Ky. Chautauqua on April 19 – William Wells Brown

Muhlenberg County Public Libraries is continuing the popular “Thursdays at Thistle” program this year, beginning with a Kentucky Chautauqua program on April 19.

Virgil Covington, Jr. will present his “William Wells Brown: How I Got My Name” program at Thistle Cottage on April 19 at 7 p.m.

William Wells Brown is now recognized as the first published African-American novelist and playwright, but he was not always known as such. Brown was born a slave in Kentucky in approximately 1814-15. He was contracted out to business owners to do various jobs. One of those jobs included working for a “soul driver,” a man who bought and sold slaves for profit. Brown saw the sale of his own family members as well as the brutal separation of other families, strengthening his desire for freedom. He made several unsuccessful attempts to escape, suffering many arrests and beatings each time he was caught.

Brown eventually succeeded in his attempts to escape in 1834 while the riverboat he was working on was docked in Cincinnati. He was taken in by Quaker abolitionist Wells Brown, whose name he adopted as his own.

Brown moved north to New York, where he worked on a steamboat and helped many other fugitive slaves escape across the border to Canada. He learned to read and write and used his new knowledge to help further his advocacy for abolition and temperance. He wrote a bestselling memoir, Narrative of William W. Brown, a Fugitive Slave, Written by Himself. He later moved to Europe, where he published the novel Clotel; or the President’s Daughter (1853). Brown’s freedom was purchased by friends while he was living in Europe, allowing him to return to the United States as a free, famous man soon after Clotel was published. He also wrote and published the play The Escape; or a Leap for Freedom in 1858. He was the first African-American man to publish a novel or play.

Brown also studied and practiced medicine in Massachusetts. He died in Chelsea, Mass. in 1884.

Brown is portrayed for Kentucky Chautauqua by Virgil Covington, Jr. Covington is a former public school teacher, guidance counselor and principal with more than 35 years of experience working with youth in Kentucky schools. He has also been involved with several regional theater productions, including those for Bryan Station High School, Wittenberg University, Woodford Theatre and the University of Kentucky.

This Kentucky Chautauqua program will be presented free of charge. Light refreshments will be provided.

For more information about this program, contact Muhlenberg County Public Libraries at 270-338-4760.

Kentucky Chautauqua is a presentation of the Kentucky Humanities Council. Local funding is provided by the Felix E. Martin Jr. Foundation.