There is nothing like a steady dose of Texas history, and that is exactly what the audience at the Institute of Texan Cultures got this past Saturday; and it’s only a glimpse of what’s to come.
On Saturday, the Institute of Texan Cultures featured Suppertime on the Garr’y, a play based on the Works Progress Administrations’ (WPA), Born in Slavery: Slave Narratives from the Federal Writer’s Project, 1936-1938.
The event was hosted by UTSA professors and students and was the first part of a series of eight performances of We Emancipated Men and Women of the Texas Republic, which focuses on the lives of African-Americans in Texas.
The show started with an introduction from UTSA professor Dr. Frederick Williams of the Political Science Department. Featuring UTSA’s Dr. Carol Adams-Means, the department of communication, and instructor Brenda Clark of San Antonio College, the presentation centered on the discussion from the actual narratives of former slaves Fannie McCullough Driver, 80 years old, and Rebecca Thomas, 113 years old.
Driver, played by Adams-Means, and Thomas, played by Clark, have a discussion on the front porch. The porch was often called the garr’y by the elderly. The characters talked about their sharecropper tenant house, about the good and bad of their slavery past and of their emancipation in 1865.
In reality, however, it is not known whether Thomas and Driver knew each other. Nevertheless, in this play they come together to share their stories as former slaves.
In 1937, president Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal and the WPA gave writer and reporter Alfred Menn the task of locating former slaves and recording their narratives. Thomas and Driver were two of some 65 slaves interviewed by Menn.
Suppertime on the Garr’y was a presentation of the narratives of these two women as recorded by Menn for the WPA. Dr. Adams-Means, former journalist and television director, came up with the idea to present the narratives, directed the performance and said this project has been a labor of love.
“Not only is it historic research, but it is history that you can relive as we did through the interpretation of the historic narratives with our performance,” Adams-Means said.
“This is an Afrocentric interpretation of what took place in the lives of Rebecca Thomas and Fannie Driver. They were not historic figures, they were just ordinary people who became a part of the WPA project”, she said.
Her passion for the narratives began when she was doing research for her dissertation on East Austin and the social migration of African- Americans in the United States. Ever since that moment, she has felt it is her mission to share these remarkable stories of triumph and tragedy, which took place during one of America’s darkest moments.
Assisting in launching the project were UTSA alumnae Shari Crayton and Janet Rae, who were in charge of script development. Also, current UTSA students Joseph King and Douglas Chan created the map detailing where the former slaves lived in East Austin.
Currently, Dr. Adams-Means is looking for locations that will host the seven remaining installments of this project.
“I would like to bring the performance to 1604, but haven’t requested a location or date. The ITC performance was my primary focus, now I can concentrate on other performance dates,” Adams-Means said.
“I will work on part two after the semester is over. I expect to complete four installations a year. Some of the installations will take place in other cities like Austin, Georgetown, Fort Worth/Dallas and Tyler,” she said.
She is hoping for a second installment of this project June 19, or Juneteenth, which is known as freedom or Emancipation day.
The remaining portions of this eight-part project will include issues on free blacks who were forced back into slavery, slave labor, cross-cultural influences and the role of education in the social advancement of Texas blacks.