Kumbayah … The Juneteenth Story, a play written and directed by playwright Rose McGee, tells the story of the journey for African American's on the heels of freedom during the years surrounding the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863. The play, which is playing at St. Paul's Landmark Center in the Weyerhaeuser Auditorium, isn't merely a history lesson for its audience but rather a celebration of pride and spirit.
The play, which is in its 11th year of production with Arts Us, is continuing its mission of providing a sound understanding to the truth behind why we observe June 19th. “Often we think of Juneteenth as a celebration of the end of slavery. Actually, Juneteenth is two years after the Emancipation Proclamation when Black people all around the country were finally informed that we had been freed two years and several months earlier,” said Raymond Jackson who plays Deacon Jay and Ole Earl in the play. “One of the last states to actually grant that affirmation to the slaves is Texas. The Union army had to send troops to Texas, because the state’s land and people owners were adamant about not letting the slaves know that this Emancipation Proclamation thing had taken place.”
Throughout the years, the production has been touched by the community and an outpour of youth performers who have been fortunate enough to grow up with its rich message. The cast of more than 25 is made up of a diverse group of actors who come from a multitude of cultural backgrounds. “We're very excited to bring these young children into the performing arts with Kumbayah. There really isn't a lot for our children as it pertains to theatre in the community,” staid McGee. “Not only have many of these children grown up in the production, but their parents have too and it's great to bring them all together with the new people who have come into the play.”
Some of the new faces making their debut in Kumbayah this year include Tashawn Moore and Rajel Johnson. Returning in the role of Frederick Douglas is actor Bobby Hickman, who has been reprising the historical figure since the plays inception some ten years ago.
From the tiniest voices to loudest, the cast comes together perfectly to disclose the secret road surrounding our journey to freedom. Many of players who have stepped on board were unaware of our story until they began rehearsing it to share it with the world. “I finally learned what Juneteenth was, because I used to think it was just a time to hang out in the park and have fun,” said Jonalyn Fair, one of Kumbayah's youngest performers who plays the characters Brenda and Abby. “Being in this play makes me feel more educated. [After it's done] I am going to continue to learn and develop, but I am also going to continue to teach and spread the word.”
Kumbayah… The Juneteenth Story, is a play that will bring you through a fountain of joyous emotions. You will laugh and you will cry, but you will be enriched by its sincerity. As you go along on this reverse journey through the past, you will be blessed with an abundance of priceless information. Art is the perfect chaser for swallowing any cultural history lesson, especially if it's trimmed with a profound heart and an unmatchable creativity.
The play is in production from now through June 20th with only 12 performances. Tickets range between $5 and $10. Kumbayah is in need of volunteers from the community to help with some of the tasks surrounding the production like ushering, ticket taking and backstage help. It's a play for the community that needs the open arms of its residents to lend a hand to tell our story as well as offer an ear for it to be heard. Get ready for an incredible journey.
For more information, visit www.arts-us.org or call (651)528-6871
For more information on how to volunteer contact Rose McGee at (612) 872-3637
The Landmark Center is located in Downtown St. Paul at 75 West 5th Street.