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A strong, boisterous voice emerged from nowhere chanting, “I want Jesus to walk with me.”
The sound came from Kessie, a woman captured from her African homeland and forced to live for years as an American slave.
Kessie carried a bag of cotton and walked with a wooden stick that helped her get around and support her back, which was arched after many years of hard work for the slave master.
As Kessie sang, she walked out, faced the crowd and told them her story – a story about slave ships, chains and shackles, the auction block, subjugation and dreams of freedom.
Kitty Wilson-Evans, a local interpreter and storyteller, brought the stories of slavery to life Sunday as she performed a skit as Kessie, a slave woman from South Carolina.
The interpretation was held at the Carole Ray Dowling Center at the University of South Carolina at Lancaster.
“I’m tired and I’m old now,” Wilson-Evans said as Kessie, who had been held in bondage since she was 4.
Now she’s looking forward to death so she can join her family in the afterlife.
“Soon I will be done with the trouble of the world,” Kessie said.
The name of the skit is called “The Crossing.” It’s the skit that she is most often requested to perform.
After the performance, Wilson-Evans was honored when it was announced that USCL would give a scholarship in her name. A resolution from Lancaster County Council declaring the day Kitty Wilson-Evans Day was also presented.
Wilson-Evans, who has been playing Kessie for years, was overcome by joy and surprise.
“I was caught a little off guard,” she said. “It’s an honor that they would want to do that.”
During Sunday’s event, attendees were able to check out a series of canvas oil paintings that were done of Wilson-Evans in character.
The artist, Kaye Cloniger, said she was inspired to create the 14 paintings after seeing Wilson-Evans perform over a year ago. Cloniger said she became obsessed with painting Wilson-Evans’ face.
The canvases include depictions of her grinding corn, standing at a slave cabin and talking to God. Such titles are “My Soul Can Sing” and “I Will Dance Again.”
“I wanted to show the pain and the agony that a slave would go through, but do it in a respectful way,” Cloniger said.
The paintings will be donated to Historic Brattonsville in York County. Wilson-Evans has worked at Historic Brattonsville for a number of years as an interpreter and storyteller. The paintings are now on display at USCL.
More than 100 people came to see Wilson-Evans perform Sunday.
Sammy Williams, 6, had much to say about the event.
“A lot of this comes from a hard past but you can still get the job done,” Williams said of Wilson-Evans portrayal of Kessie’s struggles. “She was great.”
Contact reporter Jesef Williams at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (803) 283-1152