(originally broadcast July 18, 1948)
|[In his dramatization of the life of Denmark Vesey (1767-1822), Durham proffered as a role model the principal organizer of an abortive slave rebellion that in 1822 involved as many as 9,000 conspirators. Here Durham has condensed the events in Vesey's evolution from slave to freedman to revolutionary. But his plans for armed uprising against the white enslavers are detailed in a chillingly frank fashion. And in his final courtroom defense--appealing for the revolution Jefferson and Paine and Franklin to be extended to those still trapped in racial subjugation—Durham projected Vesey into the modern debate over African-American rights. Vesey's words constitute one of the most damning critiques of racial abuse ever heard on U.S. radio.]|
SINGER: Oh freedom, Oh freedom, Oh freedom over me,
And before I'd be a slave I'd be buried in my grave,
And go home to my Lord and be free.
ANNOUNCER: Destination Freedom
(MUSIC: Theme up and to background)
ANNOUNCER: The Chicago Defender and station WMAQ bring you Destination Freedom, a new radio series dramatizing the great democratic traditions of the Negro people, interwoven in the pageant of history and a part of America's own Destination Freedom!
(MUSIC: Up and out)
ANNOUNCER: Today, Destination Freedom tells the story of the daring Denmark Vesey, who fought for the end of slavery twenty years before John Brown and the Civil War. Denmark Vesey!
(MUSIC: In and up and fade out)
NARRATOR: (Caustic. Commentary approach but with undertones of tenderness) They say slave holders court was crowded that day in Charleston! (Ease in sound from here.) They say the culprit was caught in the act—had conceded the crime—the hands of the hangman itched for the rope—the judge was restless. They say it was all over but the hanging, and soon the masters could sleep, could rest.
CROWD: (Build carefully under above. On narrator fade, bring through punchy ad-libs of "judge, hang him, judge," "justice, judge, justice," "Hang him, hang him. Hurry up, judge, hang him," etc.)
JUDGE: (Determined to do his job the way the book says) Order! (Rap) Order in the court! (Rap) Bailiff, can't you get order?
BALIFF: (Up) You heard the judge! Order in the court! Order!
CROWD: (They slip down a notch but not completely out.)
JUDGE: (Goes on) Let the prisoner stand! Let the prisoner come before the bench to be sentenced!
BALIFF: (Feverish, excited, low) Hurry, judge!
JUDGE: (Aside) He's doomed, bailiff, what are you afraid of?
BALIFF: The slaves are waiting to see what'll happen to him. Hurry, judge!
JUDGE: (Up) Will the prisoner come before the bench? (Pause)
BALIFF: (Low) He's coming. They grab at him, but he walks straight. (Admiration) He's a cool one.
JUDGE: He'll be dead in an hour. (Rhythmic raps on the gavel under this) He'll walk no more—he'll hang for all the walking he's done. (Aside) Clerk, come over and take down the sentence....Take it all down.
CROWD: (Ad-libs shoot through again. "Hang him up, hang him," "Kill him, kill him." Establish them, and take them down smoothly until they're crossed into a circus crowd.)
(MUSIC: Carnival music in background)
NARRATOR: (Over above) They say he walked as though the world watched him. They say the clerk wrote down his crimes. (Curious) They say a gamble was the beginning of it. A gamble one night at a carnival, when he bought a forty dollar play on a lottery wheel and stood under the tent while (Fade) the barker called in the bets...
BARKER: (Begin well over above. A jargon expert, a confidence man) Th' great-est raf-fle in his-tor-ree! Get your bets in, folks! Get 'em in! That's all! We're off!
(SOUND: Wheel spun around)
BARKER: (Pick up as if excited about it) There she goes round and round, and where she'll stop nobody knows! The greatest gamble in his-tor-ree! (slower) Round and round—she's stoppin'! Don't get excited, ladies and gentlemen! She's stoppin'!! She's stoppin' on number six— seven—eight—nine! Lif ol' numbah nine is the winnah!
CROWD: (Disappointed "awww" and "ohs" at this)
BARKER: Number nine pays a hundred to one! Who's got number nine, folks? (Notices) You? You got number nine, fella?
