Previewed at Mount Zion: ‘DC Emancipation & The Right to Vote’  

A preview of an original work-in-development, the opera “DC Emancipation & The Right to Vote,” was staged in Georgetown at Mount Zion United Methodist Church on March 14.

“DC Emancipation & The Right to Vote” tells the uplifting story of the African Americans who leveraged their collective power to make D.C. “an island of freedom.” Alliance for New Music-Theatre partnered with the Citizens Association of Georgetown in the special presentation of the opera, which celebrates key mid-19th-century figures and events in local Black history. The narrative culminates in D.C.’s early emancipation, including the first votes cast by African American men in Georgetown’s Rose Park.

Composer Ronald “Trey” Walton III, a Duke Ellington School of the Arts graduate; choreographer Anita Gonzalez, professor of performing arts and African American studies at Georgetown University; and cast members of “DC Emancipation & The Right to Vote” showed off dance selections from the period and representative songs from Walton’s original score. Music Director Evelyn Simpson Curenton, steeped in the tradition of historic Black church music, has worked with opera superstars including Kathleen Battle and Jessye Norman.

Witnessing the lively, meaningful performances, the audience in the church shared in the optimistic spirit of the Black struggle for freedom.

According to Alliance for New Music-Theatre, the opera, still being worked on, will include many scenes “taken directly from historic records. Alfred Pope and his wife Hannah, reunited after the Pearl Affair and manumitted, took up residence in Georgetown, where the house still stands. Pope helped many others gain their freedom and later spoke in front of Congress. Along with his friend and fellow elder, Hezekiah Turner, at Mount Zion Church, they became two of the very first African American males to cast their votes in a national election.

“Their stories will be woven together with others like Jacob Ross from Kentucky, who was ordained by the Methodist Church while still enslaved, but when manumitted came to live in Georgetown with his wife and became an itinerant preacher well-known around the area’s church circuit. Mary Burrell was not only a leader of a female benevolent society but a teacher at Sumner School for Coloreds. Much of the music will be original, but some melodies may be found in old hymnals in Mount Zion’s archives.”

“We knew in telling the early history of the cemeteries and the two Georgetown churches, Dumbarton and Mount Zion UM Churches, born out of the formerly enjoined Old Methodist Church, there was an even bigger story to tell: that of D.C. Emancipation and Rose Park, where the first African American males in the country legally voted,” said Alliance for New Music-Theatre Artistic Director Susan Galbraith.

“We believe the current work will have even greater historic ‘placemaking’ significance for our entire city,” added Galbraith. “We plan to mount the fully orchestrated work with a cast of 10 in April 2025 as part of the citywide celebration of D.C. Emancipation.”

“This event was a dream come true, bringing Georgetown history to life through the arts,” said Anne C. Fisher, chair of CAG’s Living in History Committee. “African American history is significant in the history of Georgetown. The preview of ‘DC Emancipation & The Right to Vote’ represented an exciting community collaboration including CAG, Alliance for New Music-Theatre, Black Georgetown, Georgetown University and Mount Zion United Methodist Church.”

The genesis and growth of the production reveals that it does, indeed, take a village to make it a reality. In addition, the talent and support involved are evident of a true community partnership.

For more information, visit DC Emancipation Day is April 16. 






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