Photo by Aaron Morrison
© The Lancaster News
By Gregory A. Summers - Features Editor
(exerpt from 2008 Lancaster News article)
Slave re-enactor Kitty Wilson-Evans’ scene in Mel Gibson’s “The Patriot” ended up unnoticed on the cutting room floor.
But her stage performance as “Old Maw” in a Feb. 14, 2008, production of the David Chaltas’ play, “Two Women: One War” grabbed everyone’s attention during two sellout performances at Lincoln Memorial University in Harrogate, Tenn.
The retired kindergarten teacher who helps tell the story of slavery at Historic Brattonsville recently received an award she never saw coming.
Wilson received the “Robert E. Lee Service Award,” from Col. Ben E. Caudill Camp No. 1629, Sons of Confederate Veterans, said Carol Campbell, who is program and tourism director at Lincoln Memorial University. Campbell said the group presents five of the awards each year. An ordained minister, Chaltas is chaplain of the SCV camp.
“I’m not sure, but I might be the first African-American to receive this award,” Wilson-Evans said.
“Kitty is just a fantastic person – no awesome is a better word to describe her and how she can go into character right before your very eyes,” Campbell said. “She has an innate way to develop a kinship with an audience. Kitty is absolutely mesmerizing when she goes into character.”
The ability to do that is something that Wilson-Evans – who portrays Kessie at Brattonsville – doesn’t quite understand herself.
“I don’t know,” Wilson-Evans said. “For me, it’s not acting or drama. It’s a part of me. I can remember when my mother saw me as Kessie for the first time, she said, ‘I know it’s you, but it’s not you.’ ”
“Two Women: One War” is the story of the struggle two sisters faced in 1865 when their husbands chose to fight on different sides in the Civil War.
“That was a normal thing for most families,” Campbell said.
As “Old Maw,” Wilson-Evans portrays a loving nanny who watches over the family after her own death.
Campbell said Old Maw literally dies from a broken heart after the oldest son-in-law, Jesse – whom she helped raise – is tragically killed in the war.
What makes the role unusual is that Chaltas – a school teacher, minister, playwright, author and actor – asked Wilson-Evans to write her own part. Wilson compares it to how she came up with Kessie.
“In figuring out Old Maw, I tried to put myself into the situation she was in,” Wilson-Evans said of the role. “A lot of people owned slaves, but this family never called me a slave. This was my family.”
Portraying a slave is something that Wilson-Evans takes seriously. After 17 years, including many as a volunteer, she has become a mainstay as the interpreter of African-American history at the Historic Brattonsville plantation in York County.
She sees re-enacting the life of an 18th-century slave as a way to help young people – especially black children – connect to their past. Her goal is to be the face and voice of past generations, while recognizing the contributions that slaves made.
Wilson said in a recent National Public Radio interview, that when someone sees her, they are looking at a slave.
“Slaves ain’t got to prove nothing to nobody,” she said in that interview. “They left their marks.”
“Somebody in your family gave their life for all the things you’re enjoying today,” Wilson-Evans said. “The freedom you have – you can live any way you want to. They (slaves) couldn’t; they were property. But somebody in your family survived. How are you going to thank them for what they’ve given to you?”
"KItty Wilson-Evans receives award from Sons of Confederate Veterans'." The Lancaster News. 4 April 2008. <http://www.lcni5.com/cgi-