DENMARK: (Gripping it) I got it. How much am I worth?
BARKER: (Cautious) The numbah in sight—saves a fight. Show it. (sees it) Uh—a name goes with it?
DENMARK: Denmark Vesey. Check?
BARKER: (Reluctant) Check. Beginner's luck'll break me! You gambled heavy!
DENMARK: I always gamble heavy.
BARKER: (Crafty but cautious) Say—you're Captain Vesey's slave, aren't you?
DENMARK: I am.
BARKER: (Experimenting) I wonder what'd happened to me, say, if I just refused to pay off a slave. I wonder if the courts would bother.
DENMARK: (Experimenting, too) M-m-m. I wonder what would happen to me, say, if I should take a barker's neck between my fingers—like this broomstick—and snap it! (Sound) Like that!
BARKER: (Pause, awe) They'd hang you, you know it!
DENMARK: I gambled once—I'll gamble again.
BARKER: (Sweating) I'm not a gambling man, myself. I don't gamble on my neck.
DENMARK: Then, how much am I worth?
BARKER: (Long pause. Throws in the towel) Four thousand dollars. Take it, and the devil be with you.
(MUSIC: Strike it rich and thick, and roll slowly out under this)
NARRATOR: They say Denmark wrapped his money in a sack and went aboard his ship to see his master. (Slow fade) Captain Vesey was napping over a jug of rum.
(SOUND: Door opened and closed on cue over fade)
VESEY: (German, middle-aged. Talks staccato. Impression of being a powerfully built man, but with touch of desperation. Drink doesn't affect him noticeably.) Denmock? (Up) Denmock, is that you? You finished the hatches? You finished the doors? You done your work? What you come here for?
DENMARK: Master—how much am I worth?
VESEY: (He has been through that before.) Ach! It's that talk again. Be useful, pour me a drink! (Pause) I warn you once, I warn you again—get that out of your head.
DENMARK: I'm asking—
VESEY: I'm telling you! You're the ship's carpenter; be satisfied. (Doesn't know how to describeit) This freedom is a sickness ... it's unbecoming a slave.
VESEY: (Cut in) Get it out of your mind!! It's those books you read that turn your head. You read and read! All night in the cabin you read, read! We stop in a port in Spain, France, Holland, you bring on more books! A slave shouldn't read too much. You should drink—here.
DENMARK: No, thank you—
VESEY: (Over) Pour me another. You're a planner, Denmock, I know. You're mad, and you've got a method to it, but you'll get nowhere. I've watched you talk to people in the market. You tell the slaves they're born equal. Ach! Nonsense!
DENMARK: (Has been through this before) Master—
VESEY: (Cut in) If you stay with me, you'll stop this reading and writing to everybody. Where'll it get you?
DENMARK: Lately, I've stopped reading.
VESEY: (Nods, wise) I know, I know. But now you're out working in your spare time for other masters. You get a penny here, a penny there. (Winks) Denmock hopes to save enough to buy Denmock. You know how long that. would take you?
DENMARK: I know.
VESEY: (Cut in) All your life! (Pause) I need money, too. I know how hard it comes these days.
DENMARK: Why don't you sell me?
VESEY: (Looks up) If I could get your price—
DENMARK: How much am I worth?
VESEY: I'd say two thousand dollars.
DENMARK: (Taking it out) Two thousand dollars ...
VESEY: (Incredulous) You—you've got two thousand?
DENMARK: And I've got my release papers. (Rustle of papers) Will you sign them?
DENMARK: You need the money?
VESEY: (No doubt about it) Yah. Yah.
DENMARK: I need my freedom.
VESEY: (Pause. Heavily) I—perhaps I'll sign. I talk hard, but I'm not a hard man. You'd find a way to escape if I didn't let you go. My pen? (Writing) I feel like I'm releasing a tornado. There. (Curious) What'll you do with this freedom?
DENMARK: What'll you do with this money?
VESEY: (Naturally) I'll use it to help me and my family.
DENMARK: I'll use my freedom to help others become free.
