Music & Libretto by Zenobia Powell Perry
Reconstructed & Orchestrated by Jeannie Gayle Pool
The year is 1852 as we listen to the individual stories of the resort hotel staff and spa, Tawawa House, in Xenia Springs, Ohio, including free African Americans, former slaves, and runaway slaves. Local residents and travelers gathered here to drink and bathe in the waters of the springs, to hunt on the spacious grounds, to dance to fiddle music, enjoy a shooting match, or a horse race, or to get drunk and argue political issues. Southern gentlemen vacationed there with their slave mistresses and children. The resort's owners, in cooperation with local Quakers and other church people, offer protection and work to runaways as they seek freedom in the North, and Tawawa House becomes a stop on the Underground Railroad. Will reads the notices published in the paper offering rewards for runaways. Bounty hunters comb the area looking for runaways and neighbors complain about the questionable activities of the resort. On Sunday morning, the staff and guests gather together for an outdoor worship service that concludes in a Call and Response number with a Shout Dance.
The rise of political unrest throughout the nation in the late 1850s makes the resort less viable. Humanitarian concerns of the Cincinnati Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church for the people of color staffing and surrounding the hotel led to its purchase in 1856 for a school for colored youths, named the Ohio African University. As the Civil War draws near, support for the university dwindles and the hotel staff (now also students) struggle to fed and care for the continuous influx of runaways. In 1863, the property was purchased by the African Methodist Episcopal Church and naming it after the renowned British Abolitionist, William Wilberforce. White Southern gentlemen continue to send their mixed-race offspring to Tawawa House for safekeeping and an education. The school choir sings publicly to raise funds, including a performance at a famous Cincinnati church. There someone tells Fanny and Candy they know their mother and will try to reunite the girls with her. The Civil War rages and the men students wonder if they should become soldiers, and if so, on what side? The Union or the Confederacy? After years of barely surviving, they decide to have a celebration to formally unite couples among them, a “Jumping the Broom” wedding ceremony. Fanny’s mother finally arrives to be reunited with her daughters. The war ends, but hostility against the university peaked in 1865, when the main building was destroyed in a fire set by a mob on April 14, 1965--the very same day that Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. The fire inspired a renewed national commitment to the university and it was rebuilt on the same tract of land, and continues today as Wilberforce University. ©Jaygayle Music, Los Angeles, 2014.