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Sojourner Truth: Abolitionist & Women's Rights Advocate

PLAY: SO TALL WITHIN by Robert A. Rowe

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SO TALL WITHIN

 

CHARACTERS:

 

ESQUIRE CHIPP,  Narrator, a well-bred, educated 19th century lawyer.

[Probably Charles W. Chipp was elected county clerk in 1834. He died in May, 1846. History of Ulster County, New York Woodstock, NY: OverlookPress, 1977]

 

BELLE (Isabella, Sojourner Truth), at age 9, 29, and 50, a slave and former slave)

 

JAMES (Baumfree), father of BELLE, late 60s, frail, arthritic

 

ELIZABETH (Mau-mau Bett), mother of BELLE, late 50s

 

MICHAEL, brother of BELLE, age 5

 

SLAVE TRADER, large raw-boned man

 

MR. GEDNEY, age 60

[Probably Dr. William  Gedney]

 

MRS. GEDNEY, matronly lady, 50s

 

PETER, son of BELLE, age 8

 

SQUIRE ROMAYNE, lawyer, 30s

 

 JUDGE

 

LAW CLERKS

 

DUMONT,  John Dumont/Dumond

 

NOTE: This work is as historically accurate as is possible, since there are conflicting accounts of the incidents and persons involved. No attempt has been made to use dialect, since the language of most of the characters was Dutch or English  spoken in the Hudson River valley during this period.

 

TIME:

 

about 1806, 1827, and 1850

 

 

 

 

i

SETTING

 

(The damp, dark cellar of the Johannes Hardenbergh mansion, about 1806.)                      

 

ACT 1

 

SQUIRE CHIPP: (Spotlight illuminates him. Addressing the audience)

What's in a name? It was Shakespeare who posed that question, wasn’t it? I suppose many others have asked the same question. In fact, I have wondered, myself, if a name, by itself, holds any real meaning. I have seen many who were born with fine names bring dishonor to their families. And I have seen, especially in this new Republic, many with what had been considered “common” names, become quite respectable families. No matter! The only name our young heroine •••

 

(a second spotlight illuminates BELLE, age nine, sitting motionless, at the end of the table in a dark, damp room)

 

••• had for the first thirty, or more, years of her life was Isabella, or Belle. It was customary ••• for her race ••• to have but one name. Her father was known only as James, or in the New York Dutch homes where he spent most of his life, he was also called Baumfree, which meant “as tall and straight as a tree” ••• probably an apt description of the young man who arrived on this continent, in chains, nearly a half century before. Belle's mother was called Elizabeth, or Mau-mau Bett •••

 

(the spotlight, on BELLE, opens to include JAMES and ELIZABETH also at the table.)

 

••• That's how slaves were identified at the time Belle was born, about 1797. Of course, legally, she was known as “Hardenbergh's Belle,” because her parents were the property

of Colonel Johannes Hardenbergh, which meant that she, too, was automatically his property at birth. Slavery still existed in New York State at the time. If Belle had been

born just two years later she could have received her freedom after twenty-five years of service to her master. The law which provided for this manumission also prohibited

the importation of new slaves into the state, or the sale outside the state of those already living in the state. The law also applied to Belle's brother, Michael •••

 

( spotliqht includes MICHAEL at the end of the table opposite BELLE)

 

••• since he was born after the passage of the law in 1799 he was entitled to his freedom at the age of twenty-eight. But, as we shall see, laws were not always strictly enforced, or were totally ignored. The law ••• incidentally ••• is my profession. Me?  Who am I? What is my involvement with Belle? My name is Chipp. I am an attorney, in Kington, New York. How did I come to know Belle’s story? ••• you may ask. She told it

 

 

1

to me. In later years she told anyone who would listen ••• and many who wouldn't. One of her first recollections involved an incident which occurred right here in her first home the Hardenbergh mansion. But, where-as George and Martha Washington, and Governor and Mrs. George Clinton were entertained in the mansion, proper, Belle's family occupied the lower region ••• they lived in the dark, damp cellar.

