William has been a slave since the day he was born. He lived life knowing that at any time he could be sold away from his parents. It is the only life he has ever known.
William is a fictional character who represents thousands of black slaves whose lives were just as uncertain and harsh. And on Thursday he was brought to life by Blane Harding, an academic adviser and teacher at CSU.
Harding, gave his monologue of William, the escaped slave, for the final time in the Lory Student Center. Harding said that, after at least 250 performances, it is time to retire. Harding has taught eight classes in black studies and history at CSU, and it is from these classes that he draws his performance material.
Harding said that although the format has changed since the first performance 13 years ago, the message is the same.
"I want people to have an understanding of slavery," he said. "I want the audience to have a better sense of the humanity of slavery."
Harding's character, William, gave insight to slave culture during the 1850s, a time Harding calls "the heart of slavery."
The performance started by using members of the audience to demonstrate a slave auction. Dexter Yarbrough, chief of police for the CSU Police Department, was one of those up for auction, with an estimated sale price of $1,200.
"The performance was outstanding," Yarbrough said. "I learned a great deal."
Harding said the goal is to not only show the parameters slaves had to operate under but also the culture, language and folk tales they developed.
William described slave codes, courting, religion, spirituals, punishment, the Underground Railroad and life after freedom while making people laugh, think and learn.
Will Wooten is a sophomore open-option major, and president of Black Definition, a group out of Black Student Services. Wooten said this program is one he will miss having a part of Black History Month in the coming years.
"It was a lot of information from a perspective you don't see every day," Wooten said. "I'm glad we got to do it this year, but we will be missing out for years to come."
Harding first started the monologue when a former student asked him to participate in a living history.
"He talked me into it," Harding said. "Since then, I think I have done the monologue over 250 times."
The monologue started as more of a question-and-answer session and has developed to become more interactive and more animated, Harding said.
"There is a lot of information to give in a short amount of time," Harding said. "It is more memorable when it is in an interactive fashion."
Chantel Reed, a sophomore open-option seeking business major, agreed, saying she learned something new from the performance.
"I thought I knew a lot about black history," Reed said, "but he played the part well and I learned a lot."
Harding has taken his performance to elementary, middle and high schools throughout Fort Collins and Loveland and is recognized statewide. In 2001, he was honored as a "7 Everyday Hero," by Channel 7 News in Denver.
"It was a great honor to be recognized as a hero," he said. "It is an ever greater honor to have the opportunity to give back to the community."