A couple of events readers might be interested in are coming up this week. Both give historical perspectives, and both are offered free of charge to anyone who would like to come.
First, I received an email from my dear friend, Joan VanSickle Sloan, telling me that Voices of the Valley again will perform a one-act play, “Black Voices of a Company Town Called Alcoa, Tennessee.” The program will be at 7 p.m. Thursday, July 26, at the Maryville Friends Church, 2044 Sequoyah Ave., Maryville, near John Sevier Elementary School. Light refreshments will be served following the program.
Joyce Leo, a member at the Friendsville Friends Church, wrote the play, which includes choral monologues, music and solos, and is based on interviews gathered by local historian Shirley Carr Clowney and Maryville College sociology professor Susan Ambler.
The information documents the lives of the Deep South black men and their families and descendants who were recruited to work in the potboiler rooms of ALCOA Inc., the Aluminum Company of America, now Arconic.
When I interviewed Joyce in April before the first performance at the Maryville Friends Church, she explained that she wrote the play to reflect the information from tapes and/or transcribed interviews of more than 60 people in Alcoa going back to the formation of Alcoa as a company town in the early 1900s.
In going through the materials, Joyce said, “I discovered that almost everybody said essentially the same thing. I couldn’t quote one without insulting 49 others, so I thought about the kind of material they were saying, and it resonated to me emotionally. To me, it was an emotional story of creation and thriving as a community. … I thought of developing prototypes, character creations, that would say what was said but would pull it together in a neutral personage.”
All the actors in the play, part of the Centennial Celebration of the city of Alcoa, which was founded in 1919, are local people, including Clowney.
Joan said, “When Voices of the Valley did their performance in April, it was a standing-room-only crowd! So we’re inviting them to come back to the church to do a performance for the first evening of the annual conference of Friends meetings (Wilmington Yearly Meeting), and we’re again inviting the community to come, too.”
The second event is an old-fashioned bell-tolling ceremony to honor the memory of a fine man, my friend Leon Sparks, and his son, Gary Sparks. Leon was 88 years old at the time of his death on Dec. 15, 2017, and Gary Sparks was 63 at the time of his death on Sept. 8, 2017. The ceremony will be held at 4:30 p.m. Sunday, July 29, at the Cades Cove Museum, in the historic Thompson-Brown House, 1004 E. Lamar Alexander Parkway, Maryville. Those attending should bring lawn chairs for seating.
Leon was born July 29, 1929, in Cades Cove, son of Asa and Amy Burchfield Sparks. Leon and his wife, Johnnie Bryant Sparks, lived in the Cove until 1956. He was a charter member of the Cades Cove Preservation Association and served on the board of directors from the time it was founded in 2001 until his death. Anytime CCPA had a project or an event, Leon did what he could to help in sharing the history and heritage of his beloved birthplace.
Gary Sparks was born in 1953 to Leon and Johnnie while they were living in the Cove. Gary was a lifetime member of CCPA.
As in many communities, a bell was tolled in Cades Cove to announce the age of a person who had died. Neighbors usually knew who had been sick, and when the bell tolled, they stopped working and went to the home of the family whose loved one had died. There, they prepared the body, helped with chores, brought food and also dug the grave by hand at the appropriate church or family cemetery.
The bell tolling is now a way for Cades Cove descendants and friends to honor Cove natives when they pass.