“Steal Away” provides monologue

Matthew Kelly

Penny Musco stole the hearts of everyone who listened to her monologue titled “Steal Away” in celebration of Black History Month last Tuesday in the Washburn Room of the Memorial Union.

Musco’s monologue spoke of the northern migration of an estimated 20,000-40,000 emancipated slaves, in response to the removal of federal troops from the south, and the interracially democratic Homestead Act of 1862.

Priscilla, a white Kansan homesteader from New Jersey, was the narrating character of the monologue, as she told of her friendship with Abigail, a former slave who had fled from Mississippi.

Musco said she had written the “Steal Away” monologue by compiling historical facts to create a fictional retelling of true American history. The characters themselves are not entirely fictional, but have been pieced together through history and literature.

“It’s what I call historical fiction,” said Musco after her performance. “Was there a woman named Pricilla? Was there a woman named Abigail? I don’t know. They’re a compilation of stories that I’ve read.”

According to Musco, the performance shares it’s title with an old “Negro spiritual,” which were usually written by the slaves to have a double meaning, so they could share secret messages with one another through song. “Steal Away” not only refers to ones escape to heaven through death, but was also used by slaves to indicate their intention to escape the clutches of their “masters.”

Musco was inspired to write “Steal Away” by her experiences living as a racial minority in her hometown of Mont Clair, New Jersey where she has cultivated friendships with African-Americans, and has enjoyed being integrated into their culture.

“My community is racially mixed. The town I live in is predominantly African-American. I also go to a racially mixed church, so I’m tuned in to black culture; I’m sensitive to it.”

Her performance was also partially inspired by a book titled: “Exodusters: Black Migration to Kansas after Reconstruction.” According to this book, the emancipated slaves called themselves Exodusters, after the biblical book of Exodus, which is the story of the Israelites and their similar flight from Egypt.

“I went around and asked all these people, black and white: ‘Have you ever heard of the Exodusters?’ I found one person who had just graduated from college with a history degree, specializing in African-American history. She was the only person that had heard of it, so I said ‘okay I found my subject,'” said Musco.

After her monologue, Musco restated a quote from her performance, and stressed that Kansans should appreciate their state’s history of acceptance.

“As Governor St. John said ‘Kansas has a history devoted to liberty.’ Those were his words. As a free state it welcomed the Exodusters. You all should be proud of you heritage.”