close
Font size options
Increase or decrease the font size for this website by clicking on the 'A's.
Contrast options
Choose a color combination to give the most comfortable contrast.

September 2, 2021

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Nicholas A. Brown
(301) 699-3500, ext. 6241
nicholas.brown@pgcmls.info

Prince George’s County Coalition Launches “Freedom Stories” Two-Year Initiative to Examine the Local and National Legacy of Slavery

Playwright Psalmayene 24 selected to interpret “A Question of Freedom: The Families Who Challenged Slavery from the Nation’s Founding to the Civil War”

A Question of Freedom


PRESS PREVIEW EVENT: Thursday, September 9, 1:00 – 2:30pm; Joe’s Movement Emporium, 3309 Bunker Hill Road, Mount Rainier, MD 20712

  • Interview Availability: Psalmayene 24, Brooke Kidd, William G. Thomas III, Marcia Cole*
  • RSVP by September 8 to: David Dowling, david@joesmovement.org
  • Face masks and proof of vaccination required for in-person participation

*Members of the creative team are also available for virtual interviews by request


Mount Rainier, Md. – Joe’s Movement Emporium, a regional performing arts organization, announces the commission selection of Psalmayene 24 to write a play inspired by the courageous legal challenges to slavery led by enslaved families in Prince George’s County dating back to the late 1700s. The claims to rightful freedom through Maryland court systems is recounted in the award-winning book by historian William G. Thomas III, “A Question of Freedom: The Families Who Challenged Slavery from the Nation’s Founding to the Civil War” (2020, Yale University Press). The production, set to be presented in 2022, will shine a light on the families and places of the enslaved in our county. 

"Freedom Stories" discovers the histories, stories, names, and places where freedom from enslavement and oppression began in Prince George’s County. Through dialogue facilitated by programs, "Freedom Stories" strives to connect legacy to present day Prince George’s families and provide insight into the determination and resilience of Blacks living in Prince George’s County in the 1700s. We explore history to create a more just and equitable present experience.  

The commission is part of "Freedom Stories", a two-year initiative between a coalition of organizations and agencies in Prince George’s County to provide antiracist and social justice programs. The coalition includes Joe’s Movement Emporium, Prince George’s Community College Center for Performing Arts, Prince George’s County Historical Society, Prince George’s County Memorial Library System, and the Prince George’s County Office of Human Rights.

Press Preview Event

Members of the media and community partners are invited to attend an exclusive press preview event for “"Freedom Stories"” at Joe’s Movement Emporium on Thursday, September 9, 2021 from 1:00 to 2:30 pm. A preview of the project and brief remarks will be provided by Brooke Kidd (Executive Director, Joe’s Movement Emporium), Psalmayene 24 (playwright), and William G. Thomas III (author). Representatives of coalition partners will also be present and all speakers will be available for interviews and photography. Face masks and proof of vaccination are required. The creative team is also available for virtual interviews by request. 

“Many Americans see enslaved people in history as a faceless and nameless, victims of a long-ago system that has now disappeared. The nation needs to experience…: a confrontation, a reckoning, with real people, with real histories, with real families whose descendants live among us.  Until such encounters happen more widely, Americans will continue to live in separate historical spheres of understanding”.  – William G. Thomas, “A Question of Freedom”

2021-2022 Prince George’s County Read

The Prince George’s County Memorial Library System and "Freedom Stories" coalition will host a year-long Prince George’s County Read focused on Dr. Thomas’ A Question of Freedom. Monthly discussion events (November 2021 to July 2022) will explore individual chapters from the book, giving the community an opportunity to explore the local history covered in the book and how the stories are reflected in contemporary life in Prince George’s County. A limited number of complimentary copies of the book will be available at the press preview event. The book is also available for borrowing through the Prince George’s County Memorial Library System at pgcmls.info or via the PGCMLS app. The "Freedom Stories" initiative will also include a range of historical, legal, and educational programs that explore the stories of enslaved Prince Georgians. Chris Haley, co-director of the film Unmarked, visits Prince George’s County on October 27 at 6:30pm (Bowie Branch Library) to discuss the reclaiming and honoring of burial sites of enslaved people in the mid-Atlantic region. This project is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Maryland Humanities, and other generous supporters. 

CREATIVE TEAM

Psalmayene 24 (a.k.a. Gregory Morrison) is an award-winning playwright, director, and actor. Psalm—as his colleagues call him—is currently The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Playwright in Residence at Mosaic Theater. He is the writer and lyricist of “The Blackest Battle” (Theater Alliance) and the writer, director, and lyricist of the film “The Freewheelin’ Insurgents” (Arena Stage). Psalm has received commissions from the African Continuum Theater Company, Arena Stage, Imagination Stage, The Kennedy Center, Theater Alliance, Solas Nua, Mosaic Theater Company, and Theatrical Outfit. His one man play, “Free Jujube Brown!”, is recognized as a seminal work in Hip-Hop Theatre and is published in the anthology, “Plays from the Boom-Box Galaxy: Theater from the Hip-Hop Generation” (TCG).

Directing credits include “Flow” by Will Power (Studio Theatre), “Necessary Sacrifices: A Radio Play” by Richard Hellesen (Ford’s Theatre), “Pass Over” by Antoinette Nwandu (Studio Theatre), “Native Son” by Nambi E. Kelley (Mosaic Theater), and “Word Becomes Flesh”—recipient of five 2017 Helen Hayes Awards, including Outstanding Direction of a Play—by Marc Bamuthi Joseph (Theater Alliance).

