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Wilson featured in German film

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By Johnathan Ryan

Lancaster County resident Kitty Wilson-Evans and the world-class re-enactments she does at Historic Brattonsville are of interest to German tourists, who are increasingly seeking out new and interesting places in the U.S. to visit.

Wilson-Evans performed part of a scenario in her usual role as the slave Kessie on May 3 for a German television station, GeoSaison, which was touring South Carolina and Georgia to highlight the states’ tourist attractions.

“I’m trying to show the individual experiences in the South,” said GeoSaison correspondent Karl Teuschl. “Yet they fit and complement each other so well.”

He said in reality, most Germans don’t differentiate between South Carolina and Georgia, despite their different appeals. They consider both as simply part of the American South.

Teuschl, who was accompanied by camera man Peter Reng, said his fellow Germans are losing interest in visiting the most familiar spots of California and Florida for vacation, and want to venture out more.

Plus, they are mystified by the American South and its cultural history. They want to know more.

“Germans are interested in American history and are aware of slavery,” he said. “There was never slavery to such a large extent in Germany, so they are interested.”

Wilson-Evans hosted a German journalist at Brattonsville last year who was writing a feature on South Carolina’s tourist attractions for a German women’s magazine. Wilson-Evans was humbled by the crew’s interest. They had already visited Boone Plantation in the Lowcountry and featured the Myrtle Beach area before stopping in the Upstate.

Teuschl said this part of South Carolina is natural for Germans to visit since it’s between a large, nearby airport and the BMW plant in Spartanburg, where Germans work and visit.

At Brattonsville, Wilson-Evans helps bring history to life.

“She really puts her heart into it,” Teuschl said.

In the scene, Kessie was crestfallen by the absence of her sister, Ruth, who was on lease to a planter in Virginia for a year with no guarantee that she would return. Kessie is getting older and worried she wouldn’t see her sister again before she died.

Kessie was saddened by her sister’s absence, plus the repeated denials from the planter to let her visit Ruth.

“I want Jesus to walk with me,” Wilson-Evans sang, in her turmoil. “When the day is done, walk with me.”

She claimed she would only be free when she dies, free of the beatings and the distress over her sister.

But Kessie is comforted by her fellow slaves, particularly Cato, played by Tyree Rowell.

“I tell her she needs to pray and have faith,” Rowell said.

But not only did he make that suggestion, so did the other slaves and they encouraged Kessie as a community. It revealed the intense religious underpinnings of slave life.

Their religion in many cases, was the only thing they could depend on.

“The faith among slaves was probably stronger than the faith we have today,” said Strauss Shiple, a Bratton descendant who played Ruth.

Teuschl said German history is a departure from that of the American South in the 18th and 19th centuries. Germans exported china, furniture and porcelain, whereas cotton was king here.

There wasn’t a slavery system that produced the lucrative exports coming from the area, which was still divided into many small kingdoms ruled by wealthy monarchs.

So, the difference appeals to curiosity, he said.

“They are certainly interested in that aspect of history,” Teuschl said.

Olde English District Executive Director Jayne Scarborough hosted the German visitors. She knows how important international exposure of this type is to her organization’s goals of promoting the tourism attractions of the historic district.

“It will just strengthen the exposure we already have in Germany,” Scarborough said about the upcoming television program. “It’s priceless. We could never afford this type of advertising.”

Wilson-Evans will soon attend a tourism convention in New York City with fellow South Carolinias Chubby Checker and Chief Donald Rogers of the Catawba Indian Nation to promote the Palmetto State.

“There’s no pressure in doing this. It’s just like anything else,” Wilson-Evans said about the attention. “I’m just glad I’m able to do it.”

Contact reporter Johnathan Ryan at 416-8416