Enquirer Herald

Wilson-Evans channels life of Bratton slave she has created

When the National Park Service asked Kitty Wilson-Evans to come to the 150th commemoration of the firing on Fort Sumter, it was not an easy decision for the former Lancaster and Rock Hill pre-school teacher.

Wilson-Evans is one of the most sought-after interpreters of slave life during the Revolutionary and Civil Wars. Her picture is one of the images on the cover of the service's latest booklet, "Slavery: Cause and Catalyst of the Civil War."

It was not a simple answer because Wilson-Evans was not going to Charleston as herself.

She was going as Kessie, a slave from the Bratton plantation near the former Yorkville in York County. Wilson-Evans had to determine how a slave from the back country of South Carolina would make it to the port city without being picked up by the whites patrolling for runaway slaves.

From her research, she knew it was plausible that the Brattons traveled to Charleston, and it was likely they were accompanied by some of their slaves. Kessie could have traveled to Charleston, she said.

She applies the same standards every time she is asked to portray Kessie. There must be a reasonable way for her to get from the Bratton plantation to her destination - even if it means Kessie was such a difficult slave her masters sold her.

"Kessie is a strong slave, a humble slave," and a strong woman, said Wilson-Evans. Her age is determined by where she is asked to be.

Kessie is more than a role for the 72-year-old Wilson-Evans. When Wilson-Evans is Kessie, she wants people to see her as a slave.

"I become that slave, my heart is Kessie," Wilson-Evans said of her first-person interpretations. "I want to take you back in time and forget 2011. I want people to know what we had to go through, how far we have come.

"We can't let this be forgotten. It's too important."

Kessie is not a role for Wilson-Evans. It is a legacy, hers and those who have shared their family's slave experience.

Her father's and mother's ancestors were both slaves.

Through DNA research, her family has traced their father's ancestry to Equatorial Guinea and her mother's ancestry to Cameroon.

Wilson-Evans was a army brat, growing up at Fort Benning, Ga., and in Germany, where her father once served.

Living in the deep South in the days of segregation, Wilson-Evans remembers being under the watchful eye of others. She recalls traveling from Georgia to Alabama, where her ancestors were slaves on the Ivey plantation in Glennville.

"The climate in Alabama was more chilly," she said.

Wilson-Evans remembers Germans slyly examining her backside.

"They had been told we had tails," she said.

She started working at Historic Brattonsville because of her daughter, Princess Wilson, who conducted the Africa Alive programs at the Museum of York County.

Wilson-Evans wanted to tell more than the story of buildings. She started talking with nearby residents who can trace their ancestry to being a Bratton slave, or other nearby plantations.

She recalls talking with Ruth Moore, who must have been close to 100 years old at the time, Wilson-Evans said. Moore told Wilson-Evans that "my folk" went to Mrs. Harriett Bratton and told her there was no more room to bury blacks in the plantation cemetery, and in the future, they would have to be buried "up there," pointing to the Mount Zion church cemetery.

Leon Smith was in his late 80s when he called for Wilson-Evans, telling her his family's stories.

As he neared death, Smith had one final request of her.

"Promise me, you'll tell our story," he said.

It is a promise Wilson-Evans keeps.