Psalm is currently the host of “Psalm’s Salon at Studio”. Produced by Studio Theatre, “Psalm’s Salon” is an interview-based series that celebrates and examines culture through a Black lens. He is one of the writers of Arena Stage’s coronavirus pandemic time capsule film, “May 22, 2020,” and he wrote “Double Entendre”, the fifth episode of Roundhouse Theatre’s ten-part pandemic influenced web series “Homebound.” His play, “Les Deux Noirs” (2020 Charles MacArthur Award Nomination for Outstanding Original New Play or Musical and Venturous Capital Grant recipient), is inspired by a legendary 1953 confrontation between famed writers Richard Wright and James Baldwin in a Paris café and received its world premiere production at Mosaic Theater Company. “The Frederick Douglass Project,” his play inspired by Frederick Douglass’ 1845 trip to Ireland and co-written with Irish playwright Deirdre Kinahan- was produced by Solas Nua on a pier at The Yards Marina in Washington, DC and was the recipient of six 2019 Helen Hayes Award nominations.

William G. Thomas III

William G. Thomas III is an award-winning historian, author, and film producer. Thomas is the Angle Chair in the Humanities and Professor of History at the University of Nebraska. A native of Alexandria, Virginia, he writes about American history, law, slavery, and the Civil War. He has been a Guggenheim Fellow and a Lincoln Prize Finalist.   

He is the author of “A Question of Freedom: The Families Who Challenged Slavery from the Nation's Founding to the Civil War” (Yale University Press, 2020) about enslaved families in Maryland who sued for their freedom in the decades after the American Revolution. “A Question of Freedom” received the 2021 Mark Lynton History Prize and is a 2021 Washington Prize Finalist.  

A digital media historian, Thomas was co-founder and director of the Virginia Center for Digital History at the University of Virginia and co-editor of the acclaimed digital project, The Valley of the Shadow: Two Communities in the American Civil War. He has published essays in the American Historical Review, Civil War History, Southern Spaces, Lapham's Quarterly, The New York Times, and The Washington Post.  

With partners Michael Burton and Kwakiutl Dreher, he is co-producing a series of live action animated documentary films. The first of these films, “Anna,” was released in 2018 and won Best Animation at the New Media Film Festival in Los Angeles. The second, “The Bell Affair,” is in production with funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities. He is a graduate of Trinity College (Connecticut) and received his M.A. and Ph.D. in History from the University of Virginia. He currently serves on the Board of Trustees of Trinity College and on the National Historical Publications and Records Commission of the National Archives and Records Administration. 

"A rich, roiling history that Thomas recounts with eloquence and skill. . . . The very existence of freedom suits assumed that slavery could only be circumscribed and local; what Thomas shows in his illuminating book is how this view was eventually turned upside down in decisions like Dred Scott. 'Freedom was local,' Thomas writes. 'Slavery was national.'"—Jennifer Szalai, New York Times 

Marcia E. Cole

Marcia E. Cole (Playwright/Poet/Actor/Author/Educator) - a native Washingtonian received her BA in Early Childhood Education in 2014 from the University of the District of Columbia (UDC). She has won the College Language Association Creative Writing contest across three genres: Drama (2008), Poetry 1st Prize (2011) and Short Story (2012). She is author of Light in Dark Places: History in Verse that covers America’s deep history (2018).

A Matter of Worth, her first play, was performed at libraries in DC: Smithsonian's Anacostia Community Museum and Univ. of DC. In 2015, as part of Washington DC’s 1st Women’s Voices Theater Festival, it received very favorable reviews. Ms. Cole starred in a new play reading about Maya Angelou And Still I Rise by playwright Rickey K. Hood at Anacostia Museum (2015). In collaboration with historian Dr. Susan Strasser, they present A Double Take on Lynching - Lecture and Poetry. Marcia served as script consultant for America’s Talking: A People’s Mosaic at Live Garra Theater, directed by Wanda Whiteside (2018) and is a member of FREED – Female Re-Enactors of Distinction.

Joe’s Movement Emporium

Established in 1995, Joe’s Movement Emporium is a cultural arts hub that acts as a catalyst for creativity and economic opportunity. Based in Mount Rainier, Maryland in the Prince George’s Gateway Arts District, Joe’s serves more than 70,000 visitors annually. Joe’s has five arts-based youth programs that bridge the creative divide between under-resourced families and those with means. Through programs and productions in education, performing arts, and work readiness, Joe’s integrates progressive education, creativity, and youth development.

About the Prince George’s County Memorial Library System

The Prince George’s County Memorial Library System (PGCMLS) helps customers discover and define opportunities that shape their lives. The Library serves the 915,000+ residents of Prince George’s County, Maryland through 19 branch libraries, a 24/7 online library, and pop-up services throughout the community. PGCMLS is a responsive and trusted community-driven organization. Programs, services, and outreach activities serve booklovers, immigrants and refugees, job seekers, children, young professionals, seniors, and families alike.

PGCMLS’ robust online offerings include curated content collections for kids, teens, educators, Spanish speakers, and more. Virtual events and outreach provide access to the Library from the comfort of home or on the go. Special programs include the D.R.E.A.M. Lab, STEM Pals, and 3D printing, which offer teens and lifelong learners with opportunities to learn cutting-edge technology and STEM skills for job readiness or personal enrichment. The Library also provides drive-up WiFi access at all branches and mobile hotspot devices. The Library’s Laurel Branch Library received the 2018 AIA/ALA Library Building Award and was designated the best new public building in Maryland.

As a strong community partner, the Library regularly collaborates with local government agencies and non-profit organizations to provide access to essential community services and programs. Partners include the Prince George’s County Human Relations Commission, Employ Prince George’s, Prince George’s County Public Schools, and Prince George’s Community College. Learn more at pgcmls.info or by visiting the Largo-Kettering Branch at 9601 Capital Lane, Largo, MD 20774.