Denfeld invites Duluth community to learn history of Juneteenth
A discussion and free public performance are planned for "Kumbayah: The Juneteenth Story" at the high school Friday.
DULUTH — Duluth Public Schools Office Of Equity Education and Denfeld High School have partnered with the Minnesota Humanities Center and Sweet Potato Comfort Pie to present a free showing of “Kumbayah: The Juneteenth Story” on Friday. There will be a morning showing for students and a community showing at 7 p.m. at the high school.
The show was created over 25 years ago by Rose McGee, director of the nonprofit Sweet Potato Comfort Pie and humanities officer for Omaha Public Schools. She said she wrote the show to help raise awareness about the holiday and to "get some history into people." Although it became a federal holiday in 2021, McGee noted it has been celebrated for much longer.
"Juneteenth isn't new for us, but many people have not grown up learning about it," McGee said. "The purpose of the show is to bring unity in a way. You know, when you get educated, it's hard sometimes for people to look at the past. People get defensive about aspects of the past. And it's not intended to set up any kind of animosity or further divide, but instead deal with this aspect of the past in a way that can bring unity and understanding. That's what it's about."
The show is a 90-minute two-act dramatization of a time when news was deliberately withheld from Black people that they were no long enslaved in this country. The story begins with a prologue set in the early 1800s in a small West African village where a young mother and her small son are being abducted from their home by slave catchers.
The narrative then moves to the present time in a popular North Minneapolis soul-food restaurant, where a group of youth and adults ultimately end up discussing what Juneteenth means and attend a play performance. It's a play-within-a-play story that tells the story of Juneteenth in 1863 on the Turner Plantation in Tyler, Texas.
Frederick Douglass serves as narrator for this portion of the show and the actor portraying the well-known abolitionist may be familiar to Duluth residents — it's the Rev. Anthony Galloway the pastor at St. Mark's African Methodist Episcopal Church. Galloway was instrumental in bringing the show to Duluth as he's been performing in it since he was a young man. His first role was Lewis, one of the lead characters in in the show.
"It was such an amazing experience that I did it again through high school and my early college career," Galloway said. "And now that I'm an ordained minister here in Duluth, I would travel back to be part of the production as Frederick Douglass this year, a role that one of my mentors and community elders, Bobby Hickman."
Robert "Bobby" Hickman was a descendant of the Rev. Robert Hickman, who formed the first Black church in St. Paul, Pilgrim Baptist Church, in 1866. Bobby was also a well-known actor and activist throughout St. Paul.
"So that's the role that I've stepped into and I do not take it lightly. They are some pretty big shoes to fill, but I'm honored to do it," Galloway said.
The show is an intergenerational production of volunteer actors. The show was performed several times this summer in the Cities. Galloway asked McGee if she thought it would be possible to bring it up to Duluth.
"I thought it would be very valuable and important for the city," he said. "I just love that there's going to be a school performance and a chance for the community to see it. I think it'll be a beautiful experience that I hope will pave the way for more chances to bring beautiful BIPOC performances into the area."
Although interpretation is best suited for ages 8 and up, children of all ages are welcome to attend. There will also be a post-show discussion with the cast moderated by Carl Crawford from the Duluth Office of Human Rights.
The community performance is free to attend, but registration is required to manage seating capacity. Register at mnhum.org/event/duluth-kumbayah .