Thursday, December 18, 2003

Characters argue Civil War issues

By Denise Smith Amos
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[IMAGE] Kimberly Snodgrass (left) is Frederick Douglass and Sarah Ferrell is Abraham Lincoln at a politically charged plantation dinner Wednesday.
(Glenn Hartong photo)
COLLEGE HILL - In real life, Abraham Lincoln did not sit next to Robert E. Lee and Frederick Douglass and share an evening meal at a plantation owner's home.

But at McAuley High, an all-girl Catholic school, those historical figures broke bread and discussed slavery, abolition, politics and a host of other subjects at two mock antebellum balls Wednesday in the cafeteria.

As part of a history and literature project, 21 juniors at McAuley dressed as antebellum figures, dined on foods of the era, danced the Virginia reel and held fictional conversations.

The hourlong tableaux did not need to be historically accurate, said teacher Michele Walters, as long as the girls demonstrated a grasp of the themes, tensions and flavors of the era.

The students read Kindred, a fictional book by Octavia Butler describing slavery; watched Africans in America, an eight-hour PBS show on slavery; and wrote 10-page reports.

Two girls played plantation owner Pierce Butler and his wife, abolitionist Fanny Kemble, host and hostess of the ball. Kemble, a British actress, married Butler, heir to two cotton plantations, and later divorced him. Her published diaries described the dire existences of her husband's nearly 800 slaves.

Sonya Ernst, 16, of Monfort Heights, who is half Vietnamese, was the only minority in class. She played Pierce Butler, who threatened to throw Fanny off the plantation for her views.

Kimberly Snodgrass, 16 of Price Hill played Douglass, an escaped slave who become a famous abolitionist. At the ball, Douglass was the guest who cleaned up after himself.

Her Douglass often tried contributing to the heated argument between Lincoln and Butler over slavery, but her calm, respectful words were ignored.

Michelle Perazzo, 17, of North College Hill, played Harriet Tubman, who helped thousands of slaves to freedom. American texts skip over much of slavery's history, Walters said, calling it "sinful."


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