VESEY: (Shakes head) I never understood you, Denmock. (Sighs) Pour me another drink. (Automatic) Finish sweeping my cabin tomorrow.
DENMARK: (Askance) Are you asking me—or ordering me?
VESEY: (Comprehends) I see. You begin right away. (Feels it out) It's strange to have owned a man's body for twenty years, yet not know the first thing about his mind. (Pause) You're free.
(MUSIC: Drop in and slide slowly out as this goes out)
NARRATOR: They say the captain set him free to circulate like fresh blood through the slave system. They say he had a disease, incurable, highly contagious, and lie went about the marketplace spreading it with a word, with a touch, (fade slowly) with a whisper to the—
NARRATOR: cherry woman—
(SOUND: Slip in under this marketplace sounds. Before narrator ends, the cherry seller is hawking.)
CHERRY: (She loves her work. Almost makes a song of it all.) C-h-e-r-r-i-e-s! Get your red ripe c-h-e-r-r-i-e-s!
DENMARK: (Cut in close) A basket of cherries. Keep the change.
CHERRY: (A bit jealous) Denmark. Huh! You can afford cherries!
DENMARK: (Stranger things happen) Yesterday I was a slave. Today I am a free man.
CHERRY: (Nods her head) I heard about your luck.
DENMARK: (Planting) You can have the same luck, Cherry.
CHERRY: (Snorts) They say you're a learned man, Denmark. You know books. You know the history of the country better than the governor, they say. (Sharp) But now you talk like a donkey. My master spends the money I make. Where'll I get any to buy myself?
DENMARK: (Unperturbed. Looking around to see who's watching) It's not money alone that makes a man free, Cherry.
CHERRY: (Don't insult the stuff) Money did quite well by you.
DENMARK: (Concedes) In a gamble. I know a greater gamble (pause). Would you gamble?
CHERRY: If the stakes were right.
DENMARK: If the stakes were freedom? If I could show you that every slave in Charleston is ripe to rebel, to build a nation here where all men are equal—would you stake your life on it? Are you willing?
CHERRY: (Pause) Are my cherries red?
DENMARK: Blood red.
CHERRY: My stakes are in. Get the others. (Up) Cherries, master? (Fade down slowly) Get your red ripe c-h-e-r-r-i-e-s! C-h-e-r-r-i-e-s!
(SOUND: Fade out)
(MUSIC: Imitate the cherry woman and down under following)
NARRATOR: They say Denmark's disease hit the slaves in the marketplace like plague....They say he believed no slave was immune to it, and he risked talk with Rolla Hard, the wealthy slave of Colonel Potter. Rolla and his brother, Ogden, who had never been hungry, never lashed, spaded their garden, (fade) and talked to Denmark.
(SOUND: Regular spading under this)
ROLLA: (He's glib but pleasant.) Who am I to be in a revolution? The masters leave me alone. I leave them alone. I never know what they're doing.
DENMARK: But you know what the slaves are doing, Rolla. You're sent to talk to them when there's trouble. Is that true, Ogden?
OGDEN: (Nods) Yes, we talk to them all right.
DENMARK: And you talk uncommonly well, Rolla. (Plant) I've heard you tell a slave when the train was coming on the underground track. I heard—
ROLLA: (Stops) Keep your voice down!
OGDEN: Denmark, don't talk that way around here!
DENMARK: (Voice down but slow) I'll say it around here until there's a day when we can talk free. Rolla, you've worked well for the masters. Now, work well for yourself. You know every slave who handles a horse. The day'll come when we will need them. Will you be with us?
ROLLA: (Straightens up) How'll I know when the day comes?
OGDEN: Yes, how'll we know it's safe?
DENMARK: When our numbers have grown. If you come, and bring all those who follow you, we'll have a thousand.
ROLLA: (Decision) If I come, they'll come. But some will only follow the gospel man, Peter Poyas. He's a man of peace. What'll you do about him?
DENMARK: You recruit your friends. I'll recruit Peter.
