The Modern loves Jubilee and many theatre lovers came out last month to see what the players from the historic Jubilee Theatre would unveil in tribute to the Modern’s current exhibit, Kara Walker: My Complement, My Enemy, My Oppressor, My Love. Ed Smith, Artistic Director for the Jubilee Theatre, stated that the Kara Walker exhibit is art and history. He felt that we as a society have to look at slavery like we look at the Holocaust. Slavery is a part of our American history, and the Jubilee actors researched slavery, read letters written by slaves, and had discussions on slavery in order to prepare for their performance of The drum, the voice, and the dance, narratives from the slave ship to the auction block. A glimpse in history that should never be forgotten.
As the lights went down in the auditorium, the sounds of Africa filled the room. A drummer dressed in gold and black African attire descended the top of the auditorium stairs while playing an African drum. The rhythmic beats were loud then soft—fast then slow as he moved around the stage. It was the sound of African people and their history. The sound of the mother land rang out, but her African children were about to be taken on a ship that would travel to a foreign land—a land of slavery.
When the Africans arrived on the foreign land, they quickly found out who ruled the land—the white man. A tall, gentile white man with a charming southern accent boldly entered the stage to talk to the slave owners about their slave problems. He told them that he liked the old ways of slave control. This man liked the old ways so much that he had them published in a pamphlet. He instructed the slave owners on how to keep slaves enslaved. This could be achieved by creating division among the slaves by putting emphasis on their differences. The old slave had to hate the young slave. The male slave had to hate the female slave. The slave who had dark skin had to hate the slave who had fair skin. The slave owner also had to establish distrust and envy among the slaves. The slave owner had to control sex between the slaves. Finally, the slaves could only love their owner and the overseer. They couldn’t love themselves or one another.
This plan didn’t work because love was shown among the slaves. It was even shown on the auction block. A Jubilee player looked out into the audience sternly and asked, “How would you feel standing on the auction block?" He told of what it was like for slaves on the auction block. They were stripped, they had to dance, and their value was based on the number of children they could bare. As the bidding started, the auctioneer said, “Don’t mind the tears." The Africans cried out to their loved ones as they were separated hoping that they would be reunited, but the reality was that they would never see each other again.
Separation of families and friends, working the land only to receive scraps for your labor, being raped and whipped, scrambling with being biracial, and being driven to murder were some of the conditions and outcomes of slavery dramatically narrated by the Jubilee cast. I was moved in my spirit. I felt weepy and numb all over, but then a man wearing a burgundy suit with a matching hat stepped out of the audience and began to sing Sam Cooke’s 1964 single, “A Change is Gonna Come". I love that song, and I believe that the Africans held on to the hope that change would come. Today, change has come, but do we still need more change?