Willard High Students Write Play on Life of Milly Sawyers


WILLARD, Mo. Theater students at Willard High School collaborated to write a script on the life of freed Springfield slave Milly Sawyers, that earned them the chance to compete at a state competition this April. 

Theater teacher Kendra Chappell was inspired to write The Milly Project after reading the 2018 Springfield News Leader special report on the life of Milly Sawyers. The article detailed Sawyers’ journey from St. Louis to Springfield, and her fight for freedom. 

I knew I had to be a part of this story as soon as I read it, said Chappell. She pitched the idea to a group of students in February, and they were on board right away.

The students sat down with archivist Connie Yen, who first discovered Sawyers’ court manuscript in a box titled African American Related as well as reporter Jack Bologna who first told her story. The script features lines straight from the mouths of Yen and Bologna.

I think it’s a testament to history and a lot of what we know about what has happened in our own past, because the victors always get to write history and it’s never the people that end up losing, said Ethen Palumbo who portrays Jack Bologna in the play. 

Black people really got through with music, and I think that’s so important in this story because we’re telling the story of black people, said Londyn Wheeler who plays Easter.

This is our soil, it’s our homeland, said Chappell. So that’s a part of it, us knowing it is crucial, because we can be stronger– we can be better. 

You can catch The Milly Project at 7 p.m. on March 30 at the SLT Education Building located at 237 South Florence Avenue in Springfield and at 7:30 p.m. on April 8th at Willard High School. Tickets are $6 and will support a student trip to Alabama. 

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