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Douglass reenactor featured at living history program

Photo of Frederick Douglass from National Archives Gift Collection
Photo of Frederick Douglass from National Archives Gift Collection

Frederick Douglass was never able to come to the Deep South in his effort to recruit black men to join the Union army during the Civil War.

But 150 years after the summer of 1863, the year the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect and the Mississippi River Valley fell to Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, the spirit of Frederick Douglass will be in Natchez.

Actor Michael Crutcher Sr. will bring his one-man production, “The Spirit of Frederick Douglass,” to the sixth-annual Black and Blue Civil War Living History Program at Historic Jefferson College Oct. 26.

A famous writer, speaker and abolitionist in his day, Douglass was a fugitive slave who was instrumental in convincing President Abraham Lincoln to allow former slaves and free northern blacks to join the U.S. Army during the Civil War.

Crutcher has worked in television and movies, and as a Frederick Douglass re-enactor he was chosen by Douglass’ family to portray the 19th century activist at the dedication of the Douglass statue at Emancipation Hall in Washington, D.C.

“Michael Cucher Sr., says he went out to Camp Nelson in Danville, Ky., where thousands of runaway enslaved persons enrolled in the Union Army — where his own great-great grandfather enrolled in the Union Army — and where roughly 10,000 freedom fighters were buried there,” Black and Blue organizer Ser Seshsh Ab Heter-C.M Boxley said.

“He said he could feel their spirits there, and he felt their spirits told him to go out and tell their story, and he prayed and prayed about it, he says, ‘The spirit of Frederick Douglass’ was God’s answer.”

As part of the reenactment weekend, Cutcher will accompany Boxley and others to the Natchez National Cemetery and will deliver a speech Douglass gave on Decoration Day 1871 — Decoration Day has since morphed into Memorial Day — commemorating the unknown black soldiers who fought for the Union cause.

“That speech gives homage to all the unknown soldiers of African descent — before they were designated as the United States Colored Troops, black soldiers were, on their army papers, marked as ‘AD’ for African descent,” Boxley said.

“Douglass was never able to come South to utter those words, and we will caravan to the National Cemetery and escort the Spirit of Frederick Douglass to where the majority of the U.S. Colored Troops are buried, and he will give that speech that Frederick Douglass gave on Decoration Day 1871; we will dedicate it to all the unknown soldiers in the Mississippi Valley who never got a chance to hear Frederick Douglass.”

Beyond the Crutcher appearance, Black and Blue will include a number of other events and performances.

At 7 a.m. Sept. 26, a libation ceremony noting the Maafa of Africans taken from their homes and enslaved overseas at the Forks of the Road.

The Maafa is a word used to denote the evils of the slave trade, similar in concept to the Jewish Holocaust, Boxley said.

At 7:30 a.m., following the libation ceremony, a caravan will travel to the national cemetery for the memorial ceremony, and the reenactment will follow at Jefferson College.

In addition to the living history camp, Black and Blue will include musical performances by the group Stories from ‘da Dirt.

“They will perform storytelling and music of African-descended women who stood for freedom or helped fight for freedom during the Civil War,” Boxley said.

“Their performance will entail gospel as well as traditional music of that era.”

The Civil War re-enactors will recreate the November 1863 skirmish between the Sixth Mississippi Colored Infantry and the Adams and Crosby Cavalry at Palestine Road, while others will tell the stories of enslaved people who spread the word that if the North won, freedom would come for them.

Others will tell the stories of black men and women who served as sailors and nurses in a floating hospital outside of Vicksburg, and Boxley will himself portray the slave known to history as “the intelligence contraband” who showed Grant how to capture Vicksburg.

In addition to appearing at the Black and Blue events, Crutcher will also present “The Spirit of Frederick Douglass” at the Natchez Little Theatre at 2 p.m. Oct. 27. The Adams County Board of Supervisors has underwritten the cost of the performance.