(MUSIC: Drop in under and slip out)
NARRATOR: They say Denmark read the Bible that night. Read Exodus and Leviticus, Joshua and Job, and in the morning went to the cabin of the slave Peter. (Music out, singing in) Peter sat singing, rocking in a chair (fade) and looking out at the sun.
PETER: (Well under above. Singing softly)
Oh when the saints go marching in,
Oh when the saints go marching in,
Lord, I want to be in that number
When the saints go marching in. (Hum until he speaks.)
DENMARK: (Breaks in soft) Peter—last night I read the Bible.
PETER: I read it every night, Denmark.
DENMARK: (Goes on) I read the words of Zachariah.
PETER: I know the words of Zachariah.
DENMARK: Zachariah said: "Behold the day of the Lord cometh, and thy spoil shall be divided in the midst of thee. For I will gather all nations against Jerusalem to battle; and the city shall be taken." (Pause) Charleston is Jerusalem.
PETER: (Pause) Is that why you bought your freedom?
DENMARK: That's why I live. That's why I come to you.
PETER: (Stirs himself) Denmark, the Lord warned Gideon once to be careful about the men he picked to lead his army. There may be a Judas among the slaves.
DENMARK: You're no Judas.
PETER: I'm not, but I'm against violence. I'm against bloodshed.
DENMARK: Are you against slavery?
PETER: God's against it.
DENMARK: Then how will you cure it? Can you reason with slaveholders?
PETER: It's a chancy thing. But your way is foolish and certain death (pause). But I see your mind is set. It is wrong, but I'll march in Gideon's army. My followers will come with me, but there are those who are superstitious who follow Gullah Jack.
DENMARK: (Distaste) Gullah, the sorcerer who sells spells and charms? Him?
PETER: My son, in a revolution, one looks for the honest—not the honored. Some say Gullah Jack is crazy; some say he's wise. You go to the hills and find his house and see. It'll be deep in the woods. You'll hear him talking to his drums, calling on his gods—
(MUSIC: Sneak in with drums)
PETER: Even the masters fear him. You'll hear bats fly and owls cry. Keep down your disbelief. The sorcerer may be an honest man. When you come to his door, pull the ox-tail. (Fade) He'll leave his drums and come to you.
(MUSIC: Drums have come up. The sorcerer is a complicated man, and there is a complicated samba-like pattern to his drumming. Stop when)
(SOUND: Jangle, jangle of a tambourine-like effect as cord is pulled off mike. Then creak open door very slowly)
GULLAH: (Keen and canny. A natural actor. He has a dry laugh like the cluck of a hen. He, too, loves his work. (Fade on) Who's that? (Checks) To buy a charm you should come at night! To cast a spell, come at twilight! (Sees) Denmark Vesey, the disbeliever! (Suspicious) Why do you come?
DENMARK: (Move in) I come to test your spells.
GULLAH: (Warning) First twist your neck and tap your knee! Snap your fingers—(pop, pop, fade) follow me—
(SOUND: Door closed behind)
DENMARK: (Begins) Sorcerer, I want—
GULLAH: (Cut in cautiously) Sh-h-h-h-h! Before you speak, stand by the broomstick and the bones. Now, let your tongue alone—let your heart talk.
DENMARK: (Begins slow) I've never believed in sorcerers, but what I want is bigger than just belief—
GULLAH: (Cut in) You're talking with your head, not your heart. Why are you here?
DENMARK: (Drives) Sorcerer—(Build to a top) cast a spell that'll let the slaves know the land is theirs as much as their masters'. Tie together black men and white men in a common fight to free every man. Cast a charm that will bind them together like Gideon's army to strike with me when the hour comes! (Pause) If you're the sorcerer they say you are—
GULLAH: (Pause. Cold) So. Is this the only reason you're here?
DENMARK: Is there a better reason?
GULLAH: There are better men than I to do what you want. Go back to your books and let me alone.
DENMARK: (Surprise) But, Gullah.
GULLAH: (Goes on) You come with contempt for men and say "sorcerer (mimic) cast a spell to make men free." (Drive it in) I'm crazy, but I'm not a fool. You should have stayed a slave if you believe that the masters can be changed by a spell. If I could cast a charm to free a man, wouldn't I cast one to free myself?