 

(Light down on CHIPP, up on the family, sittinq on plank benches, around a plank table. The back wall is blocks of stone. To the riqht of the table is a fireplace, built into the wall, a small fire burninq. Further to the riqht, in the corner, is an open stair-case leading to ground-level. A bulkhead door leads outside. As the liqht comes up the family sits, quietly eatinq brown bread, occasionally drinking from pewter muqs. ELIZABETH sits with down-cast eyes, not eatinq.)

 

BELLE: (to ELIZABETH) Ma-ma, why don't you eat ••• why do you look so sad?

 

ELIZABETH: It's nothin', dear ••• I •••  I'm just not hungry.

 

BELLE: But you didn't eat anything last night either.

 

ELIZABETH: It's all right, Belle ••• (pattinq BELLE'S hand)

••• it's all right •••

 

(The family continues to sit, except for ELIZABETH, quietly, eatinq. After a moment the sound of jangling sleiqh-bells is heard, and becomes louder. As the family members become aware of the sound they turn toward the stairs. As MICHAEL recoqnizes the sound he stuffs the remainder of his bread in his mouth, leaps to his feet, dashes past the table and up the stairs.)

 

MICHAEL: (squealinq with excitement) A sleigh's comin! Sleigh’s comin!

 

(ELIZABETH starts to rise, reaches, unsucessfully, for MICHAEL as he passes.)

 

ELIZABETH: (weakly)  child •••

 

(As MICHAEL reaches the top of the stairs, opens the door and exits, a shaft of light streams in, spotliqhtinq ELIZABETH'S hand, still outstretched toward MICHAEL. JAMES has partially risen and reaches ELIZABETH'S arm. As ELIZABETH settles back in resiqnation on the bench,  JAMES pats her arm comfortinqly. BELLE, who is nearly as excited as MICHAEL at the sound of the sleigh-bells, has followed him up the stairs, after observing the reaction of her parents. As she reaches the top of the stairs and stands in the open door, she shuts out most of the light. Shoutinq is heard from outside, then hurried foot-steps. BELLE turns and dashes down the stairs, behind them, and cowers in the corner. Riqht on her heels MICHAEL dashes, in terror, down the stairs. In panic he looks around the room and rushes to the straw-covered pallet, in the corner

 

2

opposite the stairs, and attempts to hide under the straw. A large white SLAVE

TRADER, a rope coiled around his shoulder, loudly descends the stairs, looks around and goes to the pallet, hauls MICHAEL out by a  leg, stands him on his feet and hauls him by an  arm toward the stairs. JAMES and ELIZABETH stand, rigidly. BELLE cowers behind the stairs.)

 

MICHAEL: (silultaneously with being hauled from under the straw and up the stairs, pleading)  Pa-pa ••• Ma-ma •••

 

JAMES:  (helplessly, his face emotionless, pointing to the stairs)  Go!

 

(MICHAEL pleads to his mother.)

 

ELIZABETH: (choking back tears)  Obey •••

 

(MICHAEL, still pleading is hauled up the stairs and outside, and the door is slammed shut, shutting out the spotlight. Faint cries are heard from MICHAEL, along with the shouts of men; then silence. JAMES and ELIZABETH stand in stunned silence. BELLE, still trembling behind the stairs. Sleiqh-bells are heard, then receed. At the sound of the

sleigh-bells. BELLE dashes to ELlZABETH'S arms, weepinq.)

 

BELLE: Ma-ma ••• Ma-ma •••

 

(ELIZABETH, chokinq back tears, unable to speak, merely hugging BELLE as she sways back and forth, moaninq sorrowfully. JAMES gently pats BELLE on the head.)

 

JAMES:  There ••• there ••• it is best •••

 

ELIZABETH:  (weaky)  My boy ••• my last boy •••

 

(JAMES raises his eyes, then his index finger to the floor overhead, then places the finger to his lips, for silence.)

 

JAMES:  It's better ••• this way ••• better ••• than what happened to that other poor child ••• you know the one ••• Elizabeth •••

 

ELIZABETH: (suppressing sobs)  I know, James ••• I know. Maybe it is

better this way •••

 

(They stand, momentarily in silence.)

