This weekend, Spectrum Theatre Company is presenting two staged readings of the new play Juneteenth Chronicles, by local playwright Abena Edwards. The play is drawn from the actual words of former slaves, who were interviewed in 1937 by the Federal Works Project Administration. Transcripts of those interviews now reside in the Library of Congress.
"She went through 300 or more interviews," says Juneteenth Chronicles director Crystal Bird Caviel. "And carefully selected the ones that touched her, or the names that she recognized -- because it turns out that a lot of us are related to these people -- and then she created a play around those narratives. Just to let the ancestors tell us the true stories themselves, from their own mouths."
One of the actors in the show, Para Agboga, works at the George Washington Carver Museum by day. "I work [in] African-American history and culture all the time, every day," she says. "It's a rare time that I get a chance to grace the stage with it in this fashion. This is so wonderful for me to be able to do. And these narratives are so moving and so poignant."
Reading the words of Katie Darling -- a former slave who was born near Marshall, Texas and interviewed in her home in the Sunny South Addition of Marshall in 1937 -- was especially moving for Agboga.
"I'm from Marshall, Texas, and I have relatives that lived in the Sunny South," she says. "And unfortunately many of those who probably would have known these people -- who did some of these narratives -- are deceased. But I wish I could say 'Do you remember Ms. Darling?'. And I know some of them would probably say 'yes.'"
Many of the narratives in Juneteenth Chronicles are heartbreaking, but there are some lighter moments as well.
"Some of the stories are really just human and humorous," says Caviel. "So the entire show is definitely not all dark. There are a l0t of light moments. And I think it's really reflective of the Black experience -- there's been hardship, but there's always joy. And resilience."