DENMARK: Then what good do your charms do?
GULLAH: (More humble. Weary) They're for the lonely, the lost. Those who want to be free don't come to me. They know I can't heal their sickness. I've learned a trick here and a trick there. I know what a mind wants to hear. My spells are too feeble to free men.
DENMARK: (A new dawn. Soft) Peter said you might be an honest man. You are. I'll show you how you can help free men—
DENMARK: Listen, Gullah, I read once of a giant who fell asleep in a strange land. While he slept, an army of little men tied him with ropes and chains. The giant was a slave while he was asleep, but when he awoke he stretched and shook himself, and the chains snapped and the ropes broke and the little men fell off his back and he stood up free and strong.
GULLAH: (Thoughtfully) He was a giant?
DENMARK: You and the slaves are giants. The masters are the little men.
When the slaves wake and stretch, they'll be free. You can help awaken those who believe in your spells.
GULLAH: I see. (Slow) Maybe I can help. Maybe—
(SOUND: Cut in jangle, jangle of the door cord)
(MUSIC: Sting of fright on cue and keep)
DENMARK: (Alarmed) Who's that?
GULLAH: (Cautious but not afraid) Hold your place! (Fade) I'll see who it is. Hold still.
(MUSIC: Bring up for brief bridge; then ease out)
(SOUND: Door closed)
GULLAH: (Fade back on) Now, he's gone.
DENMARK: Who was it?
GULLAH: (Clucks) That was my master. He comes every night for luck and spells to help him sleep. I gave them to him. (Settles down) Now—we'll awaken the giant!
(MUSIC: Strike in with drum effect of Gullah; then keep a beat under the following)
NARRATOR: They say Denmark and Gullah Jack, Rolla Hard, and Peter Poyas had a pact to wake up the giant and put the slaveholder to sleep. They say their recruits grew into thousands. And the day was near when Denmark's disease could not be quarantined. They say Denmark gathered his leaders together in the loft of a lonely barn to (fade) set the hour.
DENMARK: This'll be the last meeting. Rolla, who knows we're here?
ROLLA: Only my brother, Ogden. I told him to warn us if he heard anything from the masters.
DENMARK: (Nods) Good, blow out the candle. A light in a barn'll draw bullets.
(SOUND: A good blow)
DENMARK: Now, we'll get on with it, Rolla. You've gotten together the horses and riders?
ROLLA: (Assures) Every slave who handles a horse will be ready to pull cannons, once we get them
GULLAH: (Clucks) I've been in the arsenal. I cast a spell for the captain just yesterday. This time of year it's full of cannon and powder. If we take the arsenal—the city is ours.
DENMARK: Good. You, Peter.
PETER: (Suspicious) Denmark, what we plan is wrong, God won't let it succeed. The Lord spoke to me last night
DENMARK: (Interested) Yes?
PETER: He said—watch out for Judas.
DENMARK: (Cut in) You said that before. We're all watching.
PETER: No one watches Rolla. He talks too freely.
ROLLA: What have I said?
OTHERS: (Murmurs, ad-lib interest)
PETER: (Continues over them) I don't know if it was by accident, but the colonel's houseboy, Jason, overheard Rolla talking. He'll tell his master, I'm sure. Rolla takes our lives on his tongue.
DENMARK: (Cut in) Peter! Accuse no one until you're certain! A slip now will keep the chains locked around a million men. The time is ripe. We'll fix the date to free them.
GULLAH: (Eager to put in his bid) I've watched the stars, and they set well for July. Tomorrow the moon'll hang low and be blood red
DENMARK: I've watched the way the militia moves, and we'll be quicker.
PETER: The Book teaches to watch for the Judas—
DENMARK: We'll head off the Judas! Peter, set your men for Sunday.
(SOUND: Door hurled open hastily)
OGDEN: (Near hysteria, excited) Rolla! Denmark! They've found us!
DENMARK: What—what are you talking about?
ROLLA: (Atop above) It's my brother. What is it?
OGDEN: Run while you can! They're coming for us!