 

JAMES: (again looking upward)  They'll be 'spectin' you upstairs, Bett. They'll be wantin' their dinner ••• (slight pause) ••• and you know Master Hardenbergh don't like a fuss.

 

3

ELIZABETH:  (stops sobbing, squares shoulders)  I know, James ••• I know •••

 

(ELIZABETH hugs BELLE tighter, looking into the child's anxious, searching eyes.)

 

BELLE: (anxiously)  Ma-ma ••• are they gonna come back and take me too?

 

ELIZABETH: No, Belle ••• (next two words barely audible) ••• not ••• now •••

little girls ain't good for much ••• to slave traders.

 

BELLE: Will we ever see Michael again?

 

ELIZABETH: If the Master wills •••

 

BELLE: Master Hardenbergh?

 

ELIZABETH:  No, child! I mean the Lord God!

 

BELLE:  Who's He, Ma-ma?

 

ELIZABETH:  He's the Master of us all.

 

BELLE:  Slave traders too?

 

ELIZABETH: Yes, dear ••• slave traders too!

 

BELLE:  Then, will He help us get Michael back from them?

 

ELIZABETH:  No, Belle ••• but God will watch over Michael. And if you pray

hard enough you may see him again.

 

BELLE: How do I pray, Ma-ma?

 

ELIZABETH:  I'll teach you, Belle •••

 

(JAMES gently touches ELIZABETH'S arm, and with a head gesture, indicates

that she should go upstairs.)

 

ELIZABETH: I’ll teach you later, Belle ••• I have to get Master Hardenbergh’s

dinner, now •••

 

(ELIZABETH starts to leave, moves toward stairs) ••• be good, dear ••• remember

what your father said ••• the Master doesn’t like a fuss.

 

(Lights down on stage as ELIZABETH ascends stairs. Spotlight up on CHIPP.)

 

4

CHIPP:  Elizabeth was an expert at avoiding the appearance of making a fuss

••• as were most of her people. Ten children had already been taken from her,

and sold to as many masters. On this particular day, Elizabeth cooked dinner

for the Hardenbergh family ••• without making any fuss. Later that evening,

after finishing her chores, she returned to the cellar and fed her own family.

After eating she took Belle to her favorite place to pray ••• on the top of

the cellar stairs ••• with the door open  ••• under the starry sky.

 

(Spotlight off CHIPP, up on the dimly lit cellar, JAMES is huddled close to

a small fire. The door is open and the qlow of the stars and moon illuminate ELIZABETH, cradling BELLE at her side, on the top step. ELIZABETH

sways, rhythmically, from side to side while humming: "Nobody knows the trouble

I see •••• ")

 

JAMES: (without criticism, or conviction, to ELIZABETH)  You'll both catch your

death ••• with that door open •••

 

ELIZABETH:  I 'spose, James ••• but I figure it's about as warm outside •••

 

JAMES: (shrugging)  I ••• I spose •••

 

(JAMES pulls a blanket around his shoulders. ELIZABETH resumes humming and swaying.)

 

ELIZABETH: (words of the song come)  ••• nobody knows my sorrow •••

 

(BELLE listens a few moments, then shakes ELIABETH by the arm. ELIZABETH comes out of a trancelike state.)

 

BELLE: Ma-ma ••• what makes you moan so? What's the matter?

 

ELIZABETH: Matter enough, child. I moan for my poor children. They don't know where I am ••• and I don't know where they are. They look up at the stars ••• (she looks up) ••• and I look up at the same stars ••• but we don't know where each other is •••

 

BELLE: (innocently) But, Ma-ma, why did you let the traders take them all away?

 

ELIZABETH: Ain't nothin' we can do, child ••• the master owns us ••• and he can do

what he wants to with us.

 

BELLE: Ma-ma, you promised to tell me about another Master, Master God. Does he sell slaves too?

 

ELIZABETH: No, child, God don't sell slaves •••• He only loves them.

 

5

BELLE:  Why don't He make the other masters stop selling slaves?

 

ELIZABETH:  God must change their hearts, first •••• I guess that takes a long time

•••• But He can help you, child. When you grow up ••• and you are sold away from your

Pa-pa and Ma-ma, and you have great trouble come on you ••• you just go to God, and

He'll help you.

