Tuesday, January 21, 2003

Black explorer of 1803 featured

Lewis and Clark figure brought to life on stage

By Cindy Schroeder
The Cincinnati Enquirer

UNION - Two hundred years ago this week, Congress appropriated $2,500 for the Lewis and Clark expedition.

President Jefferson sent Meriwether Lewis and William Clark to find a water route across North America.

During their 28-month, 8,000 mile journey, the 33-member Corps of Discovery, as the party was known, opened the uncharted West. The explorers established trading relationships with Indian tribes and discovered 177 plants and 122 animals.

Hasan Davis to play York

Thursday, Tristate residents can learn about the only African-American member of the Lewis and Clark expedition through a free performance, the kick-off for Northern Kentucky observances of its 200th anniversary.

York was one of nine Kentuckians on the journey and the body servant of Clark.. York, a slave, was the first black to cross North America.

• What: "An Evening With York,'' a free performance featuring Hasan Davis as York, the only African-American member of the Lewis and Clark expedition
• When: 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. Thursday, with reception from 7:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. Business attire is recommended.
•Where: Ryle High School auditorium, U.S. 42, Union
• Information: (859) 384-4416
Berea resident Hasan Davis, who also will portray York during October's Tall Stacks celebration, will take part in an hour-long show at Ryle High School auditorium.

The 36-year-old Mr. Davis, a lawyer by training, is chairman of the Juvenile Justice Committee for Kentucky, and a consultant to the Rockefeller Foundation. Through May, he's booked to do about 30 shows on York, mostly in cities along the trail blazed by the Lewis and Clark expedition.

Growing up in Atlanta, Mr. Davis recalled that he "only saw black folks in the history books when they talked about slavery.''

"It made it real hard to imagine yourself as a lawyer or a doctor,'' he said.

Having portrayed a black Civil War soldier for the Kentucky Humanities Council's Chautauqua program, Mr. Davis was looking for a new character to portray last year when he heard York's story.

A hero and a slave

"York was clearly right there with the heroes of our nation,'' he said. "He struggled and he sacrificed and he endured everything the other members of the expedition did. And when he got back to civilization, he was just a slave again.''

Intrigued by the fact that such an incredible story had been little more than a historical footnote for 200 years, Mr. Davis developed a theatrical show based on York.

"(York) was a slave, but he had a lot of freedoms,'' Mr. Baker said. "They gave him a gun to go hunting, and he had a lot to do with making peace with many of the Indian tribes the expedition encountered. When (the expedition) reached the west coast, he got to vote on where they would set up winter camp, way before the Emancipation Proclamation."

While the other members of the party were rewarded with tracts of land upon their return in 1806, York returned to Kentucky, only to learn that he was still another man's property. He would remain a slave another five years, before Mr. Clark freed him.

In 1807, York and Clark stopped at Big Bone Lick in what is now Boone County to collect fossils for Jefferson.

E-mail cschroeder@enquirer.com

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