‘Voice of the fugitive’

Louisville playright pens story
about slave Henry Bibb’s life

Drama will debut at
Louisville’s Actor’s Theatre in May

By Helen E. McKinney
Contributing Writer

LA GRANGE, Ky. (May 2009) – From the moment Carridder Jones first heard of Henry Bibb, she was enthralled by this historical character with ties to Oldham County. Her quest to know more about Bibb’s life led her to research and write a play, “Voice of the Fugitive.”

Carridder Jones

Photo provided

Carridder Jones was
asked by the Oldham
County History
Center to write a play
about historical figure
Henry Bibb.

“I found his life to be interesting,” said Jones, 73. She wanted to write about him and when Nancy Theiss, executive director of the Oldham County History Center, approached her about writing a play, she accepted the challenge.
Jones bought a copy of Bibb’s autobiography, “Narrative of the Life and Adventures of Henry Bibb, An American Slave,” to begin her search for more information about this former slave.
Her 40-minute play tells the story of a slave born in 1815 whose father was a white man, State Sen. James Bibb, and whose mother, Mildred Jackson, was an African American slave. Bibb did not even know he was a slave until he came of age and was sent off to work in the fields, no longer able to play with his white playmate, said Jones.
“He resented the way he was treated and once he heard there were no slaves in Canada, he dreamed of going there.”
Before he could fully plan an escape to Canada, Bibb fell in love with and married a slave named Malinda from Oldham County. Together they had a daughter, Mary, but were forced to live apart because they had different owners. Even though Bibb was eventually bought by his wife’s owner, it was unsettling for him to live near her every day and see the things she was subject to.
“He became bitter and decided to escape from slavery,” in 1837, said Jones. Alone and missing his family, Bibb tried several times to rescue them but failed. He was captured and returned to his owner who sold him and his family to the deep South.
Bibb was finally successful in his escape attempts and made it to Canada. He dedicated his life to helping slaves escape the horrors of slavery and established Canada’s first African American newspaper. During the course of writing this play, “I was inspired by Henry Bibb’s ability to follow through on his decision to go to Canada and the people who helped him along the way,” Jones said.
“Voice of the Fugitive” will premier at Actor’s Theatre of Louisville on May 29, 30, and 31, 2009. The Oldham County Historical Society wrote a grant to the Kentucky Arts Council for the Lincoln Bicentennial Celebration and received $3,200 to help with the production at Actor’s Theatre, said Theiss.
As she read Bibb’s autobiography, Jones rooted for Bibb and was hopeful he would not give up and turn back. “It was as if I took every step along the way with him and saw the hardships he endured.” She understood his need to return for his family “and read on in fascination and concern as he made his way back to Kentucky.”
Jones, who is originally from South Carolina, has conducted a lot of research on African American history in the past. She now lives in Jefferson County, having moved to the area in 1966.
She has penned five plays that have been produced: “Lady of the House,” “The Mark of Cain,” “The Faded Quilt,” “When Did I Die Anyway?” and “Women of Freetown.” Jones has also written a book, “A Backward Glance,” about a woman living in South Carolina whose father is a sharecropper. It can be purchased at Carmichael’s and Historic Locust Grove, where Jones is the weekend manager every other weekend.
Jones began writing “Voice of the Fugitive” three years ago while on winter vacation. “Because Bibb was such a good orator, I decided he could speak for himself and worked towards building the play around his comments from the book,” she said. Jones thought it was important for her main character to “keep true to his actual comments.”
Bibb was “an important person from Kentucky history,” said Laura Early, the play’s director. She feels it is important that audiences learn about him and be enriched by his story and struggles. The play “doesn’t shy away from the horrific events of history,” she said.
There are three main characters in “Voice of the Fugitive,” played by actors who graduated from the University of Louisville. DeAldon Watson has the staring role and another actor portrays three different characters, Early said.
A special exhibit, The Henry Bibb Project, will be on display at the Oldham County History Center now through Aug. 15. Information will be available “about Henry Bibb and the research of places that we have authenticated from Bibb’s own narratives,” said Theiss.
Also in the exhibit will be a hands-on dig area for young visitors and a collection of artifacts collected from the Gatewood Plantation, located in Bedford, Ky. The plantation was the last place in which Bibb experienced slavery before escaping.
“Bibb is important to Oldham County because the Gatewood site was in Oldham County before the boundary lines were withdrawn in the early 1830s-1840s,” Theiss said. “Many of the descendants from his stories live in our county and area.”

• Tickets for “Voice of the Fugitive” can be purchased through Actor’s Theatre by calling the box office at (502) 584-1205. There will be a free dress rehearsal for schools at the Oldham County Arts Center at 10:30 a.m. on May 15. For more information, contact Nancy Theiss at the Oldham County History Center at (502) 222-0826.

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