 

BELLE: But, who is God, Ma-ma ••• where is He?

 

ELIZABETH:  Why, child ••• He's up there ••• (pointing to the sky) ••• in the heavens.

He's up there, where he can watch over all His children. Just look up there. It's Him

that made all them •••

 

(Lights fade on ELIZABETH and BELLE and the stage, up on CHIPP.)

 

CHIPP: But the stars didn't shine very brightly on Belle, for, indeed she was sold

away from her father and mother ••• not when she grew up ••• but within that very year.

Her earthly master died, and much of his property, including the slaves, was sold at

auction. And, as Elizabeth had said, small girls weren't worth much. As a matter of fact

Belle's worth could not even be calculated. There were no buyers for her, until she was

included with a flock of sheep. John Neely drove her home with the sheep, but within

two years he sold her to a tavern owner, who, in his turn, sold her two years later to

John Dumont. Dumont apparently was looking to the future profit which the sale of Belle's children would bring. It was not long before he chose one of his slaves, named Tom, to be her husband. Belle's own parents had been given their freedom at the time of the auction, since James was too feeble to work, and state law required that owners provide for the support of former slaves, unless some other provision was made. Elizabeth was given her freedom, on the condition that she care for James. They were allowed to continue to live in the cellar, and provide for themselves with a garden, and wind-falls from the orchard. One day as he returned from the orchard James found Elizabeth face-down on the cellar floor, drowned in the water that usually stood between the planks upon which they walked. Because Belle had been obedient to her new master she was allowed to attend her mother's funeral, and later that of her father, who had been moved to a cabin in the mountains following the death of his wife. Belle had also been obedient when Dumont arranged her marriage, and when he sold the services of her first four children. But when it came to her last son, Peter, she forgot the lesson of her mother ••• she made a fuss.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

6

 

ACT 2

 

SCENE 1

 

(Light down on CHIPP, up on mature BELLE, facing well- dressed DUMONT in front of a stone house)

 

BELLE: (desperately) Master Dumont, don't send my last boy away  •••  What'11 happen to him if you send him away? Maybe they'll beat him ••• I won't know where he is ••• I won't be able to see him •••

 

DUMONT: I'll let you know where he is. You'll be able to see him.

 

BELLE: I couldn't see my mother and father when I was sold away •••

 

DUMONT: (interrupts, irritated) That wasn't my fault ••• that was before you came to my household!

 

BELLE: But maybe they'll take him south ••• then I'll never see him ••• then he'll never be free •••

 

DUMONT: (impatiently) Belle, whatever has gotten into you? You never acted like this before. You know I wouldn't sell your son to Mr. Gedney if I thought for a minute he would beat him. And you know he won't sell him south. He wants Peter in his own household. Besides, the law forbids his being taken out of the state.

 

BELLE: But suppose Peter's too small, or Master Gedney don't like him ••• he's just a baby •••

 

DUMONT:  Belle haven't I always treated you, and your family, right?

 

BELLE: Yes, Master Dumont, but •••

 

DUMONT: But, nothing! You know I only want the best for my people. Mr. Gedney is very taken with Peter; I'd think you'd be pleased to have Peter in the home of a gentleman. Just stop your fretting. Peter will be happy. You'll see. Besides, you will soon have a new baby to care for ••• and you know I promised to give you freedom a year before the law requires me to. If you continue to serve me satisfactorally, next July forth you'll be free. Now, you'd better get back to work, and stop fretting, or Mrs. Dumont might not think your services are satisfactory.

 

(BELLE stands, silently, her fists clenched on her hips, as DUMONT leaves. Liqht fades on BELLE, up on CHIPP.)

