WINNING HER FREEDOM
"The Milly Project" is a play about Milly Sawyers, an enslaved woman from Springfield, Mo., who won her freedom through the courts decades before Dred Scott v. Sanford. The day before she was scheduled to receive $500 in damages, she was attacked by a mob including John Polk Campbell, the founder of Springfield. She disappeared, and no one knows what happened next.
Sawyers' story was uncovered in 2017 by archivist Connie Yen and Springfield News-Leader reporter Jack Bologna. The resulting article inspired director Kendra Chappell and her students at Willard High School to write and perform the play for competition. They faced backlash from the school for the play's contents, and Chappell left the school after more than 30 years of teaching.
The show features protest songs, spirituals and original compositions; a cast of children, teens and adults from the Springfield community; and a story that runs through the history of the United States, from Christopher Columbus to present-day news.
"This story is a story of race," Adora Snead, who plays Milly Sawyers, said. "It's a story of hope, and it's a story of perseverance, and it's a story that's told from both sides: the victor and the oppressor."