They came from the pages of the past, from our nation's diverse and varied cultural heritage to bring their stories to life. At the 4th Annual Storytelling Days event last weekend at the George Washington Carver National Monument, six storytellers delivered their tales to a large audience.
The two-day event began on Friday evening with two presentations, the first by James Milton Turner, as portrayed by Greg Carr. Stand On the Promises: James Milton Turner and the Promise of America is designed to commemorate Turner, a prominent 19th century African-American leader. Turner, born in slavery and educated in secret, was a key figure in the establishment of schools for African-American children after the Civil War. Carr, who portrayed Turner, is a speech and theatre instructor at Harris-Stowe State University in St. Louis as well as a writer and director.
Also on Friday, Bobby Norfolk, a three-time Emmy Award winner returned to the park with The Prose and Poetry of Harlem: Dreams Deferred. He shared some of Joplin native Langston Hughes' poetry along with other poems, prose, vignettes and music.
On Saturday, the event continued with Fred Blanco and his one-man show, The Stories of Cesar Chavez. Blanco visited the park last year during Hispanic Heritage Days. His story blended fact and fiction. He has performed the show throughout the United States and Canada for more than a decade.
Paxton Williams, former Executive Director of the Carver Birthplace Association, spoke as Paul Laurence Dunbar, one of American's first influential black poets. He performed as the poet, novelist, and playwright with At Mother Dunbar's Request.
The sole female storyteller during the event, Rebecca Now, St. Louis, presented in character as Elizabeth Cady Staunton. Staunton was 19th century social activist, suffragette, abolitionist, and leader of the women's rights movement. In introducing her performance, James Heaney, Carver park superintendent, noted that her performance is timely as the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which granted women the right to vote is next year in 2020.
"Have you ever set around a table with your friends and complained?" Now in character as Staunton asked the audience. "This day, I was 33 years old. I had 3 small boys and I was upset and frustrated with my role as housewife while my husband Henry was free to pursue his career and his pleasures. I felt trapped. I suffered from mental hunger."
Staunton spoke about the life of women in the 19th century, that women's wages were owned by their father or husband, that they could not inherit nor have custody of their children. She described a visit to an Abolitionist Conference where she met Lucretia Mott, another suffragette. From there, after a move to Salem Falls, New York, Staunton and her friends expressed their complaints at a tea. That led to a Women's Rights Conference in 1848. Frederick Douglass, a freed slave, spoke at the conference. One of the things the women sought was the right to vote - which came in time.
"Seventy-two years later, women gained the right to vote," Now said.
Now, who is executive director of a local chamber of commerce in the St. Louis area, stated that she had not heard of Staunton until 2013. After presenting a speech at a Toastmasters event, someone suggested all she needed was a costume. Now agreed and once she had one, her portrayal of Staunton began.
The last performer was Michael Pahsetopah, accompanied by his daughter, Heaven. Pahsetopah performs with his wife as The Dancing Eagles. An award winning dancer, flutist and storyteller based in Oklahoma, Pahsetopah is a member of the Osage Nation. He tells stories that capture the Native American cultural tradition and provide understanding to the audience through native eyes. He greeted the audience in several Native American languages including Osage and Cherokee, then asked them to repeat the greeting.
"It's my culture," Pahsetopah said, who grew up dancing from the age of 3. He began with what is known as a calling song in Osage. "Powwow season usually starts in May, when school gets out, through Labor Day and we have powwows up into November."
Following the event, Pahsetopah and his daughter, Heaven, were headed to the 143rd annual Ponca Celebration, a powwow held in Ponca City, Oklahoma.
During his songs, dances and storytelling, Pahsetopah played the drum and flute at alternate times. Some of the dances were performed to previously recorded music.
One of the dances was once used before buffalo hunts to find the herds.
Another dance performed with his daughter had Pahsetopah on the flute while his daughter - and the audience - mimicked the sound of rain from sprinkles to a downpour utilizing snapping fingers, clapping and stomping. Children from the audience were invited to participate in some of the dances.
After the event, park staff thanked the audience for attending and invited them to return to next year's Storytelling Days Event, noting that some "big names'" in storytelling would be present.
The next event at the George Washington Carver National Monument will be held on Saturday, September 14 from 10 a.m. through 3 p.m. The annual event celebrates life as it was known during Carver's childhood. It will include living history exhibits including broom making, basket weaving and more and wagon rides through the prairie. Food will be available as a concession courtesy of the Diamond Lions Club.
The George Washington Carver National Monument is locate at 5646 Carver Road, Diamond. For more information about the park or upcoming events, call 417-325-4151.