GROUP: (General mixed murmurs of confusion)
DENMARK: Who's coming?
OGDEN: It's all over! They're on to us! Run!
DENMARK: (Angry) Stop crying and talk sense! Who knows about us?
DENMARK: (Shoot back) Who is everybody?
OGDEN: The colonel and his guard.
DENMARK: (Cut in) Who told them—you?
OGDEN: Not me, not me! Jason, the houseboy!
PETER: (Jumps up) I said Rolla talked too much! I warned you! Lord is against
DENMARK: Be quiet, will you?
OGDEN: (Cut in) It's no time to be quiet. You've got to run!
DENMARK: (Firm) Run, and end the four years we've worked and planned for this day? We'll stand our ground.
OGDEN: Stand and be shot down!
GULLAH: What'll we do, Denmark? What'll we do?
DENMARK: (Thinking fast) Rolla—
DENMARK: The colonel is your master. How well does he know you?
ROLLA: (Pause) I know him better than he knows me.
DENMARK: Then we'll chance it. You'll face him.
DENMARK: (Looking out) There's not much time—I can see them coming from here. There's the colonel, his guards, and the houseboy. They're rounding the crook in the road. They'll be here in a minute, Rolla. Tighten your nerves; go down and meet them.
ROLLA: Why, Denmark?
DENMARK: (Calm) You'll face your accuser. You'll outtalk him or we'll all hang. ...Goon.
GULLAH: (Obliging) Shall I cast a charm for Rolla? Shall I lay down a spell?
DENMARK: Let Rolla cast his own charm. Go down, Rolla
NARRATOR: (Low and tense) They say Denmark waited in the loft while Rolla climbed down the ladder and walked to the door to face his accuser.
(SOUND: Door pounded a bit under this, opened)
NARRATOR: They say the colonel had the revolution resting at his gunpoint.
(SOUND: Door opened)
ROLLA: (Surprised) Master? Come in.
COLONEL: (He's cool and collected as though he has thought this thing out.) Needn't say "master" to me anymore, boy. When this is done, you'll be dead. (Back over his shoulder) Guard, don't shoot him yet.
ROLLA: (Surprised) Shoot?
COLONEL: (A little impatient) Don't play the fool! Jason told me about your plot. But before you die, you'll give me the name of every leader and recruit in your rebellion!
ROLLA: (Really doesn't get it) Rebellion? Me? What—what are you talking about, master?
COLONEL: (Up higher) Will a lash front my whip remind you?
(SOUND: Whistle and lash from long whip)
COLONEL: (Pause) You don't flinch; you expected it. You wonder how much I know.
Guard, bring up Jason.
GUARD: Yes, sir, colonel.
JASON: (He leans toward the mousey, and this is obviously more than what he has bargained for.) Colonel, you call me?
COLONEL: Jason, tell "forgetful Rolla" what you overheard.
JASON: (Trembly) He, wa-wasn't talking to me, but I heard him say he would get men to burn the plantations. Overthrow the slave system, is the way he put it.
COLONEL: (Eyes Rolla) You hear that, Rolla?
ROLLA: (Cool, calm. Shakes his head) Tsk. Tsk, master. Poor Jason. Tsk. Tsk.
COLONEL: Feel sorry for yourself.
ROLLA: I feel sorry for you, master, for believing him. You know he's run off twice
COLONEL: (Curious) What's that got to do with you?
ROLLA: I've never run off. Who's the most trustworthy slave?
COLONEL: (A little in doubt) I thought you were.
ROLLA: The sorcerer, Gullah Jack, gave Jason a spell, and he hears things. I won't
argue with him.
COLONEL: (Quickly) You admit your plot?
ROLLA: (Calm) I admit, I'm the best slave you've got. I've worked harder, earned more for you than Jason, haven't I?
COLONEL: (Concedes) You've done that.
ROLLA: I'm the wealthiest slave in Charleston. I eat well. I've never complained or asked for anything.
COLONEL: (Doesn't know what he's driving at) Yes—that's right.
ROLLA: Then wouldn't it seem I like my slavery? I love my masters?