 

 

7

CHIPP: This was Belle's first challenge to authority. She had always been obedient. As a

matter-of-fact she was so cooperative some of her fellow slaves called her the “white

man's pet.” But, indeed, something had come over her when it came to the sale of her last son ••• when she was so close to her own freedom. And during the following year, as her freedom drew closer, she seems to have become obsessed with getting Peter back. Possibly it was this pre-occupation, as Mrs. Dumont contended; as well as the birth of a new child, plus an injury to her hand, that caused Dumont to decide her services were unsatisfactory. As her freedom day drew near, Dumont announced to Belle that he had lost money on her, and she would have to serve her final year to make up for his loss. Belle did not argue ••• but decided to take her freedom ••• regardless of the consequences. Without any real plan she left Dumont's home one morning just before dawn. She found her way to the home of a neighboring Quaker, who had once told her she should be free. Although he could not accomodate Belle and her infant daughter, he did direct her to the home of a neighbor, Isaac VanWaggenen, where she was offered a home. Dumont was not far behind! He located her before noon and demanded that

she return with him. When Belle refused, Dumont threatened to take her baby. VanWagennen interceded by offering to purchase the year of Belle's services, plus those of the baby. Dumont accepted the offer, and Belle was now “VanWagenen's Belle” ••• but not for long. The VanWagenens believed that slave-holding was evil, and Belle and the baby were given their freedom on July fourth ••• and a year later they conducted a special ceremony to comemmorate the event. Although life as a servant was much better,  Belle could not let go of the idea that Peter should also be free. When she heard the rumor that the boy was no longer with the family which had bought him from Dumont, and the new owner might be planning to take him to Alabama, she became very agitated. "He can't do that," Belle told VanWagenen. He agreed, and added that the law was on her side ••• and that "the law is bigger than people!" Belle wasted no more time. She went directly to see John Dumont, since he had promised that Peter would not be taken out of the state. She intended to demand that this promise be kept, by the return of the boy. Dumont was not at home, and Mrs. Dumont merely reprimanded Belle for “making such a fuss over a little nigger” ••• as she put it. Besides, Mrs. Dumont told her, they were not responsible for the boy since he had been sold to the Gedney's. Belle immediately headed for the Gedney home where she was met at the door by Mrs. Gedney.

 

 

ACT 2

SCENE 2

 

(Lights down on CHIPP, up on BELLE, standing in front of the door of Gedney's stone house. Mrs. Gedney stands in the doorway, with a haughty air.)

 

BELLE: (fists on hips) I've come for my son. Where is he?

 

 

 

 

8

MRS. GEDNEY: He isn't here. My son-in-law has him.

 

BELLE:  Where is he?

 

MRS. GEDNEY: I told you ••• with his new master, Master Fowler, my son-in-law!

 

BELLE: I meant ••• where has your son-in-law taken my son?

 

MRS. GEDNEY: They went to Alabama.

 

BELLE: Well, I'll have him back!

 

MRS. GEDNEY: Who are you to go around making demands?

 

BELLE:  I'm a free woman ••• just like you ••• and besides ••• I have the law on my side!

 

MRS. GEDNEY: (taken aback, un-believing)  Just like me ••• just like me ••• humph!

(re-gains composure)  The law ••• you say! What do you know about the law? You think

the law cares about one little black boy? I wish the law would send you all back to Africa,

where you belong. (has calmed herself as she speaks) Besides, Belle, aren't you going to

have a new baby, soon ••• isn't that enough for you?

 

BELLE: (defiantly)  Peter is my boy, and I'll have him back!

 

MRS. GEDNEY: (her ire rising again)  What you'll have is a lot of trouble, if you don't

stop going about the neighborhood making such a hullabaloo about a paltry little black

boy. I've already told you he's not here. You don't hear me making a fuss because Fowler

took my daughter to Alabama. Why do you think your son is more important than my daughter?

 

BELLE: Your daughter went as Fowler’s wife ••• my son went as a slave!

 

MRS. GEDNEY: But he'll not be a slave forever ••• he'll be set free in about twenty years ••• isn't that right?

 

BELLE: That's under the law of New York state ••• but he'll never be free in Alabama. Besides, it is against the law for Fowler to take him out of this state ••• I'll have him back!

 

(BELLE turns abruptly, and marches off, leaving a confused MRS. GEDNEY. Light down on BELLE and MRS. GEDNEY, up on CHIPP. )

 

 

 

9

 

CHIPP: Belle returned to the VanWagenens, where she was advised by the VanWagenens and her Quaker friends that she should present her case to the Grand Jury, which was presently sitting in Kingston. She came to the courthouse, knowing little more than that something called the Grand Jury was there. That's where I first met her. I was practicing law in the court when she arrived.

