LANCASTER, S.C. — Descendants of Historic Brattonsville’s enslaved community gathered to share family stories during the annual “By the Sweat of Our Brows” on Saturday (Sept. 11), and to honor the late Kitty Wilson-Evans of Lancaster, SC.
“By the Sweat of Our Brows” is an annual award-winning program where descendants of the African-American community at Brattonsville in McConnells come together to showcase family memorabilia and share family stories. This year’s program also pays tribute to the Wilson-Evans, a gifted singer and storyteller known for giving voice to the plantation’s slave past.
A video presentation, “A Tribute to Kitty Wilson-Evans,” played in Historic Brattonsville’s Orientation Room.
Leavin’ her mark
Wilson-Evans, an alumna of Winthrop University and retired kindergarten teacher, re-enacted the American slave experience for more than three decades.
She started at Historic Brattonsville in 1991 as a volunteer, and performed in many venues. Wilson-Evans has played a number of slave roles, but the one that gained her the greatest renown is that of Kessie, one of 139 slaves on the Bratton Plantation in York County.
In a past interview with The Lancaster News, Wilson-Evans said she saw re-enacting the life of an slave as a way to help young people — especially Black children — connect to their past. Her goal was to be the face and voice of past Black generations.
“I’m doing this to make sure that people know that slaves left their mark in history, and that their contributions need to be told,” she said. “We’ve got to understand what our ancestors went through. This is to keep history alive. Our young people need to know this.”
In 2008, in conjunction with Lucinda R. Dunn, she published the children’s book, “Kessie’s Tales: The Adventures of an African-American Slave Girl in South Carolina.”
That year, Wilson-Evans also became the first African-American to receive the “Robert E. Lee Service Award,” from Col. Ben E. Caudill Camp No. 1629, Sons of Confederate Veterans, for her stage performance as “Old Maw” in David Chaltas’ play, “Two Women: One War” at Lincoln Memorial University in Tennessee.
“I don’t know,” Wilson-Evans said in a past interview. “For me, it’s not acting or drama. It’s a part of me. I can remember when my mother saw me as Kessie for the first time, she said, ‘I know it’s you, but it’s not you.’ ”
Though Wilson-Evans retired from Brattonsville in 2010, she remained a well-known storyteller throughout the Southeast, traveling to events and festivals until her death last fall. She was an African-American interpreter at the Cumberland Gap Trades Fair in Kentucky, which attracted more than 7,000 visitors.
She was recognized by the Culture & Heritage Museums (York County) as a Keeper of the Culture. The keeper award honored Wilson-Evans for her unwavering commitment to sharing the stories, songs and traditions of the past, for raising public awareness about the experience of enslaved people in the Colonial and Antebellum South and for encouraging countless African-Americans to participate in learning and teaching about their shared history, thereby inspiring a new generation of volunteers and interpreters.
The S.C. African American Heritage Commission recognized Wilson-Evans in 2014 with a lifetime achievement award for her vast and continued efforts as an interpreter and storyteller.
In a National Public Radio interview, Wilson said when someone saw her, they were looking at a slave.
“Slaves ain’t got to prove nothing to nobody,” she said at the time. “They left their mark.”