and enlighten our guests; and put our fourth of July celebrations in a more inclusive and thoughtful context.

Today the quest for equality, justice, and civil rights continues in our country. As we live through a pandemic and world-wide protests, the words of the Declaration of Independence remain as relevant and aspirational as ever.

“As we live through a pandemic and world-wide protests, the words of the Declaration of Independence remain as relevant and aspirational as ever.”

Created Equal will take you on an intellectual, emotional, and spiritual journey into the idea that “all men are created equal.” We know this is true, it awakens something in us when we hear it. We offer this piece of theatre in service of that Declaration and in pursuit of a society that truly reflects its meaning.

Come see us for a limited run at the Coffeehouse Stage at Colonial Williamsburg beginning July 4, 2020 and see below for additional materials.



Katrinah Carol Lewis is an actor, singer, playwright, director, historical interpreter, teaching artist and yoga instructor. She has been working in the Actor Interpreter department at Colonial Williamsburg since 2011, serving as Artistic Director of Museum Theatre since 2016. She is the playwright and director for “Resolved. An American Experiment” and many other museum theatre programs at CW including “Joy in the Morning” and “Faith, Hope and Love.” She has been an active member of the theatre community in Richmond, Virginia for over 15 years and was awarded the Richmond Theatre Critics Circle Award for Best Actress in a Musical in 2016 for her work as Billie Holiday in “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill,” with TheatreLab.

Enslaved people represented in the play Created Equal

Jupiter

  • Born in 1743 on Shadwell plantation
  • Owned by and grew up with Thomas Jefferson and served as his direct manservant until about 1775
  • Head of the stables at Monticello until his death in 1800
  • Selected sources

Lydia Broadnax

  • Enslaved to George Wythe until 1787 in Williamsburg Virginia
  • Worked as a freewoman in Richmond Virginia
  • Owned her own boarding house
  • Was in contact with Thomas Jefferson via letter after George Wythe’s death in 1806
  • Left property to her free grandnephews upon her death in the 1820s
  • Selected sources
    • “Lydia Broadnax. Slave and Free Woman of Color” by Andrew Nunn McKnight, Southern Studies Volume V Numbers I &2 Spring & Summer 1994
    • James City Personal Property Taxes, microfilm
    • Elizabeth City County Personal Property Taxes, 1783
    • Manumission Papers, August 20, 1787

Agnes

  • Enslaved to Peyton Randolph, then Elizabeth Randolph
  • Lived in Williamsburg, Virginia
  • Mother of Henry
  • Listed as “gone to the enemy” on Randolph Inventory, highly likely that she joined the British in search of freedom during the Revolutionary War
  • Selected sources
    • Inventory of Peyton Randolph’s Estate January 5, 1776

Juba

  • Enslaved to James Southall at the Raleigh Tavern
  • Possibly the foreman
  • Purchased by James Southall from Cumberland County in 1773
  • Selected sources
    • Notations in James Southall’s receipt book

Jenny

  • Enslaved to Peyton Randolph, later Edmund Randolph
  • Lived and worked at Martin’s Hundred Plantation outside of the city
  • Mother to Sue, Betty, Ned, and baby Jenny who died in infancy
  • Selected sources
    • Inventory and Appraisement of the Estate of Peyton Randolph, December 20, 1775
    • List of Slaves belonging to Edmund Randolph September 1784
    • “From Calabar to Carter’s Grove: The History of a Virginia Slave Community” by Lorena S. Walsh
    • “Slave Counterpoint” by Phillip D. Morgan

Kate

  • Enslaved to James Southall at the Raleigh Tavern
  • Possibly a laundress
  • Possibly attended the Bray School for Free and enslaved black children
  • Selected sources
    • Inventory of Anthony Hay’s Estate February 2, 1771

Notes on Songs in “Created Equal”

“I’m gonna lay down my burdens”

  • Traditional Negro Spiritual

“Woke up this Morning (with my mind Stayed on Freedom)”

“We Shall Overcome”

  • Popular song of the civil rights era, modified from traditional gospel song “I’ll overcome” also known as “I’ll be alright” (citation – Everybody says Freedom by Pete Seeger and Bob Reiser pages 8-9 https://archive.org/details/everybodysaysfre00seeg)

“We Shall Not Be Moved”

  • Traditional Negro Spiritual, popular during the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960’s

“Battle Hymn of the Republic”

  • From Wikipedia The "Battle Hymn of the Republic", also known as "Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory" outside of the United States, is a lyric by the abolitionist writer Julia Ward Howe using the music from the song "John Brown's Body". Howe's more famous lyrics were written in November 1861 and first published in The Atlantic Monthly in February 1862”

“Oh Freedom”

  • Traditional Negro Spiritual, popular during the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960’s

A list of Work Consulted in the development of the play “Created Equal”

Declaration of Independence

Declaration of Independence – Draft “He has waged cruel war…”

Benjamin Banneker’s open letter to Thomas Jeffers on 17791

What to the Slave is the Fourth of July? By Frederick Douglass - July 5, 1852

“Ain’t I a Woman” by Sojourner Truth - May 29,1851

Barack Obama’s farewell speech – January 10, 2017

“Liberty Further Extended:” A 1776 Anti-Slavery Manuscript by Lemuel Haynes

Bogin, Ruth. " "Liberty Further Extended": A 1776 Antislavery Manuscript by Lemuel Haynes." The William and Mary Quarterly 40, no. 1 (1983): 85-105. Accessed June 23, 2020. doi:10.2307/1919529.

Emancipation Proclamation

13th amendment of the United States Constitution

Petition for the abolition of slavery in Connecticut, 1779

Petition for Freedom – Felix, Massachusetts, 1773

“New Black Math” by Suzan-Lori Parks

“Gettysburg Address”– President Abraham Lincoln

Virginia Gazette, Alexander Purdie, December 15, 1775, Page 3 Column 3

“The American Dream” speech by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. July 5, 1965, Ebenezer Baptist Church, Atlanta Georgia

“The Autobiography of Malcolm X” by Alex Haley and Malcolm X

Enslaving Virginia, resource by Colonial Williamsburg Foundation

Recommended Materials

Watch

  • 13th – documentary, Ava Duvernay
  • Slavery by Another Name, PBS
  • Africans in America, PBS
  • The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross with Henry Louis Gates, Jr, PBS

Read

  • “The Black Presence in the Era of the American Revolution” by Sidney Kaplan and Emma Nogrady Kaplan
  • “A People’s History of the Unites States” by Howard Zinn
  • “The New Jim Crow” by Michelle Alexander
  • “Between the World and Me” by Ta-Nehisi Coates
  • "In the Matter of Color: Race and the American Legal Process" by A. Leon Higginbotham Jr.
  • "To Be A Slave" by Julius Lester

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