This is my first draft script for the play 'Freedom's Arch'. This was a commissioned piece about the arch near Archway School and was performed there by the Stroud Football Poets, Souled and Healed, the Gloucester Gospel Choir and students from Archway and Brockworth, in 2003, I think. The final script contained scenes on the Stroud 1831 election hustings and the Stroud context. Alas, I have no copy of that final script to be found, although Katie and Danny McCue from Souled and Healed might have one somewhere. The script here is for anyone to use in any way if they so wish - for Black History Month, for example. I have copies of the lyrics to the songs if wanted, and can put you in contact with Katie and Danny.
SCENE 1 – ship setting; also rolls of cloth/cotton/chains etc
Young slave: Granny Judith said that in Africa, when she was a girl, they had very few pretty things. Then one day some strangers with pale faces came and dropped a small piece of red flannel on the ground. The cloth came from somewhere called Stroud in England.
All the black folks grabbed for it. The strangers dropped more and more pieces of the red cloth, leading the whole village down to the river bank.
When they got there, they saw a ship with many more brightly coloured things on the deck. They rushed forward in excitement, but when they turned round,
the gate was chained up and they could not get back.
That is how Granny Judith said she got to Jamaica. If that’s true, then she was the lucky one; no musket, sword, chains or face mask for her. But I’m speaking nonsense – how can you be lucky when you’re stolen from your homeland in Africa and sold into slavery far across the ocean?
1. SONG: When will freedom come? (Outside musicians: “Souled and Healed”)
Ladies and gentlemen we are gathered together today to celebrate the abolition of the trade in slavery in the British Empire, 200 years ago. We may also remember the building of an arch in 1834, commissioned by one Henry Wyatt former mill owner of Stroud to signify the total abolition of slavery in the British Empire. This arch stands at Archway School in Stroud. It is a monument to all those who fought for so long and so hard to end the appalling traffic in human beings. A memorial to all those nameless millions who suffered terrible miseries, torture and death. Hear now how the Innocent and the guilty tell their tales.
3. SONG: Save me
Now on stage – Olaudah Equiano and 2 white men, one a sailor:
EQUIANO: I had the misfortune to be kidnapped at the age of 10 from the Ibo tribe in Nigeria. I was taken on board a slave ship riding at anchor in the bay, and forced into the stinking hold. So low in despair was I that I resolved to starve myself to death but the brute forces of two English soldiers prevented me.
Gentleman: So you try to keep them healthy, then bosun?
BOSUN: Indeed we do, sir. Buckets are provided for them to do their naturals in but to tell you the truth, most don’t use ‘em, what with the chains and everything. There is quite a stench even with all twelve portholes open. I have to have a swig of rum before I go down to drag out them what’s died, and a swig after I come back.
EQUIANO: As a punishment I was whipped and thrown into an even smaller cramped space with no room to move or air to breathe, a room where sickness could roam triumphant, with misery and melancholic madness in attendance. The shrieks of the women and the groans of the dying rendered the whole, a scene of horror almost inconceivable.
BOSUN: They’re always getting sick in spite of what we do. Sea sickness, fever and heat stroke, but the worst is the small pox. That spreads like wildfire so we throw ‘em overboard as quick as we can.
Gentleman: So you leave a trail of bodies in your wake?
BOSUN: Not for long on account of the sharks. They follows us all the time now. They seems to know they’ll be easy food to be had from a ship such as ours.
EQUIANO : I was still resolved to kill myself and I knew of others who escaped their torment by jumping overboard. We preferred drowning or the stomachs of sharks to this terrible brutality.
Gentleman: Are you in any danger yourself?
BOSUN: Most certainly sir, for some will try to mutiny. But the cutlass, musket, leg irons and chains keeps em under control as a rule.
EQUIANO: And it did keep us under control but I managed to free myself and become a gentleman in England and there I campaigned relentlessly for the ending of slavery. But I, Olaudah Equiano, am somewhat less remembered than Mr. Wilberforce. I taught myself to read and write – listen to my poem.
Now dragged once more beyond the western main
To groan beneath some dastard plate's chain
Where my poor countrymen in bondage wait
The long enfranchisement of a lingering fate.
Hard lingering fate where e'er the dawn of day
Roused by lash they go their cheerless way
And as their souls with shame and anguish burn
Salute with groans unwelcome mom's return.
And chiding every hour, the slow paced sun
Pursue their toils 'tll all the race is run
No eye to mark their sufferings with a tear
No friend to comfort no hope to cheer.
Then like the dull unpitied brutes repair
To stalls as wretched and as course a fare
Thank heaven one day of misery was o'er
Then sink to sleep and wish to wake no more.
5. SONG: The dirge
SCENE 2 – HOUSE SCENE – TABLES, CHAIRS, QUILLS ETC
Gentleman: I have just been reading about our estates over in the Caribbean. Pray, listen to this -
“There was about a hundred men and women of different ages, all occupied in ditches in a
cane field, naked or covered with just rags. The sun shone down with full force and sweat
rolled from every part of their bodies, while their exhausted limbs struggled with the weight
of their pickaxes and with the resistance of the clay soil, baked hard by the sun. A
mournful silence reigned, broken only by the occasional cracking of the whip and cries of
anguish from those who received the blows, who were those too exhausted to work.”
It is a sadness to me that my wealth depends upon such scenes, but surely it is God’s will that white men should rule the world?
Clerk: There were Africans in these parts, too, in Gloucestershire. Were they slaves? Not legally perhaps but they were bound in allegiance to their masters and had to take their names, religion and culture. Some were educated to a higher standard than the average servant but they were still their master’s property. Hard for a runaway to pass unnoticed in Gloucester. Now where are those parish records? Ah, here we are -
(Clerk reads the places names and dates. Students come on to stage
and say rest of entry)
Newnham on Severn, Easter 1715.
