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STORY BACKGROUND                                                 SUMMARY                                                             CHARACTERS  
Story Background

In Singin a free woman tells the story of her family's escape from slavery via the Underground Railroad, interweaving the Spirituals as escape songs.  On the eve of her return to the plantation to rescue her recaptured sister-in-law, Topper recounts her tale in a church aided by her five free friends who make up a Griot Chorus and accompany her with voice and hand percussion. Singin shows a surprising range of conductors on the Slave Grapevine that was the actual Underground Railroad.

The spirituals are a prominent vehicle in this story of self-determination, pointing the way, providing both spiritual upliftment and warnings and instructions. Though it is commonly accepted that the Spirituals were used to help us to freedom, Singin imagines their actual use in that quest - which necessarily brings the African to the center of his own freedom story.

These songs highlight heretofore unsung heroes of the Underground Railroad, the everyday Black man and woman, slave and free, dismissively known as the Slave Grapevine. We freed ourselves and we went to extraordinary lengths to do it.

The Underground Railroad was not only the Quakers and a few Black stars like Harriet Tubman. In addition, far too much of our history recounts our defeat, victimization and betrayal. While we could not have survived without each other, recent research has brought to light our triumph in written records. One example of this is the preservation of 2 slave narratives in David Blight's A Slave No More: Two Men Who Escaped To Freedom: Including Their Own Narratives Of Emancipation.

In Singin, we have a strong Black man, a loving Black family, an involved Black church and a caring and supportive community, Black and white. Neither are our villains homogeneous. In fact almost all of the characters, situations and locales in Singin are based on historical fact.

A true and inclusive history ensures a proud, stakes-holding community. Singin provides a hero story easily accessible to all ages and can act as a great catalyst for further discussion and research.

Scene Summary

Scene 1 - Singin Wid A Sword In Ma Han

Topper introduces herself and Griot Chorus to the congregation and begins recounting her story as a slave on the Carlisle plantation in Maryland.


Scene 2 - Keep A Inchin Along

Evening. Nate tells Topper, his fiancee, of his new job with black slaveowner, Massa Patison. Topper argues for running to freedom now.


Scene 3 - De Blin' Man Stood On De Road An' Cried

Morning. Topper is sold to Patison. Patison forces Cato, the free black barber from town, to spy on Nate.


Scene 4 - L'il David Play On Yo Harp

Night, then following Morning. Nate vows to rescue Topper and run to freedom. Mizz Kessie and Dorey join in the escape plan.


Scene 5 - Swing Low, Sweet Chariot

That Same Afternoon. Cato gives important information to Nate while spying on him. Nate and Topper start on their journey to freedom with Mizz Kessie and Dorey.


Scene 6 - Chilly Water

Morning Then Evening Of Same Night. Patison hires the slave catchers, Gap Gang, to find Topper and the other runaways. The fugitives get help from friendly strangers.


Scene 7 - Dere's No Hiding Place Down Dere

Early Morning. Tired, hungry and hurt, the fugitives argue. Topper gets captured by the Gap Gang.


Scene 8 - Singin Wid A Sword In Ma Han (reprise)

That Evening. Topper is dragged toward Wilmington DE, threatened with rape. Nate having left his mother and sister to go on by themselves, rescues Topper.

Scene 9 - Strawberries I'm Goin To Glory

1 Scene Summary

Late Morning. Nate and Topper meet conductor/fruitseller Davey in Wilmington. They convince her to cross them to the AME church in PA so they can get to Columbia.


Scene 10 - Make De Devil Leave Me Alone

Evening. Nate and Topper re-unite with Mizz Kessie and Dorey in PA church. Mizz Kessie and Dorey tell of their narrow escape from Gap Gang.


Scene 11 - My Way's Cloudy

Family is conducted through various AME churches.


Scene 12 - What You Gonna Do When Yo Lamp Burn Down

Family attends a revival and begin to suspect that they are being followed. They are secretly conducted to abolitionist/conductor Goodrich's house in York.


Scene 13- Gimme Yo Han

Early Evening. Abolition meeting at Goodrich's house. Fugitives get word they have been betrayed to Gap Gang who has just arrived in town.


Scene 14 - Ride On Moses

Evening. Fugitives flee, the Gap Gang is bearing down on them. They are almost captured when Dorey sacrifices herself so the others can get to last hiding place before crossing river to Columbia, PA.


Scene 15 - My Way's Cloudy (reprise)

Night, then Over Time. Reflections on the price of freedom. The fugitives successfully cross to Columbia. Mizz Kessie inherits her recently deceased husband's land and home. Nate and Topper get married and settle in with her.


Scene 16 - I Know De Lord's Laid His Han's On Me

Late Morning Two Weeks Later. Cato and son enter Topper's church, with the news that Patison got saved and freed all his slaves! Cato relates Dorey's dire situation back on Carlisle plantation. 


Scene 17 - Singin Wid a Sword In Ma Han (reprise)

Topper and Nate decide to return to rescue Dorey


TOPPER is a feisty woman who works in the field as a slave and dreams of running north until one day she is sold. She escapes with her fiancé Nate and his family to freedom.

NATE is affianced to Topper and a skilled carpenter who is "hired out" by slave owner Carlisle, and is saving to buy freedom for himself and his family until he is forced to escape and rescue Topper as he brings his family to freedom.

DOREY who is Nate's sister and the daughter of Mizz Kessie and Carlisle by rape, lives in a world of Big House illusion until she decides to flee slavery and eventually sacrifices her freedom so the others can escape.

MIZZ KESSIE is mother to Nate and Dorey and was banished to the field years ago after her husband was sold and she was raped by her slaveowner Carlisle. She endures until she decides to run with her family, and dreams of reuniting with her husband.

CARLISLE who is a white genteel and degenerate slave owner, risks his home and family in drinking and gambling excesses until his wife leaves him and he chases after her, abandoning his plantation and slaves.

PATISON is a black slave owner who buys Topper until she escapes and he hires the Gap Gang to capture her. He owns the free town barber Cato's son and uses this to force Cato into spying on potential escapees but finally comes to see the error of his ways.

CATO who is the free black barber in town and clearinghouse for information, is forced to spy for Patison while giving Nate vital information to escape. Cato tells Patison their route under duress but finally leads his son to freedom.

MAROONS are a fugitive free black community living in the swamps who raid plantations and provide crucial assistance to the runaways.

GAP GANG are three unscrupulous highly successful bounty hunters with a ferocious reputation. Hired by Patison to chase the runaways, they capture Topper who is rescued by Nate, nearly capture Mizz Kessie and Dorey and finally capture Dorey whose sacrifice allows the others to cross to freedom.

DAVEY who is a fruit seller in Wilmington DE and an Underground Railroad conductor with a regular freedom route to Philadelphia, reluctantly agrees to cross Nate & Topper to a rural African Methodist Episcopalian (AME) church in PA. Nate and Topper marry and in her honor take on Davey's last name as their own.

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