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Left Justified: The Founding of Rockford, a play
By Stanley Campbell
I’ve written the following skit for a future legal (or not) Follies. I hope someday it will be produced. I envision Richard Meeks playing Lewis Lemon, one of the three founders of Rockford.
From stage left: Three men—two white and one black. The black is tethered to the whites, and is carrying gear (mainly camping equipment).
First White Guy (FWG): Let’s stop here.
Second White Guy (SWG): Where the hell are we?
FWG: I don’t know, where do you think we are?
SWG: I don’t know…
Lewis Lemon (LL): We just forded the Rock River, and we are midway between Chicago and Galena (to the audience: The year is 1832, and we came up the Mississippi to Galena, and had been walking east. My masters—yes, they own me, are trying to find some valuable real estate).
(The two white guys look incredulously at one another.)
FWG: Well, pitch the goddamn gear. What the hell do you think we bought you for?
LL: About $3,000.
SWG: Yes, that’s right, Mister Lewis Lemon. We paid $3,000 for you, so we own you, and we’re telling you to get to work.
LL (to the audience): O’, the pain and anguish of the working class. And it is more so when one is chattel, mere property of another human being. … O’, to be free, perchance to fall in love, marry and raise a family…
FWG and SWG: Get to work!!!
LL: Ya sir, massa bossman…
FWG to SWG: What do you think we should do here?
SWG: I don’t know…maybe open a used car lot…
FWG: A nice little trailer park could go over there…
LL: I’d claim this area, which is the only place to ford the mighty Rock River, build a little dam, and put in a race that might power some mills and factories.
(The TWGs are dumbfounded.)
LL: With all these trees, you could make a lot of furniture…maybe bring the railroad through here…and then try to attract people to town with a metro center.
Pause as two white guys ponder this.
FWG: I claim the east side of the river!
SWG: I claim the west side…and I want the county courthouse!
FWG: Well, I want the city hall…and the fire station and the police department.
SWG: Well, I want to be the mayor.
FWG: No, I should be the mayor.
SWG: You can’t even read or write!
FWG: Hey, Lemon, who do you think would make a good mayor?
LL: Well, I’d say maybe Charles Box. … No, I don’t think he’d come out of retirement. Maybe Venita Hervey…
FWG: O’, what do you know. You can’t vote.
SWG: Yeh, as if that would ever happen, letting a Neee… (he looks at LL as LL scowls) nice guy like you pull a ballot.
FWG: You’re a slave, you know. We own you.
LL: I’d like to talk to you about that. The Illinois Constitution just got rid of slavery… and you boys might even be in a heap of trouble for transporting stolen property, namely me, across state lines. So what say I just work for you and instead of paying me, we take it off my purchase price.
FWG: That was $3,000?
LL: Right. And I’ve been working for you for three months, at a reasonable rate of $3 a day plus time-and-a-half for Saturdays, double time for Sundays (they all take off their hats and say “The Lord bless and keep us”) minus 5 cents for the meals…. I’d say I should be able to purchase my freedom by…next Tuesday, Wednesday morning by the latest.
TWGs are flustered.
LL: At which time I will start working for you at $1 a day minus 15 cents for the meals. …Of which I will still cook. …And I’ll throw in some of Box’s Barbecue…
TWGs: “It’s a deal.” “I’ll say.”
FWG: So what are you gonna do with your newfound freedom?
LL: Why, dance, of course (and he does a fancy ballet dance move off stage left).
Stanley Campbell is executive director of Rockford Urban Ministries and spokesman for Rockford Peace & Justice.