John Price, a black boy lately brought to England, apprenticed to John Trigge, attorney at law.
Nymphsfield june 20th, 1773.
Francis London, a servant to the right honourable Lord Ducie, supposed to be 17 years of age- a native of Africa- was baptized.
Stroud February 28th, 1786.
Adam John Parker, negro, 32, was buried. Parish Funeral-paupers grave.
Frocester November 4th, 1790.
William Frocester, 11 or 12 years of age, born on the island of Barbados, now servant of Edward Bigland Esquire, residing in Jamaica.Baptised.
Stroud May 7th, 1801.
William Ellis, son of Qualquay Assedew of Guinea, a negro, aged 12.Baptised.
Bisley July 5th, 1815.Testimonial from Richard Raikes, supporting the application of John Hart, writing master, for the post of master at the Bisley Blue Coats school-unfortunately he is a mulatto, a native of the West Indies.
Gentleman: Tell me Francis, what is your opinion on what I have just said. Do you not think it is God’s will for me to hold sway over you?
FRANCIS: Sir, I cannot afford to think about this. Since I am in your service, I am dependant on you for food and shelter, indeed, sir, for my very survival. It would not to fall form favour.
(CLERK begins to read out punishment for slaves)
The boy is right to be cautious, for punishments were severe.(Reads)
A runaway slave-pinned down by each ankle, covered with sealing wax and lit.
Runaway slave, second offence-leg cut off.
House slave, let pot boil over-bones broken….
GENTLEMAN: Enough! We do not behave like that in England.
CLERK: Perhaps not, but how come Francis went to Gloucester while his mother, father, sister and brothers went to Africa, to be further tortured with hard labour and punishments on the plantations from which your class has gained its continued wealth.
GENTLEMAN: Its is true and I wish it were not. But Francis, you have gained from your life with me. You are educated, have fine clothes to wear, a home, a comfortable life. It would not have been so in Africa.
FRANCIS (aside) What do you know of Africa? What do I know since I was torn form there? You say England is my home, yet I can never be at home in this country while my colour sets me apart. You have made me a stranger in a foreign land with nowhere to return.
GENTLEMAN: Thank you Francis, that will be all.
Scene 4: PLANTATION (group of slaves on stage; manager and missionary hurry on in conversation).
MANAGER: I have a bad set of people. They steal and runaway, get drunk and fight and are generally work shy. Now, if you can bring them under the fear of god or a judgement to come, you may be doing both them, and me, a service.
MISSIONARY:I have come to bring you salvation
BOY: He’s going to save us from the master!
MISS’Y: No, from the devil, my son. And I bring you freedom.
BOY: He’s going to free us from slavery!
MISS’Y: No, freedom from sin. A better life in the hereafter.
EQUILANO: We want a better life now.
MISS’Y: I bring you the bible so that you can read the word of god for yourselves.
BOY: But we can’t read.
MISS’Y: Then I will set up a school and teach you.
The little education received by slaves often came through the church wanting to bring them Christianity.
7. SONG: Amazing Grace (Gospel Choir)
8. Narrator: or Equiano
And if you can read the Bible you can read anything, an anti slavery tract, or a radical pamphlet. And the news was of revolution, in America, in France. People struggling for their freedom and independence, so why shouldn't we? In Jamaica slaves carried on a guerrilla war with the plantation owners. On the island of San Dominga in 1792 the French planters refused to grant citizenship as decreed by the new revolutionary government in France. Their words freedom, brotherhood and equality had a hollow ring. Slave rebellions happened everywhere. Not Just hundreds but thousands rose up against the injustice done to them.
EQUILANO: We did not take slavery lying down. We mutinied on the slave ships and some of us escaped to the Northern States of America or to the Spanish colonies.
BOY: Some of us joined the maroons in the mountains of Jamaica and carried
on a guerrilla war against the plantation owners.
EQUILANO: On the island of St Dominga, we proclaimed -Freedom, Brotherhood and Equality, and 40,000 of us fought to liberate ourselves.
BOY: Led by Toussaint L’Ouverture, using armed struggle and clever political alliances, we eventually won our own liberty and created the first modern black nation in the western hemisphere.
9. SONG: Make your voice heard Make Your Voice Heard
Scene 5 – a court setting
10. Narrator as Judge:
So let us sum up and review the history of this crime against humanity. Columbus arrived in the Caribbean in 1492 to bring cruelty and disease and so wipe out many of the original people of the Caribbean. As regards the British colonies in the so-called West Indies, the first shipments of labour there were indentured white labourers, Irish and Scots rebels working the sugar plantations. But as the coffee houses became more popular in England so the demand for sugar grew. The inexhaustible supply of slaves from Africa running into millions became the workforce that sweetened the latest fad. The triangular trade of industrial exports to Africa – including guns; the middle passage carrying slaves to the Caribbean and then rum, sugar and tobacco back to Britain enabled Britain’s industrial revolution to lead to world dominance. Some of the most beautiful houses and estates in England were built on the hidden profits of this crime against humanity. And who deserves the credit for the abolition of the slave trade? Is it William Wilberforce? Olaudah Equiano? John Newton? The anonymous thousands who fought for their freedom? Ladies and Gentleman, I find the evidence inconclusive. You are the jury – it is your responsibility to decide. In the meantime, do not forget, it was only the slave trade that was abolished in 1807; not slavery itself. That did not come for another 26 years – hence the arch in Stroud at Archway School. And do not forget, ladies and gentlemen, that slavery still exists in the world today. We still have to fight it.