DC Emancipation and The RIGHT TO Vote
Thanks to all who supported our production of Voices of Zion: The Black Georgetown Cemeteries Project last May 2022. The project was very successful in its initial iteration in partnership with Dumbarton Church and the then-named Mount Zion and Female Union Band Cemeteries Foundation now Black Georgetown Foundation. The company was inspired by the stories of the ancestors who lie buried in two adjacent African American cemeteries in the heart of Georgetown.
We have now launched the next phase to further develop this project: -
DC Emancipation and The Right to Vote
No story is more important, but still relatively unknown to the greater Washington community and the nation, than the story of DC Emancipation (nine months earlier than Lincoln’s Proclamation of 1863) to make DC the first in the nation to establish city-wide emancipation, including the first votes cast by African American men in Georgetown’s Rose Park, in the then richly populated Black Georgetown neighborhood.
The opera builds on Voice of Zion, serving to unite our racially and economically divided city, by bringing opportunities for the community to understand more fully the historical significance of the many contributions by African Americans, who helped forge our city, built community, and leveraged their collective power to emancipate DC.
We will preview selections from the work in a special presentation on March 14 at 7:00 pm at Mount Zion UM Church, the area’s first African American congregation Church, in partnership with Citizens of Georgetown (CAG). We plan to present the opera in April 2024 in an initial staging and then premiere it in April 2025 with full orchestra and staging in celebration of DC Emancipation Day on April 16.
Leading the creative team is DC composer Ronald "Trey" Walton III. The new project marks Walton’s second commission by New Music-Theatre. Walton’s music draws from classical music traditions and training, but he also has an ear tuned to the rhythms and energy of today’s young audiences.
Music Director Evelyn Simpson Curenton, a nationally revered musician who has worked with opera superstars including Kathleen Battle and Jessye Norman and who is steeped in the tradition of historic Black church music, will also lead piano/vocal score workshop readings and an open orchestral workshop.
We are happy to announce our partnership with Dr. Anita Gonzalez, director, writer and choreographer, and professor and Head of the Arts Department at Georgetown University.
Several of our cast members and their characters have continued on this journey with New Music-Theatre, invested fully in sharing an important story through the transformative power of music-theatre. We are proud to have singer-actors Sheri Jackson, Djob Lyons, Cara Schaefer, and Yvette Spiers continue with us on this journey as collaborators as well as to Louis Cleare II and Daniel Smith who join the cast.
Alongside the creative development will be a long-term commitment to interactive education. Partners in our consortium will develop content for an educational unit about local Black genealogy for Middle and High School students to extend the learning following the performances. Students will have the opportunity to engage in further archival research, retrieving names and stories of those lying in the Georgetown Black cemeteries and have their work published online.
The story will include scenes, many taken directly from historic records. Alfred Pope and his wife Hannah, reunited after The Pearl Affair and manumitted, took up residence on P Street in Georgetown, where the house still stands. Pope helped many others gain their freedom and later spoke in front of Congress. Along with his friend and fellow elder, Hezekiah Turner, at Mount Zion Church, they became two of the very first African American males to cast their votes in a national election. Their stories will be woven together with others like Jacob Ross from Kentucky, who was ordained by the Methodist Church while still enslaved, but when manumitted came to live in Georgetown with his wife and became an itinerant preacher well-known around the area’s church circuit. Mary Burrell was not only a leader of a female benevolent society (FUBS) but a teacher at Sumner School for Coloreds. Much of the music will be original, but some melodies may be found in old hymnals in Mount Zion’s archives.
Community Events & Partners
Alliance for New Music-Theatre is proud of its tri-partite mission of developing and producing original works, nurturing artists, and engaging community. Testament, especially to the last, has been the long relationships, cultivated over years, in communities we serve.
Together, we uncover more of the richly complex history of our city. Nowhere is this more true than Georgetown.
We recommend the following organizations for you to “dig deeper” into the neighborhood and our city’s history. Join us in -
changing the conversation through the arts.
Black Georgetown Foundation
Mt Zion Church and Female Union Band Society Cemeteries are two of the oldest Black cemeteries in Georgetown and greater Washington, DC. Listed on the National Registry of Historic Places and designated as a UNESCO Slave Route Project site of memory. In addition to commemorative events such as Juneteenth, DC Emancipation Libation &Reading, and Presidents’ Day, guided tours by Executive Director Lisa Fager and others offer an ever-expanding understanding of the cemeteries and Georgetown’s Black history. More info on their website HERE.
From February 6 through April 21, Tudor Place will offer, Ancestral Spaces: People of African Descent at Tudor Place. Curated in collaboration with descendants, including Hannah Pope (nee Hannah Cole Williams,) featured in DC Emancipation & The Vote. The special installation and guided tour presents the multi-faceted individuals and families of African descent who lived and worked at Tudor Place. Explore the historic house through their lives, learn how they impacted the world around them and discover their enduring legacy. Visit their Website for more information: Tudor Place – America's Story Lives Here.
Dumbarton and Mount Zion United Methodist Churches
Both in the heart of Georgetown, the two churches have a long and complicated history going back to the latter part of the 18th century. Formerly united and known as the Old Methodist Church, black and white congregants shared both a sanctuary and cemetery, until in 1816, over one hundred African American members walked out, tired of being relegated to the balcony and other racist practices and formed their own church, Mount Zion, the oldest African American congregation in the area. For many years there has been an acknowledgement and reckoning work, not easy certainly for both sides, but members continue the hard, courageous work. Visit both churches. You can support their important missions by going to: Mt. Zion UMC & Dumbarton UMC