GEM Theatrics celebrates Black History Month!

As I’m sure most of you know, February is Black History Month, and while I’m not black, I do know some history and I thought I’d share some information with you.
Here at GEM Theatrics, we spend quite a bit of time delving into the early days of our country. Our newest production, “My Dearest Friend” by Mary G. Kron, focusses on the lives of John and Abigail Adams, who both had strong opinions on the issues of slavery and racial equality. We today tend to think of slavery as a southern state phenominon, and largely it was, as a result of the largely agricultural economy of the South. But, the sad truth is that for many years after the first settlers came to our shores at Jamestown and Plymouth, African slavery was a way of life in most of the thirteen colonies until the Revolution and after. And, even after slavery was abolished in some northern colonies, New England seafarers profited from the slave trade by carrying slaves to America in ships as part of the “triangle trade” (‘Molasses to Rum to Slaves’ from “1776”).
In fact, Abigail Adams’ own father, the Reverend William Smith, had owned a slave, Phoebe, that had been well beloved by Abigail. Reverend Smith made provisions in his will to free Phoebe and provided her with a life-long pension. Phoebe was married in John and Abigail’s home and Abigail put her in charge of the Adams’ household when she went to France and, later, England to be with her husband in the 1780s.
Despite this history of slavery, even in her own family, Abigail was convinced that slavery was wrong and that blacks deserved equal educational, if not social and political, rights. Indeed, she recounts in her letters a memorable incident with a local resident about the education of a free hired black lad working on the Adams’ farm. A telling of that story is on the first page of our website — http://www.gemtheatrics.com.
It is possible that John Adams lagged behind his wife in his thinking about this issue. I’ve come to the conclusion that Abigail was often more “progressive” than John is areas of social conscience, but John, his cousin Samuel Adams, and others, recognized that the slavery issue would one day impede the country’s progress. Sam Adams wrote in the 1770s that the slavery issue would cause “trouble a hundred years hence.” John wrote that slavery would “cost the country dear.” Even Thomas Jefferson, main author of the Declaration of Independence, and a slave-holder, included language in the Declaration condemning it, but southern state delegates forced it to be removed.
Slavery was, of course, officially abolished after the Civil War by the 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 would officially do away with segregation and racial discrimination, but we all know that the fight for equality goes on.
For myself, I hope that the day comes soon when, in the words of Abigail Adams: “I heard nothing more about the matter” and that we “shall all go to heaven together.”

ps — MB and I will be at the Grand Rapids Public Library February 13 at 7p to present our signature piece, “Love Letters” by A. R. Gurney. Admission is free! AND Gary is performing with AP Theatrical in Holland in “Marriage Is Murder” by Nick Hall. This is dinner theater. The food is very good and the price is reasonable. Performances are every Friday and Saturday in February. Go to http://www.aptheatrical.com for details and to order tickets.

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