Take a journey to a significant time in Kansas’ history Feb. 23 from 7-8pm in Marvin Auditorium. Freelance writer and performer Penny Musco recreates the 1880s during her one-woman show at the Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library.
In Steal Away: The Story of a Homesteader and Exoduster, Musco takes on the persona of a Homesteader who befriends an Exoduster. Exodusters were African-Americans who fled the South following the Civil War. Many ended up in Kansas.
Her show, set mostly in Topeka, portrays a homesteader form New Jersey who volunteers for the Kansas Freedman’s Relief Association, an organization that helped freed slaves coming north. Her character meets and befriends an Exoduster.
While today it’s commonplace, society back then would have frowned upon a white woman befriending a black woman. Musco’s tale portrays a significant mindset shift, she said.
“This is a significant piece of black history, Kansas history and American history. It was such a significant movement that Congress set up a committee to investigate,” Musco said.
There were estimated to be 20,000 to 40,000 Exodusters, The initial flood into Topeka in 1879 is estimated at 3,000 to 4,000 – and Topeka only had a population of 15,000.
Musco said she had two reasons for conducting the research and creating this living history performance. After looking around on the web, she was intrigued about the topic. She then asked white, black, young and old alike about Exodusters only to realize a lot of people didn’t know about them, she said.
Secondly, Musco lives in a predominately black neighborhood and attends a predominately black church. She wanted to do something to connect to her community, she said, and by doing so she has been able to make connections to many other communities too.
Musco was an artist in residence at Homestead National Monument in Beatrice, Nebraska in 2009 when she created this show. During that time she visited Topeka. She said she was looking forward to returning and visiting the library, which she missed last time.
Musco recommends the following books, available at the library, to people interested in learning more about the Exodusters.
- Exodusters: Black Migration to Kansas After Reconstruction by Nell Irvin Painter
- In Search of Canaan: Black Migration to Kansas, 1879-80 by Robert G. Athearn (does not check out)
- In Search of the Racial Frontier: African Americans in the American West, 1528-1990 by Quintard Taylor (does not check out)
For more information about the program Steal Away, visit Musco’s website www.steal-away.com.