Actors are being sought for an Oct. 19 play about the life of Louisiana law-maker John Brooks Henderson, co-author of the 13th Amendment outlawing slavery.
The production is entitled "The Forgotten Emancipator," and will be staged during the Louisiana Country Colorfest celebration at 7 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 19, in the Masonic Temple at Seventh and Georgia.
"There are parts for all age groups and all interests," said author Brent Engel. "A very few parts require memorization, but most may be read from the stage."
The play tells the story of Henderson from his difficult childhood in Northeast Missouri to his days as an elder statesman in Washington, D.C.
"It's not a lot of boring history," Engel said. "There are dramatic scenes, as you would expect from someone in Henderson's position. But there are also lighter moments, especially one involving Henderson and President Abraham Lincoln. It's a play on words that only a man of Lincoln's brilliance could speak."
Engel said that much of what Henderson was involved with has widespread relevance today.
"We're still talking about race relations 150 years after the Civil War," he said. "Our courts and legislatures are still dealing with voting procedures, and there are still plenty of controversies about government intrusions and constitutional freedoms. Henderson was involved in all of that."
Engel used direct quotes from more than 15 sources, including the Library of Congress and records of Henderson's speeches in the U.S. Senate.
"The only fictional remarks are those by a man at the very beginning and those of a character I created to help introduce each scene," Engel said. "Ninety-nine percent of it is non-fiction. All of the sources are documented. These aren't my words. They're the words of the people who spoke them."
Engel said he used the term "Forgotten" in the title because he believes Henderson's role in history has been grossly overlooked.
"I moved to Louisiana from Illinois in 1997, and I had no idea who John Brooks Henderson was, so I'm as guilty as anyone else," he admitted. "But it wasn't until I started doing research for this play that I discovered just how greatly Henderson has been ignored by historians."
Records show that Henderson began meeting with Lincoln just six weeks after he was appointed to the U.S. Senate. And while he often is listed as a "co-author" of the 13th Amendment, Henderson's original wording is the closest to the actual document approved by Congress and ratified by most of the states.
"I find it abominable and despicable that we don't give this man more credit," Engel said. "Everyone thinks the Emancipation Proclamation freed the slaves. It didn't. In fact, it hardly freed anyone, especially in Missouri. It took Henderson's efforts, in partnership with Lincoln and other abolitionists, to truly eliminate in America what most of the world had already cast aside."
Page 2 of 2 - Engel said Henderson likely would be appalled if he were to visit Congress today.
"I bet that we'd see some of that fiery rhetoric for which he was so famous," Engel said. "If there was anyone who would be upset at the way the Constitution is trampled upon today, it would be Henderson."
Of course, an argument could be made that Henderson helped create the federal government's power, Engel said.
In pushing for passage of the 13th Amendment, Henderson was asking his colleagues to disregard almost 60 years of no changes to the Constitution and to forgo the precedence of states' rights in favor of a loftier moral goal that would be enforced by Washington.
"The 13th Amendment was a true turning point for America," Engel said. "From that moment on, states' rights would take an ever-increasing back-seat to federal power. For good or for bad, Henderson had a hand in that."
Following is a list of the cast in addition to Henderson:
· Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President.
· A black man and woman, with children ages 16, 14 and five.
· A slave auctioneer.
· Tad Lincoln, the President's son, nine or 10 years old.
· David P. Dyer, Henderson's friend and fellow lawyer.
· A young David P. Dyer, 10 to 12 years old.
· Ulysses S. Grant, Union General and 18th President.
· William Tecumseh Sherman, Union General.
· Jefferson Jones, Colonel with the rebels in Callaway County.
· Town crier.
· Congressman Robert Van Horn.
· Sam Cox, a friend of Henderson.
· Three cabinet members.
· Supreme Court Chief Justice Morrison Waite.
· Smith Galt, lawyer for St. Louis voting clerk Reese Happersett.
· Four crowd members. Engel said some parts may be combined and performed by one person. For more information, or to get a copy of the script, call the author at (573) 754-2022.