For the third year in a row, I have been tasked with writing vignettes to celebrate history. Sponsored by the Friends of the Wilderness Battlefield, downtown area churches have presented vignettes on little-known facts in Black History. To commemorate the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, we’re celebrating Women’s History Month with three vignettes. Entitled: “Untold Stories of Women in History: Love, Liberty, Equality,” the vignette Give Us the Vote! depicts women’s struggle to win the vote; Going Home highlights the dedication of nurses who helped the wounded at St. George’s Episcopal Church while waiting for transportation to field hospitals after the Battle of the Wilderness during the Civil War; and Love on Trial focuses on the Supreme Court decision in the case of Mildred and Richard Loving’s right to live as husband and wife, as an interracial couple, in Virginia. This event will be open to the public. If you’ll be in the Fredericksburg, Virginia area go to fowb.org for details. We usually present the productions in February, but the ongoing crisis of COVID-19 has caused us to postpone the event. We anticipate a fall production schedule.
Women have come a long way to quote a cigarette ad for Virginia Slims in the 60s. In Give Us the Vote, we see the conflict between the women who desire the vote and those who have embraced the finite description of what a woman is and what a woman should do in society. Women were defined by how useful they were to men. Personal pursuits which ran counter to society’s expectations were frowned upon and discouraged. A friend in Zumba class once confided that she told her father she was considering running track when she was in junior high. Her father told her pretty girls shouldn’t pursue such things. She didn’t pursue this desire. That exchange wasn’t too long ago. Gender bias is still a factor in society.
The Wilderness Battle was one of the first times many women served as nurses. If they weren’t part of Clara Barton’s nurses, they came with the U.S. Sanitation Commission or the U.S. Christian Commission. They provided food, medicine, and Christian instruction to the wounded soldiers. St. George’s Episcopal Church was used as a hospital in 1862 and as an evacuation station to transport the wounded to field hospitals at Belle Plain in 1864. It is during this time that the vignette Going Home is set.
Interracial sex, whether consensual or forced, has always occurred worldwide. Legislating a ban on interracial relationships didn’t prevent the occurrence in modern times or in the ante-bellum period. In a speech, Lincoln combated the opposite parties’ argument that freeing the slaves would promote sex between the races. He compared the number of mixed-race persons in the north to the south. He concluded that in the south the number of mulattos was more than 300,000. His conclusion was slavery led to race-mixing far more frequently than it did in the free states. In Love on Trial, we see an interracial couple challenge the Racial Integrity Act of 1924, passed by the Virginia General Assembly to enforce segregation.
The female characters in the vignettes: Abby and Bette, Kate Barrett, Adele Clark and Janie Porter, and Mildred Loving dared to stand up for what they believed in, and challenge the status quo. They took a step toward equality to claim their place at the table. A woman is a person, after all.
“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” Martin Luther King.
Although the story On the Wings of Freedom is fictional, it brings life to the quote by Martin Luther King. When justice stands opposite immorality dressed-up in codified laws, the people must fight and eradicate these unjust laws with vigor and tenacity.
Thus, it explains the major theme of the story.
As writers, we want to be inspired by the stories we write. We search for words that best define and express our beliefs and the ideas behind those beliefs.
My first step in writing a book is to find an idea, premise, a belief I can rally behind and feel excited about bringing to life in a story. My next step is to find a situation that will challenge this belief; and then, find the characters who best embody the moral attributes to test the status quo. Then, I’m off and running.
The middle of the book is filled with pitfalls and successes that lead the hero/heroine to the epitome of danger: the climax; and then, to the eventual resolution, melding theme and plot to bring the story to an end.
Whether your hero/heroine is successful or not depends on what impact you wish to convey about your theme. At times, failure to accomplish their mission could make a more compelling argument about your theme than if they had succeeded.
It’s totally up to you, the writer, the master of your universe.
Our last conversation centered on how an idea for a play germinates.
Now that you have an idea you’ll need to develop it into a theme, which is best
stated in one sentence.
All plays have a theme or premise. Consider the themes for Romeo and Juliet: Love Conquers All or Great Love Defies Even Death. Despite the rift between their parents, a family feud that continued in the next generation, our star-crossed lovers fell in love and married, hoping to run away from the strife of their noble families and find happiness elsewhere.
For the previous two years, I have been writing vignettes for Untold Stories to celebrate Black History Month. Sponsored by the Friends of the Wilderness Battlefield, I’ve written original one-act plays depicting little-known episodes in African American history. These were presented at several historic churches in Fredericksburg, Virginia. Patrons travel from one church to another to see the various stories. This year we’re focusing on Women’s History Month and will present three vignettes. One will highlight women’s contribution and sacrifice during the Civil War.
In 1862 and 1864, St. George’s Episcopal Church served as a hosptial and then waiting area for wounded Union soldiers until they could be tranfered to the field hospitals at Belle Plains. Northern women traveled south as members of the U.S. Christian Commission and U.S. Sanitary Commission to bring food, clothing and medical supplies. They also brought their courage, committment and Christian religion to comfort the soldiers. They cared for the sick in many ways: bandaging wounds, feeding those who had lost their limbs, and writing letters to the loved ones soldiers left back home.
Women also served as soldiers. Like Deborah Sampson in the Revolutionary War, they disguised themselves as men, enlisted, and witnessed the bloodiest battles of war and crossed enemy lines, as did Emma Edmonds, aka: Frank Thompson.