COLONEL: (Bowed by the logic of it all) It would seem a sane man would.
ROLLA: If you kill me—who'll handle your cotton? Who'll earn the way I do?
COLONEL: Devil if you're not right! You've been sane. Doesn't seem natural that you'd rebel now, does it?
ROLLA: No, it doesn't.
COLONEL: (Stern) Jason! There're rumors enough without your adding to them!
JASON: But master!
COLONEL: Guard, take him to the yard. Thirty lashes! (Pause) Rolla—
COLONEL: (Cunning) Tomorrow we'll talk and get to the bottom of this. You've always had a glib tongue, but there's something deeper in you—I've never understood. But there'll come a day when I'll be able to know what's in your mind.
ROLLA: Yes, master, there is coming that day.
(MUSIC: Emphasize the tension and keep under)
NARRATOR: They say the colonel took his gun and went home to sleep. 'They say that night Jason went to Gullah Jack to get a charm—drank it and died before dawn. They say Denmark, Peter, and Gullah came down and spoke to Rolla—
PETER: (Warm) Forgive my suspicion, Rolla. The Judas has been found in time. I have been wrong. You do well for a wealthy slave.
ROLLA: I'd rather be the poorest freedman than the richest slave. Denmark, when do we strike?
DENMARK: Tomorrow. 'There'll be militia heading this way—we know it now. We've got to beat them to the arsenal. Peter—
DENMARK: Go to the masters who've heard of the rumor of revolt. Pour honey in their ears.
PETER: I'll speak softly.
DENMARK: Gullah, give your master the strongest sleeping charm you can make.
GULLAH: He'll never wake from it.
DENMARK: (Tension) Now, I'll draw a map of the marketplace here in the dirt. This is the arsenal. Here is the street leading to it. Here the horsemen'll wait. One'll drive off and tell the slaves as soon as he sees us open the arsenal.
GROUP: (Ad-libs assent etc. while he talks)
DENMARK: After that Gullah takes the left flank, Peter takes the right. Everything depends on getting into the arsenal ahead of the militia. Ten thousand slaves wait to strike when we get the weapons.
PETER: (Cut in) Who'll warn us if the militia comes?
DENMARK: There's a cherry woman in the market. I'll tell her to warn us.
OGDEN: (Insistent) If the militia beat us there—
ROLLA: (In) Shall we turn back?
DENMARK: (Pause) Where would we turn? This is a one-way walk, men. Look ahead to liberty or death.
(MUSIC: Slip in an abstract of "When the Saints Go Marching In")
DENMARK: Look ahead to an arsenal chocked with guns enough to free a nation. Enough to wake a giant! He'll get up and stretch and snap his ropes. Now, rub out the map.
(SOUND: Footsteps shuffle on the dirt)
DENMARK: (Tense) Lock the lines of it in your heads. Let the name of every man and woman we've enlisted go with you to the grave. You hear that? (They nod.) Now go to your people. Tell them when the moon is down. Fall in behind us as we walk through the market. When I pass (slow fade) the cherry woman, I'll tell her how to signal if the militia comes.
(MUSIC: Slip out)
(SOUND: Bring up market sounds a bit)
CHERRY: (Fade her in from afar under the above talk) C-h-e-r-r-i-e-s! Get your red ripe c-h-e-r-r-i-e-s! C-h-e-r-r-i-e-s!
DENMARK: (Close,- sotto) Is the road clear, Cherry?
CHERRY: It's clear. But the militia is on the way.
DENMARK: Can you warn us when you see them?
CHERRY: I'll stand in their way selling cherries. When I call "blood red," they're on us!
DENMARK: (Cool, testing) They may take your life for this.
CHERRY: My stakes are in. Let me sell my cherries.
DENMARK: (Nods) We'll see what we can buy at the arsenal. Peter, you ready?
PETER: (Assent) The Lord has spoken.
GULLAH: (Dry laugh) Twist your neck and tap your knee. When the moon goes down, I'll be free.
ROLLA: I'm with you.
DENMARK: Play casual. Peter, sing along. (Pause) The revolution is on.
