Historical drama examines race, class, gender and geography after Reconstruction
GCU Presents 'Steal Away: The Story of a Homesteader and an Exoduster'
Lakewood, N.J., Feb. 1, 2011—Writer Penny Musco performs her one-woman play, Steal Away: The Story of a Homesteader and an Exoduster, at Georgian Court University on Thursday, February 10 at 6:30 p.m. in the Little Theatre on GCU's main campus in Lakewood.
The play, written and performed by Ms. Musco, is set in 1880 and examines the lives of two unlikely friends—Priscilla, a white woman from Speertown, N.J., who is determined to move her family to Kansas to claim 160 acres of land under the Homestead Act, and Abigail, one of an estimated 20,000-40,000 ex-slaves intent on finding a better life in the Midwest and Great Plains.
At the time, blacks who left Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee and Texas en masse were dubbed 'exodusters,' a term likening their plight to the Biblical exodus of the Israelites who fled Egypt. Many who joined in the massive movement to Kansas did so with the help of whites who sympathized with the African-Americans' ongoing struggles.
"While there was prejudice back then, there were still people who were brave enough to cross boundaries and help," says Ms. Musco, who found their historical accounts intriguing.
"Also, the exodusters were incredibly brave," she says. "They had no money and endured harsh weather, but they journeyed to Kansas and said they'd rather starve on the prairie than go back South. To make that radical of change took a lot of gumption, and what they went through was amazing."
The exodusters, who relocated between 1870 and 1879, represent a chapter in the history of America's westward migration that is not widely known. There are books and research devoted to the subject, but the exodusters' story often surprises audiences, says Ms. Musco.
"The reaction has been incredible," she says. "When people hear about Priscilla and Abigail, they say 'You've got to keep telling this.' Their story demonstrates that there are always people who will step up and do the right thing, even when it's hard and confusing."
And while Steal Away certainly speaks to black history, it's really about American history, says Ms. Musco, adding that there are still lessons to be learned from two women who became 'friends' 130 years ago.
"To be open to another culture is something wonderful," she says. "You expand your horizons. If you stay with your own kind, you're not going to learn how the world really works."
Tickets are $5 person; admission is free to GCU students with ID. Reservations are required and can be placed with the GCU Office of Conferences and Special Events by calling 732.987.2263 or by sending e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
About Penny Musco & Steal Away
The show's title is taken from the Negro spiritual of the same name, which has a double meaning, referring to the intention of "stealing away" home to heaven after death, and to a slave's intention to escape. Ms. Musco crafted the play in 2009 when she was an artist-in-residence at the Homestead National Monument of America, a unit of the National Park Service. Primarily a nonfiction writer, she has also written for Guideposts, New Jersey Monthly, The New York Times, USA Weekly, Mature Living, and the San Francisco Chronicle. Her other fictional work includes the short stories, "Shepherd's Story" and "The Sleeping Bag." She lives in Montclair and can be reached at www.pennymusco.com.
About Georgian Court University
Founded in 1908 and sponsored by the Sisters of Mercy, Georgian Court University is a comprehensive university with a strong liberal arts core and a special concern for women. A forward-thinking university that supports diversity and academic excellence, Georgian Court serves nearly 3,000 students of all faiths and backgrounds in a residential Women's College and a coeducational University College with undergraduate and graduate programs. Georgian Court's main campus is located at 900 Lakewood Avenue, Lakewood, N.J., on the picturesque former George Jay Gould estate, now named a National Historic Landmark. Georgian Court also offers classes at its site at One Woodbridge Center in Woodbridge, at Coastal Communiversity in Wall, and at Cumberland County College in Vineland.