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Thursday, April 23, 2015 12:01 am

Young reenactors learn history and life

Steps on the Road to Freedom performs April 29

Back row, left to right: Makari Robinson-McNeese, Vincent Hill, Rhinodda Webb, Patricia James-Davis, Betty White, and Betty Waters. Front row, left to right: Cydney Williams, Clinton Horton, Jr., Danielle Gibson, Miracle Drake-Smith and Amir Upshaw. Not pictured are: Cheynnne Banks, Denise Gibson, Caleb Crawford, Jonathan Davis, Zakiya Hill and Cameron Smith.
Photo by DAVID HINE

 

While most people think of history as just bygone times, Robert and Patricia Davis breathe life into it through their reenactments of real characters of the slavery and Civil War eras.

They have spent a combined total of 35 years researching, studying and portraying various African-American characters of the Civil War. Even now and during much of the summer months visitors to the Abraham Lincoln Museum can interact with the couple as Frederick Douglass and Sojourner Truth.

After serving so many years as reenactors, these parents of three adult children have undertaken a new endeavor to help educate and spark interest among young people to study the past, pursue professional positions and possibly try reenacting.

In their latest roles, Robert and Patricia serve as director-producer and assistant director-producer respectively of a unique Civil War stage production titled From the Emancipation Proclamation to the 13th Amendment: Steps on the Road to Freedom that features actors ranging in age from 11 to 19 years old.

Patricia’s added duties include that of narrator and costume designer.

One of many activities leading up to the Abraham Lincoln 150th Funeral Reenactment, the stage production brings to life Lincoln’s decision to issue the Emancipation Proclamation and subsequent ratification of the 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution. That significant choice by the 16th president led to the abolishment of slavery in this country.

By involving youth, especially African-American youth, the couple hope to ignite a desire within them to learn more about history and government that will engender better life choices.

“A lot of our young people don’t have the necessary background to help in understanding historical issues,” Robert commented.

He and his wife of 45 years see the use of history role-playing as a tool to help boys and girls learn more about the past and motivate them to aim for notable professions.

“I want young people to act in those positions of responsibility and power so they that can begin to visualize themselves in such positions of high responsibility and authority,” he explained.

Robert used the term “imaging” to further explain that the more adolescents learn about and see others in prestigious positions, especially those who look like them, the more “those kinds of images appeal” to them.

Patricia added that acting is a very valuable educational tool for children because a “lot of kids are more visual as learners” and they therefore absorb more by seeing and doing.

Activities such as role-playing also help to promote public speaking, interpretive reading and good grammar usage, Robert said.

Denise Gibson, a 19-year-old female college student who plays the role of Lincoln, says that she has learned more about the slain president’s personality and his thoughts about slavery.

A 14-year-old eighth-grader, Vincent Hill, also says the show provides a better understanding of Lincoln’s point of view and that of others inside and outside of his cabinet.

Both actors say that the program has helped with speech and public speaking.

The upcoming production features the play My Whole Soul Is In It, written by Ron Keller, director of Lincoln Heritage Museum, which is a “reenactment of the conversation between President Lincoln and his cabinet discussing Lincoln’s firm decision to issue the Emancipation Proclamation.”

Other components of the production include a press conference featuring responses by prominent historical figures to the passage and ratification of the13th Amendment, musical selections and dance performances.

The free show starts 7 p.m. April 29 at Union Baptist Church, 1405 E. Monroe Street. It is open to the public.

LaVern McNeese of Springfield is a wife, mother and grandmother who writes to inform and to improve. She may be contacted at lmcneese577@gmail.com.

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