(SOUND: Distinct slow rhythmic footsteps almost like a march. Keep them going higher
PETER: (Begins on cue singing softly close to mike)
Oh, when the saints go marching on,
Oh, when the saints go marching on,
Lord, I want to be in that number,
When the saints go marching on.
CHERRY: (Cut through) C-h-e-r-r-i-e-s! Ripe c-h-e-r-r-i-e-s!
PETER: Oh,when the moon comes down to blood,
Oh, when the moon comes down to blood;
Lord, I want to be in that number,
When the moon comes down to blood. (Hum down if needed)
CHERRY: C-h-e-r-r-i-e-s! Get your ripe C-h-e-r-r-i-e-s! Cherries! Ripe c-h-e-r‑r-i-e-s!
NARRATOR: (On cue) They say a red moon hung low over Charleston. They say
Denmark led, Peter sang, and the slaves fell in behind the moving men. They say on plantations, on farms, in cabins and houses, a hundred miles around, men waited at the grapevine to hear the arsenal crack. The militia broke into the city and charged the market. Denmark was near the gate of the arsenal. They say you could hear the cherry woman cry when her eyes caught sight of the soldiers.
CHERRY: (On cue well under above) C-h-e-r-r-i-e-s! (Alarm) Blood red c-h-e-r-r-i-e-s! B-1-o-o-d r-e-d c-h-e-r-r-i-e-s! B-1-o-o-d r-e-d—(Aborted scream, goes down).
(SOUND: On cue. A volley of shots. Then fade in shots and crowd noises)
NARRATOR: (Pick up pace) They say the shots tore her down like a vine off a tree. Red cherries jumped into the gutter. Red blood shot from the wounded men. Red cherries rolled under the feet of the fighting, the straining, the reaching to be free. (Pause, pointed) The reaching fell short. (Sound out. Pause) The militia took the arsenal. They say they took a hundred dead men to their graves. They took Denmark Vesey to court—
(SOUND: Fade in court crowd and previous ad-libs)
JUDGE: (Grave) Order! Order in the court! (Pause. Summary) Denmark—
BALIFF: (On close) He's standing waiting to be sentenced. Hurry, judge, they're restless.
JUDGE: (Aside) They'll get their revenge. (Up) Denmark Vesey?
DENMARK: Yes, your honor.
JUDGE: You plotted rebellion against the state that bred you! You set out to slaughter your master and change the state! Before I pass sentence, do you have a word to explain your crimes?
DENMARK: (Slow) I—I have a word to say.
JUDGE: Then speak it—
DENMARK: You speak of my "crimes." I feel no guilt. I felt to be idle while other men fought to be free was a crime. I was not idle. Others talked. I'd act again!
CROWD: (Slight murmurs of unrest. "Hang him," etc.)
JUDGE: (Gavel raps) Order! Order! Is that all you can say to explain your treachery?
DENMARK: (Thoughtfully) No. My treachery began when I read the Declaration of Independence—it said, "All men are created equal." It grew when I read that black Crispus Attucks died to help the colonies be free. Did he die just to free white men or all men? Then I read what Ben Franklin, Tom Paine, Lafayette, and Jefferson had said, and their words warmed my blood. They wanted their revolution to make men free and equal. They stopped with some men free and some men slaves. I took up where they left off. (Slower) I found my price when I was a slave—I paid it. If my life is the price I pay to be free—take it. I'll pay it. Until all men are free, the revolution goes on!
(MUSIC: Drop in heavy and explosive and under)
NARRATOR: They say the court called for the highest price. The clerk stopped writing; the hangman's hand tightened, then relaxed on the rope. Denmark had paid it. The masters went home to bed, but they say Gullah Jack, in his cell, cast a spell and no master slept well. They say the giant was awake. And the giant never slept again until all slaves were freed (Pause). That's what they say about Denmark Vesey.
SINGER: Oh freedom, Oh freedom,
Oh freedom over me,
And before I'd be a slave
I'd be buried in my grave,
And go home to my Lord and be free.
ANNOUNCER: You have just heard Destination Freedom's dramatization of the story of Denmark Vesey.