Dunn’s Civics > Black History > Crafting a Black Identity in the American Empire

The Empire Plays

The Empire Plays. Are you ready to act?


Play One

Three one act plays*, under the title: The Empire Plays--legend has it that George Washington characterized NY as the "Empire State" in 1784 when NY was a state within the "Confederation;" i.e. operating under the Articles of Confederation.

Location: Philadelphia, at the Constitutional Convention: Summer 1789.

Characters: Gouverneur Morris--NY. Morris was against slavery and was the predominant speaker during the sessions of the Convention. He was given the responsibility of drafting the terms of the Constitution. Absalom--a black man, mid 40s, dressed as a fine manservant.
James--a finely dressed black boy of twelve, nephew of Absalom.

Gouverneur Morris

Gouverneur Morris

*These could also be short videos, perhaps done in conjunction with the Apollo Outreach Initiative. See Civic Resources/Apollo Outreach.

Scene: A break in the deliberations of the Committee of Style. The Committee set up to draft the terms of the Constitution, with Morris as the principal drafter.

Morris and Absalom have become very friendly toward one another over the course of the Convention. During the break Morris and Absalom, who, as a servant is waiting on the Committee in its deliberations, engage in relaxed conversation.

In a lull, James asks Absalom, within earshot of Morris: "Uncle, are we going to be in the new Constitution?"

Write and perform the play.


Play Two

Location: Rome, Italy, 1877. The sculpture studio of Edmonia Lewis, first intternationally acclaimed African-American sculptor.

Characters : Edmonia, a Chippewa/African-American in her mid thirties, (Oberlin College, 1859-1863); denied her graduation because she was accused of stealing brushes and paints, then accused of stealing a picture frame an accomplished and internationally successful sculptress, particularly of American historical characters: Longfellow, Hiawatha, John Brown, et al. 

Former President of the United States, Former President Ulysses S. Grant. 

Sergio--older Italian assistant to Edmonia. He speaks broken English, never addresses Grant and constantly admonishes Giuseppi that he needs to forget revolutions if he wants to be a sculpter. 

Giuseppi--younger helper, muscling around clay and busts in the studio. a follower of Garibaldi.


Scene: Grant has come to Edmonia to have a bust made. The former President and Edmonia are mutual admirers. Grant has recently visited with Garibaldi and following his sitting for Edmonia he will visit Bismarck.
During the sitting, Edmonia says to Grant: "Despite our New Union, America will always be the Confederacy."

Write and perform the play.


Play Three

Location ; Country Club near Gettysburg, PA. Summer,1954, following the Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka desegregation decision.

Characters: President Dwight David Eisenhower, Attorney General Herbert Brownell,
Governor (South Carolina) James Byrnes, 70, vigorous, and a former Secretary of State during the WWll. Black bartender, familiar to Ike and Brownell. Byrnes treats him with respect. 

Ike and Brownell

Ike and Brownell

Scene : Elegant bar. The three officials, all in casual suits. Bartender in bow tie.

Byrnes to Ike and Brownell: "We, sitting here, and the gentlemen at the bar, know that many believe segregation is holding the country back, but the South is not Pennsylvania, and no man who pretends to political office in the South can support it. If you think that putting integrationist judges on the bench in the South will help the country, I think you are sadly mistaken, General Brownell, but I will see to it that some of them get through the Senate."

Afterwards, Ike and Brownell leave the club together

Afterwards, Ike and Brownell leave the club together

Write and perform the play.