 

 

ACT 3

SCENE 1

 

(Light follows CHIPP to center stage - the interior of a plain stone building. The walls

are plain. A large twenty-four star flag hangs on the back wall (can be actual, or projected flag). A table and some chairs in the center. Some law clerks and lawyers are in ad-lib conversations. BELLE enters and looks around, uncertainly. No one seems to notice her, or pay any attention to her.)

 

BELLE: (loudly)  Is this the Grand Jury?

 

(Some of those who are present look at her, quizzically. No reply.)

 

BELLE: (louder)  Is this the Grand Jury ••• where I get my son back?

 

(All stand, transfixed. No movement or reply. After a moment of silence BELLE appears ready to speak again. CHIPP hesitantly approaches BELLE.)

 

CHIPP: Your son ••• you say? What about your son?

 

BELLE: My son ••• Peter ••• they've taken him to Alabama. I'm here to get him back!

 

CHIPP: Who do you claim took him to Alabama?

 

BELLE: Fowler ••• he married Miss Gedney ••• and they took my Peter to Alabama •••

 

CHIPP: Do you swear the child of whom you speak ••• is really your son?

 

BELLE: I gave birth to him ••• I swear ••• he's my son!

 

CHIPP: Just a minute. You must swear on this book.

 

(CHIPP reaches a Bible, which is lying on the table. He holds it out to BELLE, who takes it from him and presses it to her lips.)

 

 

 

10

 

BELLE:  I swear, Peter is my son!

 

(Some of the clerks burst into nervous laughter. BELLE looks around, confused. CHIPP retrieves the Bible and demonstrates how she should place her hand on the cover of the book.)

 

A CLERK: (sarcastically)  Ask her if she can read the book ••• Squire.

 

BELLE: (matter-of-factly, to CHIPP, not lookinq at the CLERK)  You can tell the gentleman I can't read the book ••• but I can read the people •••

 

CLERK: (slightly chastized, but skeptically, to CHIPP)  What good is it ••• to make her swear?

 

CHIPP: (slightly defensive, a hint of irritation)  It will answer to law!

(turns to BELLE ) Now, with your hand on the Bible, do you swear that it is your son of whom you speak?

 

BELLE: I swear ••• he is my son!

 

CHIPP: (as he withdraws the Bible)  You said Mr. Fowler took him to Alabama ••• is that what you claim?

 

BELLE: That's what Mrs. Gedney told me.

 

CHIPP: Mrs. Gedney, you say. How did your son come into Mr. Fowler's possession?

 

BELLE: The Gedneys let Fowler ••• who married their daughter ••• take Peter with them to Alabama.

 

CHIPP:  Then the Gedneys didn't actually sell your son outside the state?

 

BELLE: I don't know ••• all I know is ••• they took him!

 

CHIPP: How did the Gedneys come to have your son?

 

BELLE: Master Dumont sold him to the Gedneys.

 

CHIPP: And Dumont is your master?

 

BELLE: He was ••• before I left him ••• last year •••

 

CHIPP: You left him? You ran away?

 

 

11

BELLE: I didn't run away ••• I walked away ••• it was broad daylight when I left the limits of Dumont's property. Isaac VanWaggenen bought my freedom ••• I'm a free woman, and my daughter is free ••• but Master Dumont sold my son •••

 

CHIPP: He sold him to Gedney, then?

 

BELLE: That's right •••

 

CHIPP: Just a minute.

 

(BELLE and the others watch as CHIPP qoes to the table, prepares a document, returns to BELLE.)

 

CHIPP: (as he hands the document to BELLE)  Take this writ to the sheriff in New Paltz and have him serve it on Mr. Gedney.

 

(BELLE takes the document and leaves. Spotlight on  CHIPP.)

