Black History program brings past to life

Published 12:00 am Saturday, February 5, 2011

By David Vitrano


RESERVE — Although she died nearly a century ago, Harriet Tubman appeared onstage at St. John Theatre in Reserve this week. Her appearance, however, was not met with shock or horror but instead with the undivided attention of the dozens of school children who witnessed the resurrection.

Of course, it was not the actual Harriet Tubman onstage, but the depth of dedication Baton Rouge resident Lola Adetona put into her portrayal might have convinced some otherwise.

Adetona has been portraying the Underground Railroad “conductor” for more than 20 years now, and she usually performs her one-woman show at schools and churches.

This performance was part of the theater’s Black History Month program, so she commanded the Reserve stage for students from John L. Ory, Our Lady of Grace, Lake Pontchartrain Elementary and St. Peter schools. Local residents had the chance to see the show at a special performance yesterday evening.

Adetona said she was inspired to do the show from reading about Tubman. From her readings, she pieced the story together.

The sparcely decorated stage lent to the mood of the show, and Adetona’s stooped posture and slow deliberate movements helped capture Tubman’s spirit. Her occasionally breaking into black spirituals such as “Oh, Freedom!” and “Motherless Child” added an air of authenticity. She truly brought to life a time in American history most students only read about in textbooks.

Furthermore, Adetona’s practice of including the audience in the performance and allowing the students to ask questions, which she answered as Tubman, kept the young minds focused throughout the show.

Afterwards, Our Lady of Grace student Derell Gant praised the show, and Justin Warren, also of Our Lady of Grace, said, “It was very

historical. She really covered a lot of points.”

Our Lady of Grace teacher Leslie Arceneaux said the show was the first of a month of Black History Month activities the school has planned. She said each week the school will focus on a different topic such as movies, storytelling and careers. Students will also travel to the African-American Museum in New Orleans later this month.

“You have to learn where you came from,” said Arceneaux. “And (the students) have to be exposed to different things.”

Tubman, who was born into slavery in 1822, eventually helped hundreds of slaves escape to freedom on the Underground Railroad.