It was cold outside, and the crowd wasn’t very large.
But there was a nice fire in the fireplace, the Davidson Interpretative Center at George Rogers Clark Park was warm and cozy, and those who were there Feb. 12 were treated to an interesting glimpse into the life of a slave in America during the late 1700s.
While Phillis Wheatley is long gone, her story lives through the portrayals of professional teaching artist Sandra Quick of Columbus. Wheatley was the first African-American to publish a volume of poems, entitled “Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral.”
During the time of our nation’s founding fathers, Wheatley wrote about the colonists’ struggle with British rule, the fight for independence and her own trials and triumphs.
In full period dress and character, Quick participated in a mock radio interview with local historian Bill Smith serving as the announcer. The interview began with something many people in the community would quickly recognize, the song “Buck Dance,” which was Smilin’ Bob’s theme song for many years on local radio station WBLY.
For the next 90 minutes, Quick shared Wheatley’s thoughts about what was happening to her and to the country during the American Revolutionary War period. She set the stage by saying “the masters — including my master, Mr. Wheatley — are protesting King George’s taxes. But how can my master fight for his freedom from King George, but hold me as a slave?”
Around age 7, Wheatley watched as her African village was set ablaze and her brother was killed. Her family was pressed into slavery and for the next several months were transported in the most squalid conditions aboard a slave ship to America, never to see her family again. She survived “only by the Grace of God, He had me come to America” she later wrote.
She taught herself to read and write by paying close attention to the lessons being taught to the Wheatley’s daughter, Mary, and Wheatley began writing poetry at age 9. She encountered many roadblocks on her way to publishing her first poems, and it was only printed through the intervention of the slave master’s wife and Wheatley ultimately passing an oral exam to have her work certified.
During the Revolutionary War, Wheatley wrote a letter to then-Gen. George Washington, encouraging him to also fight for the freedom of the slaves, and later met with him. She gained greater notoriety when Thomas Paine published that letter.
Wheatley did not live long enough to see freedom granted to slaves here in the United States. She died in 1790.
By the way, Sandra Quick frequently participates in The Fair at New Boston, which also focuses on that period in our nation’s history and is held the weekend before Labor Day, at George Rogers Clark Park.
In response to a question from the audience, she said, “I believe everyone has a voice in the world. Decide what is important to you and speak out.”
Good advice for all of us, during any period of history.
Contact this reporter at Darryl.Bauer@cmgohio.com or 937-328-0341.