 

CHIPP:  (to the audience)  To be quite frank, I didn't really expect Belle to accomplish much with the writ. Maybe it would persuade Gedney to sell the boy's services to Isaac VanWagenen so they would all be together or possibly the Gedneys would bring the boy back, and allow Belle to visit him. I didn't know what would happen. All I knew was ••• someone had to do something ••• Belle was so ••• determined ••• she made me feel ••• well ••• guilty. We learned that she walked the ten miles to New Paltz without stopping, and delivered the writ to the sheriff, who served it on Gedney. But he served it on the wrong Gedney ••• the brother of the man who was supposed to receive it, while the right one, after being allerted, left the county. But after consulting with his attorney he decided to go to Alabama and bring the boy back. No sooner had Gedney and the boy returned than Belle had the writ served again. But when Gedney appeared in the court the boy was not with him. He was ordered to return with the boy, and was required to post a six-hundred dollar bond to assure compliance. During the intervening weeks Belle practically lived on my door-step, demanding faster action. I tried to convince her that these things take time ••• and urged her to be patient. After-all, I told her, we had gotten the boy back in the state ••• it was only a matter of time before she would have him. Finally, I had to tell her that the court might not be able to take the case during the present session. But I tried to pacify her, by reminding her that if Gedney failed to produce the boy she would be entitled to one-half of the six-hundred dollar bond. “I don't want money, I want my son ••• and I want him now!” ••• she practically shouted at me as she stormed out of my

office. She nearly trampled a passer-by who happened to be one of her Quaker friends. After hearing her story he directed Belle to a young attorney, just down the street. She

was told that he would help her if she pressed him ••• and did she press him? This attorney ••• Romayne, by name ••• had another writ served ••• which brought Gedney to the court ••• with the boy.

 

 

12

 (Lights down on CHIPP, up on courtroom. BELLE enters. The SHERIFF, ROMAYNE,  JUDGE, PETER, and a COURT CLERK are present. BELLE starts, eagerly, toward PETER, but is stopped by a hand gesture by ROMEYNE, as well as PETER'S hasty retreat behind GEDNEY.)

 

BELLE: (as she starts toward PETER)  Peter ••• my boy •••

 

(BELLE stops, stunned by PETER'S apparent fear of her. PETER wraps his arms around GEDNEY'S legs, and sinks to the floor on his knees.)

 

PETER: (frightened, pleading to GEDNEY)  Save me ••• from her •••• Please don't let her take me ••• (as GEDNEY pats the boy on the head, PETER pleads to the others present)  Don't let her take me away from my master ••• he's kind to me ••• he brought me back ••• don't let her take me •••

 

ROMAYNE: (to PETER)  Don't you know this woman, boy? Isn't she your mother?

 

(PETER looks up, into the eyes of GEDNEY, then over his shoulder at BELLE.)

 

PETER:  No ••• I never saw her •••

 

BELLE: Child, I'm your mother!

 

JUDGE: (to PETER, as he moves in closer)  You're sure you don't know her? Is she your mother?

 

PETER: (again looking at GEDNEY before answering) No ••• I haven't got a mother ••• she's not my mother •••

 

JUDGE: (stepping up to the boy, touching PETER'S forehead with his fingertips)  How did you get this scar, boy?

 

PETER: (looking at GEDNEY before answering)  My master's horse ••• in Alabama ••• kicked me •••

 

JUDGE: (moving his fingers to PETER'S cheek)  How did you get this scar on your cheek?

PETER: (looks at GEDNEY, who unconsiously rubs his own cheek)  I •• I ••• ran into the carriage wheel.

 

 (As the JUDGE feels the scars and speaks to PETER he has maneuvered himself between GEDNEY and the boy. He now steps directly between them and gently lifts the boy to his feet.)

 

13

 

JUDGE: (assuringly, to PETER)  Don't be afraid, boy. We are all here to help you. Just tell us the truth ••• have you seen this woman before?

 

(PETER tries to see GEDNEY'S face but the JUDGE blocks his view. PETER glances, hesitantly, over his shoulder at BELLE.)

