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Overview

“The Ongoing Fight for Freedom: Stories of NC Black Veterans” is a one-man presentation & performance elevating Black freedom fighters and veterans with North Carolina connections – known & unknown, on and off the traditional battlefield – who have engaged in over 400 years of a struggle for freedom, liberty, and equality. Their sacrifices, resistance, and resilience have contributed to American democracy, even as they were denied the full rights of citizens. Through listening to their stories in this production, we can gain a deeper understanding of our nation’s founding ideals, and harness the hope to continue the work, together, of making those ideals a reality for all.

The show was written and is performed by Dr. Sonny Kelly, founder of Legacy Heirs Productions. The play’s development was commissioned & funded by the NC Department of Natural & Cultural Resources’ America 250 NC initiative & produced by Carolina K-12 at Carolina Public Humanities, UNC-Chapel Hill.

The show is approximately 70-minutes long. This presentation includes archival images, sounds & video depicting and referencing scenes of battle, war, the Jim Crow era, and racism. Suicide is briefly mentioned.

Upcoming Performances

  • February 22, 2024 | 4:30 pm – NC State Council for the Social Studies Conference, Greensboro | Please note the performance will only be accessible to conference registrants. Go to www.ncsocialstudies.org for registration & conference details.
  • February 25, 2024 | 3 pm – Friday Conference Center at UNC-CH | FREE & open to the public, but registration is required. REGISTER HERE.
  • April 19, 2024 | 2 pm – Symposium on the Plymouth Massacre of USCT, Washington County High School, Plymouth | FREE & open to the public
  • May 16, 2024 – TENTATIVE – Chapel Hill Public Library | FREE & open to the public
  • Nov. 21, 2024 – Tryon Palace | FREE & open to the public

Cast 

In order of appearance, Dr. Sonny Kelly will introduce each audience to:

  • Berry C. Kelly “Pop” (1941 – 2021)
  • W.E.B. DuBois (1868 – 1963)
  • Freeman (c. 1750)
  • Jemmy (unknown – 1739)
  • Thomas Peters (c. 1738-1792)
  • John Chavis (c. 1763– 1838)
  • Isaac Hammond (c. 1755 – 1822)
  • Issac Carter/The Harlowe Patriots (c. 1760 – 1811)
  • Ned Griffen (unknown – 1842)
  • Frederick Douglass (1818 – 1895)
  • William Henry Singleton (1843 – 1938)
  • John W. Pratt (unknown)
  • Lucy Nichols (1838-1915)
  • Abraham Galloway (1837-1870)
  • Sgt. Henry Johnson/Harlem Hellfighters (c. 1892 – 1929)
  • Capt. James H. Porter/ 555th Battalion, “Triple Nickles”  (1925 – 2006)
  • First Lt. Wilson Vash Eagleson/Tuskegee Airmen (1920 – 2006)
  • Elmer Gibson (1903 – 1994)
  • Robert F. Williams (1925-1996)
  • Sarah Keys Evans (1929 – present)
  • Dovey Johnson Roundtree (1914-2018)
  • Golden A. Frinks (1920-2004)
  • Troy Williams (1955 – present)
  • Bennis Blue (1953 – present)
  • Phoebe Jeter (1964 – present)
  • Bembry King “B” (1978 – present)

K-12 Curricular Resources

A Parallel Struggle for Freedom: Black People During the American Revolution

Shining a Light on Untold History: North Carolina’s Black Revolutionary War Soldiers

“Stealing a Little Freedom”: Enslaved Runaways in North Carolina

Freedom Seeking Across North Carolina

What to the American Slave is the Fourth of July?

Fighting for Freedom: Black Contributions to the Civil War

North Carolina’s 35th USCT

Booker T. Spicely & the Dangers WWII Black Veterans Faced in their Fight Against the Jim Crow South

How Should Robert F. Williams Be Remembered?

African Americans & Vietnam

Exploring African American Leadership & Service in NC

Lessons/Activities for Use at/in conjunction with NC Freedom Park

Crew

Dr. Sonny Kelly | Writer & Performer:  Dr. Sony Kelly is a professional performer, storyteller, motivator, scholar, & founder/principal of Legacy Heirs Productions. Currently a full-time instructor of Communication at Fayetteville Tech, he holds a PhD from UNC-Chapel Hill, as well as degrees from Stanford and St. Mary’s. He is a veteran of the U.S. Air Force, and also serves as a youth minister.

Christie Norris | Producer & Technical Design; Director of Carolina K-12 

Paul Bonnici | Technical Operations; Special Projects Coordinator for Carolina K-12 & Carolina Public Humanities

Carol Land | Stage Manager

Beth Gardiner | Production Consultant; Event Manager for Carolina Public Humanities

Music

Michael Betts II | Sound Production, “The Star Spangled Banner” and “Walk in the Light”

Elanah Kelly | Vocals, “The Star Spangled Banner”

Brentton Harrison | Vocals, “Walk in the Light”

Other featured music includes “Freedom Is A Constant Struggle” by Leyla McCalla and “Oh, Freedom!” by The Golden Gospel Singers.

Research

Research assistance & archival imagery was provided by the NC Department of Natural & Cultural Resources, including the State Library of North Carolina, the State Archives, and the NC Musuem of History. While the presentation is based on historical research, including actual events and people who have contributed to North Carolina throughout the last four centuries, artistic liberties have been taken in how figures are presented. While some dialogue is taken directly from oral histories or interview sources, the majority of dialogue is interpreted for dramatic intent.

Press

Oh, the Humanities: ‘The Ongoing Fight for Freedom’ – Chapelboro.com

One-man show spotlights Black veterans

A Durham historical marker will honor a Black soldier killed after challenging Jim Crow laws

Contact

For inquiries about this performance, bookings, K-12 resources, etc., contact Dr. Sonny Kelly or Christie Norris.