Black History Month: One-actor play honours the life of Josiah Henson

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Josiah Henson played a pivotal role in the Underground Railroad and personally escorted 117 people to freedom. The play 'Josiah' tells his story through a one-actor, two-act show. – Feb 24, 2022

The sound of tap dancing feet can be heard at 416 Wing, a Royal Canadian Air Force building turned small theatre space next to Kingston’s airport.

Actor Cassel Miles and director Charles Robertson are in rehearsal, getting ready for a special showing of their one-actor, two-act play Josiah.

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“Josiah Henson’s story is so very vital,” says Miles, who plays Henson in the show.

“He came here to Canada to attain freedom, he was a slave. He took his wife and four kids and went six weeks on this horrendous journey to cross into freedom, because he believed in that,” Miles says. “Then when he got here he didn’t just stop with his own freedom, he wanted freedom for others who were left behind.”

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And Henson achieved this, personally escorting 117 people through the Underground Railroad system and into Upper Canada.

“There’s a whole historic site in Dresden dedicated to him, and that’s his last resting spot,” Miles says. “Dresden is where he helped to establish what became known as the Dawn Settlement — the end of the Underground Railroad. People when they were leaving the States would say they were ‘going to Dawn.’ That’s where they were going. He helped create that.”

The show tells the story of the real-life Canadian hero, whose story has lost prominence in modern history.

“A great character, which I’m always interested in why people are great in history, why they do things,” says play director and writer Charles Robertson. “I was fascinated by it.”

After Miles came up with the idea of a performative show about Hanson, Robertson took the historic figure’s autobiography and adapted it for the stage.

The play in Henson’s honour has been in the works for years now, with showings across the province and in association with school boards.

“Mr. Henson, we owe you a great deal,” says Miles. “This show, I do for his honour, for the honour of Black people here in this country, for Black people around the world. I do this to celebrate our unity as humans on this planet. That’s what he was after.”

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Josiah’s sole performance in Kingston will begin this Sunday at 2 p.m., with tickets being sold online or at the door for $20.

All proceeds of the show are going to GRIP Artists in Kingston to help artists in the Kingston region who have been impacted by the pandemic.

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