Hidden history comes to life, thanks to Shav'on Smith

by Len Lear
Posted 10/9/20

Ebenezer Maxwell Mansion, the historical Victorian mansion at 200 W. Tulpehocken St. in Germantown, has just initiated an interpretive docent-led tour, “Deep Rivers,” which can be …

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Hidden history comes to life, thanks to Shav'on Smith

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Ebenezer Maxwell Mansion, the historical Victorian mansion at 200 W. Tulpehocken St. in Germantown, has just initiated an interpretive docent-led tour, “Deep Rivers,” which can be experienced live via ZOOM. Docents Tenea Wilborn and John Brown take you virtually through the museum highlighting the lives, stories and achievements of 19th-century Black entrepreneurs, intellectuals and artisans you probably never heard of with soundscapes and images.

The mansion will mail identity cards to participants on the virtual tour. Learn about 19th-century African Americans such as Francis Johnson, John Trower, Julian Abele, Eliza Grier, Abby Fisher, Ebenezer Bassett and others. Shav’on Smith wrote the Deep Rivers tour. To introduce the tour, Takeyla Brothers sings the Negro spiritual, “Deep Rivers.”

Shav'on Smith, 40, a Mt. Airy resident, is a graduate of Abraham Lincoln High School in Northeast Philly and Morgan State University (Baltimore) in 2009. Last week we interviewed her to learn more about her background and about the Deep Rivers tour:

What jobs have you had since you got out of school?

“I’ve been teaching artists for Methodist Services' Talent Center in South Philly. I taught emotional support, and now I’m working for Philadelphia Parks and Recreation.”

How did you happen to write the Deep Rivers tour?

“I was commissioned by Ebenezer Maxwell Mansion to write Deep Rivers. Diane Richardson gave me a list of African Americans during the 19th Century, many of whom I never heard of. I had a lot of input from the board on what elements this tour should have, and I began researching and writing. It took me three months to complete the tour. I’ve never done anything like this before, and it was an honor to be asked. I didn’t know Philadelphia’s African American history ran so deep. This is history that is hidden, and if it was a part of school curriculum, maybe there would be more pride among city residents about how far we have come.”

Who is your favorite historical person on the tour? Why?

My favorite person is not even in the tour. During my research I’ve come across Caroline LeCount, who was the fiancée of Octavius Catto. Because I found her so interesting, I have written a play about her. LeCount was a teacher and civil rights leader in Philadelphia, and her story is captivating.”

What is your ambition for the future?

“My ambition is to continue to build my theatre company, Grounded Theatre Company, and to make the arts accessible to everyone.”

How has the pandemic affected your life?

It has affected my life by halting all the events our company had planned, but we are still blessed to keep working on projects to premiere when this is all over.”

What is the best advice you have ever received?

“That was from my professor at Morgan State who recently passed away, Dr. Shirley Basefield-Dunlap. She told me to leap, and the net will appear. Basically to take chances in life, and I have.”

What is the hardest thing you ever had to do?

“The hardest thing was to put me first. It feels selfish, but I would be no good to people if I didn’t put me first.”

What person has had the greatest impact on your life? Why?

That was my middle school music teacher, Ms. Virginia Lam. I wouldn’t have the love for theater, and I would not be who I am without her. She was there when no one else was.”

If you could have a super power, what would it be? Why?

“It would be to fly. Flying seems more like freedom than anything else.”

If you could meet and spend time with anyone on earth, living or dead, who would it be and why?

“It would be my father. I lost him 20 years ago, and I would like to talk to him just because I miss him.”

Any family members you would like to mention, please do.

“I would like to give a shout-out to my Grounded Theatre Company family and a very special thanks to Diane Richardson and Ed and Jackie Jonas.”

The Deep Rivers tour can be taken Sundays, Oct. 11 and Nov. 8, both times at 1:30 p.m. Cost: $5. Buy tickets for this Zoom event at ebenezermaxwellmansion.org 

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