HISTORY THEATRE RETURNS WITH STORY OF SUSIE KING TAYLOR

History Theatre returns to Savannah this year with a theatrical performance about Susie King Taylor. 

Artistic Director Lorrie Rumpel and her husband Fritz, the organization’s executive director, founded the original History Theatre in 2007.

It is the mission of the History Theatre to engage and empower Savannah’s adults, teenagers and children in the production of historical dramas and musicals about Savannah for local and visitor audiences.

“We created and produced a play called ‘Let My People.’ Fritz is the researcher and we basically came up with about ten significant events that happened in Savannah and we told those stories. Stories that has been forgotten,” said Lorrie.

The play highlighted many stories, such as: the persecution of Reverend Andrew Bryan in 1786; “The Weeping Time,” the largest auction of enslaved people in American history, held in 1859; and the “Cornerstone of the Confederacy” speech delivered by Confederate Vice President Alexander H. Stephens in 1861. 

In 2015 the Rumpel’s created and produced “Forty Acres and a Mule,” a docudrama that provides the complete account of the historic meeting in Savannah in 1865 that gave birth to the idea of how to achieve racial equity in America. The film screened in many cities and was presented in Savannah at public libraries to open discussion.

Now the History Theatre is setting out to tell the story of Taylor in their play Susie King Taylor: “What a Wonderful Revolution!”, a play with music based on this trailblazer’s acclaimed Civil War memoir, the only one written by a Black woman.

“I read her book which was not an easy read but I started trying to understand her voice, her character, what she wants, all those kinds of things. It became apparent to me that she was the person who really defined herself,” said Lorrie.

Susie King Taylor, teacher and nurse, achieved many firsts in a lifetime of overcoming adversity and helping elevate others out of slavery. 

Born into slavery in Liberty County, and despite Georgia’s laws against the formal education of African Americans she attended two secret schools taught by black women.

Her education was valuable to her and other African Americans she educated during the war. 

She became free at the age of 14 when her uncle led her out to a federal gunboat plying the waters near Confederate-held Fort Pulaski.

In 1872, she moved to Boston and devoted much of the rest of her life to work with the Woman’s Relief Corps, a national organization for female Civil War veterans. 

She died in 1912, ten years after publishing her memoir Reminiscences of My Life in Camp with the 33d United States Colored Troops, Late 1st S.C. Volunteers.

“She kind of got me through the pandemic because I want to feel sorry for myself sitting here in my house, and I’m like, wow, Susie King Taylor never complained, never whined, never a victim, never a slave,” said Lorrie. 

“She was always a person who raised the standard, raised the flag and said, let’s all go forth together in strength.”

The scope of the show by the History Theatre will have four actors that will portray Taylor during different stages of her life, which is spread over 21 scenes in two acts with a large cast as well. 

While this is a huge undertaking for the Rumpel’s, one of the other challenges was finding a venue in which to perform: something that is a challenge for many groups in Savannah.

“We originally wanted to use the Cultural Arts Center but the Savannah Theatre stepped forward and offered their space, so we got fortunate in that regard. The show is set to go up Memorial Day weekend,” said Fritz.

For African-American’s in Savannah there was once the Eastside Theater on East Broad St. 

The 1950s and ’60s found the Eastside Theater hosting the premier entertainment for black Savannahian’s, but over the next couple of the decades the theater closed and the property fell into decline. 

Lorrie hopes that in years to come, with proper funding, that can change.

“It’s our mission at the History Theater to have a multicultural community theater telling our community stories. That’s the overarching mission. I hope that will be an outcome from doing this play,” said Lorrie.

The play will be May 28 at 3 p.m. and May 29 at 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. at the Savannah Theatre at 222 Bull St. Tickets are available now at historytheatre.org



About The Author

Kareem McMichael

Kareem McMichael is a filmmaker, documentarian, writer, and multimedia content creator. The Macon native enjoys entertainment, and sharing with locals and visitors’ stories about Savannah’s art and culture scene. When he is not working, he enjoys relaxing at the beach, grabbing a drink, hitting a fun art event,...
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