The Ongoing Fight for Freedom: Stories of NC Black Veterans

“The Ongoing Fight for Freedom: Stories of NC Black Veterans” is a one-man presentation & performance elevating Black freedom fighters and veterans with North Carolina connections – known & unknown, on and off the traditional battlefield – who have engaged in over 400 years of a struggle for freedom, liberty, and equality. Their sacrifices, resistance, and resilience have contributed to American democracy, even as they were denied the full rights of citizens. Through listening to their stories in this production, we can gain a deeper understanding of our nation’s founding ideals, and harness the hope to continue the work, together, of making those ideals a reality for all.

This show was collaboratively written and is performed by Dr. Sonny Kelly, founder of Legacy Heirs Productions. The play’s development was commissioned & funded by the NC Department of Natural & Cultural Resources’ America 250 NC initiative & produced by the Learning Happens Here initiative of the NC Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, in collaboration with Carolina K-12.

 

Tab/Accordion Items

  • The show is approximately 75-80 minutes long.
  • While no violence or graphic images are included in this presentation, it does include archival images and sound ques depicting and referencing scenes of battle, war, and the Jim Crow era. Suicide is briefly mentioned.
  • This performance is intended for general public audiences of adults (16+). However, mature children aged 12 and older, who are accompanied by a guardian and are capable of maintaining a seat and focus through a 75-minute production, may also find the experience enriching. Parental discretion is advised.
  • Private performances for K-12 schools can be tailored to suit middle and high school audiences

The presentation is based on historical research, including actual events and people who have contributed to North Carolina throughout the last four centuries. Artistic liberties have been taken in how figures are presented. While some dialogue is taken directly from oral histories or interview sources, the majority of  the dialogue and characterizations have been interpreted for dramatic intent.

  • April 19, 2024 | 2 pm – Symposium on the Plymouth Massacre of USCT, Washington County High School, Plymouth | FREE & open to the public
  • May 16, 2024  – Chapel Hill Public Library | FREE & open to the public
  • Nov. 21, 2024 – Tryon Palace | FREE & open to the public

“African Americans soldiers answered the call to fight in every American war and conflict, from the Revolutionary War, in which they served in integrated units, to the war in Iraq and beyond. Yet they often served without the benefits of recognition, even citizenship. And despite of unfair treatment, discrimination, and even violence by their own comrades in arms. Some were denied honors they were earned. Many were underpaid or not paid at all…We owe it to them to learn from their stories, to remember their names.” (Stories of War)

In order of appearance, Dr. Sonny Kelly will introduce each audience to:

  • Berry C. Kelly “Pop” (1941 – 2021)
Dr. Sonny Kelly stands in front of a screen showing an American Soldier saluting the American Flag.
Dr. Sonny Kelly in “The Ongoing Fight for Freedom: Stories of NC’s Black Veterans” (Photo by Jon Gardiner/UNC-Chapel Hill)
  • W.E.B. DuBois (1868 – 1963)
  • Freeman (c. 1750)
  • Jemmy (unknown – 1739)
  • Thomas Peters (c. 1738-1792)
  • John Chavis (c. 1763– 1838)
  • Isaac Hammond (c. 1755 – 1822)
  • Issac Carter/The Harlowe Patriots (c. 1760 – 1811)
  • Ned Griffen (unknown – 1842)
  • Frederick Douglass (1818 – 1895)
  • William Henry Singleton (1843 – 1938)
  • John W. Pratt (unknown)
  • Lucy Nichols (1838-1915)
  • Abraham Galloway (1837-1870)
  • Sgt. Henry Johnson/Harlem Hellfighters (c. 1892 – 1929)
Dr. Sonny Kelly stands on stage while wearing a uniform and holding a book open.
Dr. Sonny Kelly portraying Mrs. Sarah Keys Evans (Photo by Jon Gardiner/UNC-Chapel Hill)
  • Capt. James H. Porter/ 555th Battalion, “Triple Nickles”  (1925 – 2006)
  • First Lt. Wilson Vash Eagleson/Tuskegee Airmen (1920 – 2006)
  • Elmer Gibson (1903 – 1994)
  • Robert F. Williams (1925-1996)
  • Sarah Keys Evans (1929 – present)
  • Dovey Johnson Roundtree (1914-2018)
  • Golden A. Frinks (1920-2004)
  • Troy Williams (1955 – present)
  • Bennis Blue (1953 – present)
  • Phoebe Jeter (1964 – present)
  • Bembry King “B” (1978 – present)

Dr. Sonny Kelly | Writer & Performer:  Dr. Sony Kelly is a professional performer, storyteller, motivator, scholar, & founder/principal of Legacy Heirs Productions. Currently a full-time instructor of Communication at Fayetteville Tech, he holds a PhD from UNC-Chapel Hill, as well as degrees from Stanford and St. Mary’s. He is a veteran of the U.S. Air Force, and also serves as a youth minister.

Christie Norris | Producer & Technical Design; Director of Education for NC Department of Natural & Cultural Resources 

Paul Bonnici | Technical Operations; Special Projects Coordinator for Carolina K-12 & Carolina Public Humanities

Carol Land | Stage Manager

Beth Gardiner | Production Consultant; Event Manager for Carolina Public Humanities

Research assistance & archival imagery was provided by the NC Department of Natural & Cultural Resources, including the State Library of North Carolina, the State Archives, and the NC Musuem of History. While the presentation is based on historical research, including actual events and people who have contributed to North Carolina throughout the last four centuries, artistic liberties have been taken in how figures are presented. While some dialogue is taken directly from oral histories or interview sources, the majority of dialogue is interpreted for dramatic intent.

For inquiries about this performance, bookings, K-12 resources, etc., contact Dr. Sonny Kelly or Christie Norris.