JOHNSON CITY – The Jonesborough Yarn Exchange and WETS-FM/HD will present the story of a landmark court case in Washington County, Tennessee from the 1840s, involving the rights of seven slaves to inherit property from their master – who was probably also their father.
The one-hour radio program will be broadcast today (March 26) at 8 p.m. on East Tennessee State University’s public radio station WETS-FM (89.5) and WETS-HD 1, and can also be heard on the Internet at www.wets.org/streaming.
The story is part of the “Jonesborough Yarn Exchange Radio Hour,” which is performed live at the International Storytelling Center (ISC) on the fourth Monday of each month, and broadcast on WETS on the fourth Wednesday.
“This true story is a fascinating part of the history of Jonesborough and Washington County,” says Jules Corriere, who directs the performances and does most of the writing. “We staged it at the end of February, which is Black History Month. Much of the show focused on the memories of the local African-American community, and we had many community members participating in the show.”
Loyd Ford was a Revolutionary War veteran who lived on a 112-acre farm in Washington County. The farm was tended by five slaves, three men and two women, referred to by Loyd as his “black children.” They probably were his biological children; that was a major point of contention in the court case that resulted from Ford’s will. When Ford died in 1843, he left the bulk of his estate to his slaves, who looked after Ford and his property. Ford left only token inheritances to his seven “legitimate” sons – none of whom stayed on the farm or assisted their father as adults. The sons contested the will in a bitter court battle that went all the way to the Tennessee Supreme Court.
The historic court case was dramatized by the cast of the Jonesborough Yarn Exchange, primarily amateur storytellers from Jonesborough who gather monthly at the ISC to put on an old-fashioned radio variety show. The Yarn Exchange grew out of “I Am Home,” a 2011 production organized by Community Performance International, non-profit organization dedicated to helping communities collect and tell their stories. The monthly shows are funded, in part, by a grant from the Harris Foundation. These shows are recorded, edited and broadcast on WETS. Although the radio shows air two days after the live performances, the radio broadcast is almost always from an earlier show.
“We wanted to get several programs ‘in the can’ before we began airing them,” according to WETS station directorWayne Winkler, who edits each program down to a radio-friendly 59 minutes. “And some programs have a seasonal or holiday theme, so we’re saving those programs until those seasons or holidays roll around again. But this program had so much involvement from members of the community we wanted to get it on the air as soon as possible.”
Other segments of this month’s Jonesborough Yarn Exchange Radio Hour focus on the old Booker T. Washington School, which served Jonesborough’s African-American students during the days of segregation, and memories of prominent or memorable black Jonesborough residents, including 19th century physician and minister Hezekiah Hankal, and 20th century educator Dr. Ernest McKinney. There are also musical performances by Redleg Husky of Boone, N.C.For ticket information for upcoming shows, contact the Jonesborough Yarn Exchange at (423) 753-1010.