In her own words: Edwina Findley

November 7, 2008

I first heard about the ladies of Gee’s Bend on Oprah. Talk about the World’s Stage!

I was peeled to the television waiting for my Great Aunt, Alice Royal, >ailment to come on and speak about the Black Town my family helped pioneer in Allensworth, California after slavery. Since I was a little girl I would hear the stories of how my great-grandmother Sadie (who lived to 102 years old) and her parents (born slaves) joined a handful of emancipated slaves and free Negroes to found their rendition of the Black Promised Land – Allensworth – now preserved as a National Historic State Park.

As I eagerly awaited Aunt Alice’s arrival, my attention was somewhat diverted (and later captivated), by the appearance of Gee’s Bend. This small town in Alabama, forced into complete isolation for over three decades, had now produced some of the most exquisite contributions to Modern Art that this country had ever seen. The women of Gee’s Bend, now nationally recognized quilters, sang and spoke of their experiences, and I sat there mesmerized.

Less than two weeks later, my agent called me with an audition for Gee’s Bend.

I read the script and just knew I had to audition. My initial appointment was for the character Nella, but there was just something about the character Sadie I just couldn’t shake. A few days later I requested a role change, and the rest is history.

In the last scene of the play, octogenarian Sadie considers the full course of her life- her Baptism, marriage, children, abuse, struggle for equality, loss of loved ones, and new-found stardom, and with love in her heart she looks to her Heavenly Father saying, “You brought me this far, Lord. You reached down and blessed me.”

Those powerful words stick with me night after night. I consider my own great-grandma Sadie, born in an era of racial hatred and bigotry, yet ascending as a Black Town Pioneer. I consider Barack Obama, an amalgam of cultures and nationalities, raised by a single mother on the South Side of Chicago, and ascending to the highest seat in the land.

And I consider myself, raised by a single mother in Washington, DC, reared in the church and performing arts programs, and full of too many dreams to count. Will I, like Sadie Hackett Calbert, like Sadie Pettway, like Barack Obama, have stories of how God brought me from obscurity into prominence? How God took what seemed like nothing and fashioned it into something? The chart and story of my life are still being written, but like my character Sadie, I can faithfully attest that God has certainly “brought me this far”.

Edwina Findley

3 Responses

  1. Suz says:

    We really enjoyed the show. It was well done. More like it, PLEASE!

  2. Judy and George says:

    Just want to tell you Arden Production people that we saw the production of Gee’s Bend on Saturday at the matinee, and the cast received a standing ovation!! All four actors were OUTSTANDING! We are long-time subscribers to Arden, and I was especially captivated because I gave a presentation of Gee’s Bend quilters to my Monday discussion group today, and I was able to recommend strongly your production of Gee’s Bend. I also saw the quilts at the Art Museum and was very impressed by their beauty. I also have a DVD that I ordered that includes interviews with Mary Bendolph and daughter Bessie, who I think are Sadie and Asia, mother and daughter in the play. The play follows that family authentically in Gee’s Bend, and the female leads in the play were absolutely beautifully portrayed..transitions from children to old women were seamless and convincing.

    Thank you for yet another reason we love to come to the Arden and bring our friends.

    Good luck and Bless you all.

  3. Heather says:

    I would like very
    much to let the actors know more than applause could express. Namely that last night they created a tremendously transporting theatre
    experience. I fell fully under the spell they cast and found myself loving each of the characters they created like my own family. Each of the performers worked so beautifully ensemble, that while certainly each had their gifts, it’s impossible to name one without commenting on each of them. It was a perfect performance, and I felt the need to let them know the power they were tapping into last night.

    I am grateful to have been there last night. Thank you.

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