 

PETER: (uncertainly)  No ••• I don't know ••• I ••• I •••

 

(The JUDGE takes the boy by the shoulders and turns him to face BELLE. As he does so, he feels something on the boys back. As he is turned to face BELLE, PETER momentarily looks at her, then lowers his eyes to the floor. The JUDGE unbuttons PETER'S shirt and slips it over his shoulders and lets it fall down the boy's back. As he does so the JUDGE steps back from the boy, exposing his back to those assembled, as well as the audience. PETER'S back is covered by a series of horizontal scars. There is a general gasp from the assemblage, while GEDNEY'S expression shows deep concern. The JUDGE glares at GEDNEY, and turns to PETER.) 

 

JUDGE: (cupping the boy's chin in the palm of his hand, raising his head to face BELLE, directly)  Do you think you know this woman, now?

 

PETER: Well ••• maybe ••• maybe my mother did look like her •••

 

JUDGE: I think maybe you will remember her when you've been with her a while. Go home with her and find out. (formally, to the assemblage)  I order that this boy be delivered into the hands of the mother, having no other master, no other controller ••• no other conductor, but his mother!

 

(BELLE, tears streaminq down her cheeks, rushes to PETER, falls on her knees and throws her arms around him. As the lights fade, on the assemblage, everyone stands stock still, except BELLE, who is laughing and weeping, while huqqing PETER. A spotliqht remains on BELLE and PETER, and another light on the flag. BELLE is gently tracinq the scars on PETER'S back with her fingertips.)

 

BELLE: (meditatively)  I always knew these kind of scars reminded me of something •••

(turns her head to look at the flag) ••• now I know ••• and now I know that until all of us are free ••• the flag on that wall will not stand for the stars and stripes of freedom ••• but the scars and stripes of slavery •••

 

(BELLE rises, buttons PETER'S shirt and the two exit, throuqh the courthouse door, as the light comes up on CHIPP, who approaches the courthouse. BELLE and PETER meet CHIPP outside.)

 

 

 

 

14

ACT 3

SCENE 2

 

CHIPP: (with sincere pleasure)  Well, now, BELLE, I see you got your boy back!

 

BELLE: (excited by the event, and pleased to see CHIPP)  I surely did ••• I surely did!

 

CHIPP: I'm glad to see that you finally did it. Just how did you manage it, Belle?

 

BELLE: With God's help, Squire ••• with God's help. I never knew God could be so big!

 

CHIPP: God is big ••• isn't He?

 

BELLE: (excitedly)  And He made me feel big too! Just now ••• when I got my son back ••• He made me feel SO TALL WITHIN. I feel as if the power of the whole nation is in me!

 

CHIPP: That's wonderful, Belle. I wish you, and the boy God's speed.

 

BELLE: Thank you, squire.

 

(BELLE and PETER exit, waving to CHIPP. Spotlight remains on CHIPP, and the flag, which is projected on the back wall, or screen.)

 

CHIPP: Freedom for Belle, and even that of her two children, did not diminish the

driving force within her. If possible, she even grew taller within. But it was another

twenty years before she reached her spiritual and emotional height ••• and became

known throughout the country ••• and the world ••• for her great, tall, spirit. And

it was by another name ••• that she became known •••

 

POSTSCRIPT

 

(Light fades on CHIPP, an older BELLE steps into the spotlight, in front of a

twenty-eight star flag (or projection).)

 

BELLE: Oh, how I needed a name with a handle ••• a name that would show how far I had come from the days when my name was the name of an earthly master. My life had truly been a sojourn. I had gone so far ••• so I took the name SOJOURNER. But that was not enough ••• it did’t tell who had helped me on that journey. My new name should remind everyone that we only have one TRUE MASTER. My name should have the ring of TRUTH. I decided ••• right then ••• that my name would be TRUTH ••• SOJOURNER TRUTH would be my abiding name! ( Pause)  But my journey is not over ••• so as I always say ••• at the end of my talks in Washington ••• New York ••• Boston ••• Peterboro  •••  Rochester, or Cincinatti ••• or wherever I go. I say: “Children, let me sing you my song of freedom” •••

15

 

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CLICK TO PLAY: Going Home, then click: LISTEN

THIS TUNE IS USED IN THE SONG SOJOURNER USES TO CLOSE THIS PLAY

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