A free booklet about the life of Louisiana’s John Brooks Henderson will be given to the first 100 people who attend “The Forgotten Emancipator.”
The two-act, 90-minute play will be staged at 7 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 19, at the Louisiana Masonic Temple, Seventh and Georgia, during Colorfest. There is no admission charge. Doors will open at 6 p.m., with Civil War era music performed by Judy Schmidt.
Play author Brent Engel calls the free distribution of the booklet a way to commemorate the production and the significance of the man it brings to life.
“This will be the only chance to get a free copy,” Engel said. “The plan is to sell the remaining booklets. All proceeds will be dedicated to the promotion of future Henderson events. In the next decade, there are a lot of Henderson-related anniversaries that will be celebrated.”
The play and booklet showcase Henderson’s co-authorship of the 13th Amendment outlawing slavery, dealings with Native Americans, the impeachment of President Andrew Johnson, the prosecution of tax cheats as part of the Whiskey Ring and the fight for women’s voting rights.
“Henderson has been overlooked by history and I find that appalling,” Engel said. “This remarkable man was deeply involved in issues that we’re still dealing with today, race relations, constitutional rights and changes to unworkable laws.”
Engel used more than 30 sources in documenting Henderson, including the Library of Congress, the National Archives, books, magazines, newspapers, case studies and even a college master’s thesis.
“The only fictional character is the part of the Town Crier, who sets the scene at the beginning of each segment,” he said. “The only fictional lines are that of the Town Crier and the slave auctioneer. Everything else is a direct quote from documented historical records. Even the slave auction is taken directly from a description of the event.”
The play starts very dramatically, and the high stakes continue throughout.
“This is no politically-correct production,” Engel said. “I don’t gloss over anything, and I wouldn’t do that. Henderson was not immune to the immorality of his time, just as all of us share at least part of the blame for the degradations of today. I know it’s uncomfortable to discuss slavery and the treatment of Native Americans, but how can we make things better if we don’t understand where we’ve been?”
There are a couple of lighter moments, however.
“Henderson and President Abraham Lincoln were good friends, and Lincoln tells Henderson a funny story that plays upon the name of the senator’s friend, David P. Dyer,” Engel said.
During 10 months of research, Engel found words from Henderson that just as easily could have been used today.
“During the Whiskey Ring scandal, Henderson wondered aloud why elected officials would remain in office if they couldn’t do so honorably,” Engel said. “I find that remarkably applicable to what’s going on in Washington today. Of course, we’re responsible for sending them there, so maybe the blame’s on us. Like Henderson, there are some lawmakers today who are standing up for us.”
One legislator who did come through for the production was Republican U.S. Rep. Sam Graves, who on Sept. 25 read a message into the Congressional Record on the floor of the House honoring Henderson. Graves called the former senator “a quintessential pioneer man.”
Republican State Rep. Jim Hansen of Frankford said similar acknowledgements were forthcoming through him in the Missouri House and Republican State Sen. Brian Munzlinger of Williamstown in the Senate.
Engel said the goal of the play is to get people talking again about Henderson, who died 100 years ago. But the author also hopes to ignite an interest in history and how it applies to the present.
“There’s so much I had to leave out of this production,” Engel said. “Henderson was widely recognized as a mesmerizing speaker. Unfortunately, he didn’t write an autobiography. But he did leave behind a wealth of words that deserve study.
Many of his speeches are available for sale online, and you can find plenty of his statements free in the online edition of the Congressional Globe.”
The booklet contains 10 stories about Henderson that have been published previously, but three accounts that have yet to be printed.
Following are the principal cast members:
• John Brooks Henderson: Bart Niedner.
• President Abraham Lincoln: Brian King.
• Henderson’s friend David P. Dyer: Jeremy Lile.
• Young David P. Dyer: Seth Lile.
• Town Crier: Leo Pratte.
• Ulysses S. Grant: Greg Loveshe.
• Rebel Col. Jefferson Jones: Steve Yager.
• Suffragist Virginia Minor: Cindye Jones.
• Tad Lincoln: Adam Engel.
• Narrator: Brent Engel.
• Several actors will perform smaller roles.
More information about “The Forgotten Emancipator” is available by calling Engel at 573-754-2022.