CSL Volunteer Works to Keep Black History Alive in our Community
Taymonia Rucker knew her daughter, Danyell, had a lot of theatrical talent, and had an interest in being on stage. She took Danyell to an audition for City Theatre of Independence’s production of Babes in Toyland, and, while there, Taymonia, her daughter, and some friends were also asked to audition for the Enchanted Forest at George Owens Nature Park. Taymonia got asked to have speaking lines at the Enchanted Forest, and Danyell got a role in Babes in Toyland.
This sparked a connection with Taymonia and City Theatre of Independence, and opened an opportunity to invent a character for First Person Interpretation. Taymonia read voraciously to learn a lot about the role of African Americans in Independence, both as slaves and free people.
She created her character named Emma Stratton, a slave who belonged to Yolanda and Thomas Stratton. The Strattons moved from West Virginia to Independence, Missouri, in 1849. Mr. Stratton produced horseshoes and yokes; critical supplies for those heading on the trails. Emma was the Strattons’ indoor maid and took on such roles as going to the market and taking care of the house. The Strattons did not have children, so on Sundays, friends would gather and Emma would make her famous greens and apple pie.
The character of Emma Stratton is based on a compilation of stories. The Stratton family was a real family with slaves, but individual stories were not documented. Taymonia says that portraying Emma Stratton is a way to bring the story of African Americans out of history books and into real life. She portrays Emma at a variety of events, including the annual Santa-Cali-Gon Days Festival, events at the 1827 Log Courthouse (which is where CSL’s first office was located in 1916), and local museums.
While creating Emma as a story to tell others, she’s learned many other important pieces of Black History in our community. Taymonia recalls the sale of slaves that occurred on the west side of the Truman Courthouse on the Independence Square. She also tells the story of Emily Fisher, a Black woman who owned the Fisher Hotel on the Independence Square, and is regarded as the first Black business owner in Jackson County. Taymonia reflects on the many viewers of her reenactment that comment how much the story of Emma Stratton touches them and brings about better understanding and empathy. She hopes her role as Emma is inspiring to others, as she acknowledges the ongoing fight for racial justice and equality in America.
Taymonia is working on new characters to help further share Black History. Her daughter, Danyell, has accompanied her, portraying Lilly Stratton, Emma’s daughter. Taymonia’s new character follows Lilly into adulthood after the end of slavery, and the launching of Lilly’s career as a tailor.
In 2014, Taymonia came to CSL seeking assistance with job placement. We helped her get her résumé together, and she is now in her seventh year with Independence School District Nutrition Services. She and Danyell, a student at William Chrisman High School, volunteer at CSL whenever they can. We salute Taymonia for the way she works to keep Black History alive in our community.