Reading revisits San Antonio's slave curfews

The excerpt is a portion of the law passed on October 2, 1850, ordained by the Mayor and Aldermen of the City of San Antonio. When the document, unearthed by a student, came to Sterling Houston at a Gemini Ink writing workshop, the playwright found inspiration for his latest script, Black and Blue: Four Centuries of Struggle and Transcendence."



Sunday, February 16
Free with museum admission
The Witte Museum
3801 Broadway

The performance will be staged at the Witte Museum on Sunday, February 16 from 2 to 4 p.m., honoring African American Heritage month along with the "American Originals" exhibit featuring seminal documents of national history, including the Emancipation Proclamation.

Like the exhibit, the performance revisits history through the use of nursery rhymes, personal letters, runaway slave reward notices, and slavery capture and escape accounts, complemented by the sometimes lamenting blues, often inspirational prose and poetry of Countee Cullen, Phyliss Wheatley, Langston Hughes, August Wilson, and Zora Neale Hurston. Houston adds a monologue from his script, Womandingo. Spirituals and blues music performed by Bett Butler and George Staly will create a reflective mood for these writings.

The script tranports audiences back to a time when San Antonio's goverment honored slave curfews over dignity for all humans. Voices that regard people of color as property lower than animals, such as that of Roswell King, are hard to listen to in modern times: "God cursed the Negoes by making him black. I curse the man that brought the first from Africa, and the curse of God is still on them to send them away to a miserable death."

The song of the suffering responds in the lamenting words of Fats Waller:

"How will it end
Ain't got a friend
My only sin
Is in my skin
What did I do?
To be so Black and Blue."

As painful as the lesson is, it is a necessary one in this state where James Byrd, an African American, was dragged to his death by white supremacists in 1998, and W.E.B. Du Bois's wish "to make it possible for a person to be both a Negro and an American, without being cursed and spit upon" is still being denied in this day and age. Houston's collage of American history serves as a community prayer pieced together to remind San Antonio how far it has come as well as inspire the continue struggle for peace and freedom. •

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