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The Pride of Clarian was a feature magazine published for Clarian Health. This article highlights Tim Reed, an actor for Freetown Village. Freeto… Read More
The Pride of Clarian was a feature magazine published for Clarian Health. This article highlights Tim Reed, an actor for Freetown Village. Freetown Village is a symbolic community representing many of the predominantly African-American settlements scattered throughout Indiana during the post-Civil War years. Read Less
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Bringing History to Life
He already stands more than six feet tall, but when Tim Reed, a housekeeperat Methodist Hospital since 1988, steps into character as Reverend Samuel P.Strong, he says he feels at least two feet taller. Perhaps that’s because hisfire-and-brimstone sermons as Reverend Strong set the moral tone for FreetownVillage. FreetownVillage is a living-history museum about life in Indiana for African-Americans aroundthe time of and after the Civil War. It was founded in 1982 after OpheliaWellington, a former Indianapolis teacher, noted the general lack of knowledgeabout African-American history. “Isaw the opportunity to teach people outside the classroom aboutAfrican-American history, life and culture,” explains Wellington. “I wanted topresent this history in a format that people could relate to, understand and remember.”She took that vision and created a theatrical format that depicts life as itwas for many African-Americans in Indiana during the 19th century. MULTIPLEROLES Asa long-time member of the Freetown Village acting troupe, Reed has portrayed manyof the group’s male characters. “Tim is very serious about his work as anactor; he is very committed and dedicated to what he does for Freetown Village,”says Wellington. Incharacter as Isaiah Cuffee, another Freetown Village resident, Reed helps tell thestory of Freetown’s beginning. Cuffee was working on a plantation as a barber whenhe heard the Union Army was accepting runaway slaves to help fight Confederate troops.Cuffee ran away, changed his name and joined the army, but was badly injured duringbattle. A group of Quakers took him to a southern Indiana plantation where his futurewife, Sarah Elizabeth, helped nurse him back to health. In 1866, Cuffee convinceda banker to loan him money to build a home. He called the land on which hebuilt it Freetown.
Tim Reed (left) and Ophelia Wellington (right) work to ensure that every performance is an education.

“Isaiahbrings out the initial triumph of Freetown Village,” explains Reed. “He is atrue Renaissance man who came from being a runaway slave to getting a loan,buying land, having a home and owning his own business.” LeviFreeman - another character Reed has played - demonstrates the resourcefulnessof former slaves as he goes into business with a German immigrant namedFrederick Darnell. Together, the two men - onewhite, one black - operate a blacksmith shop in the village. “There’sa lot of gossip around town about Levi and Frederick; everyone in the town thinksthat a black man and a white man can’t go into business together,” says Reed. “ButLevi does provide a sense of pride in the community; he is what people imaginedlife would be like after slavery -blacks and whites working together.” Othercharacters, such as Levi’s wife Eliza, demonstrate the struggles faced byformer slaves. Eliza constantly advertises in southern states’ newspapersattempting - without success - to find her son who was sold away from herduring slavery. Another son died during an epidemic. She is devastated by theloss of both of her children and isn’t freed from slavery herself until afterthe Civil War. WhenReed talks about Reverend Strong, it sounds as if he might currently be playinghis favorite Freetown character yet.  “ReverendStrong is a freeborn man from New York. He heard many influential African-Americanslike Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass talk aboutabolishing slavery, so he wanted to join the cause,” says Reed. “He didn’t haveto do anything, but he put his life at risk.” Alsoat risk was his liberty, and he lost it for three years. While on his way to anabolitionist convention in Philadelphia - fighting for the freedom of others - Strong was captured by slavers. Strongwas forced to live as a slave for more than three years before he was able toescape to Canada. “After Samuel Strong was captured, he decided to pray, tolean on the Lord, and he promises God that if he can escape to freedom that hewill spend the rest of his days preaching the word - and he does,” says Reed. Reedsays Strong sets the moral tone for Freetown Village, so “I think of Dr. MartinLuther King, Jr. {when I play him} because that is the sort of serious tone Iwant for my messages as Reverend Strong. When Dr. King spoke, it was soeloquent and to the point,” he explains.

StartFragmentYetReed couldn’t base the character entirely on King. He needed other personalityattributes to round out the character and bring him to life.  “Mylittle son liked watching Jesse Jackson. Jackson has a certain cadence in hisvoice, like when he says ‘down with dope, up with hope,’” observes Reed. Heincorporates Jackson’s speaking style when he portrays Strong. Yetthe strongest influence on his portrayal of the fiery preacher is anotherfictional character -Jed Clampett, the patriarch of a backwoods family thatstruck oil and got rich, from the Beverly Hillbillies television show.The mid-20th century white backwoodsman might seem an odd choice to shape thecharacter of a 19th century African-American Baptist minister, but “I like Jed’sdemeanor; he’s humorous, yet stern,” says Reed. “He could sum up what he meantin one word, like when he shakes his head at Jethro {his son on the show} andsays ‘Boy, boy, boy.’” LIFEIN THE 19TH CENTURY FreetownVillage actors recreate the post-Civil War era by wearing costumes thatresemble 19th century fashions, speaking in a dialect appropriate to the timeperiod and professing ignorance if an audience member tries to discusscontemporary ideas or events. “Ifa child comes up and asks Reverend Strong if he likes to play Nintendo, I willpretend like it is 1870, and Nintendo hasn’t even been invented,” explainsReed. “Instead, I’ll ask what is Nintendo. Usually the child will tell me it’sa game and then I will tell him about all the games that Reverend Strong likesto play, like cricket or polo.” Theperformances educate children, providing them with a tiny but powerful glimpseinto life -with its hardships as well as its rewards - for those who came toIndiana in search of freedom.“ During that time in history, the governor ofIndiana tried to stop coloreds from coming to Indiana by making them pay a $500bond to live here,” says Reed. “Five hundred dollars is a lot of money by eventoday’s standards, but these people got that money together so they could comehere to be free. That’s how important it was to them.” OPENINGEYES AND MINDS Noteveryone who attends a Freetown Village performance is open about theexperience or willing to hear its message - at least not right away. “Onetime before a show, I had a young man who was smoking a cigarette come up to mewhile I was dressed in character as Reverend Strong. I thought he was coming tosay hello, but he asked if Reverend Strong was a real reverend. I told him yesand as Reverend Strong, said, ‘I hear that tobacco will stunt your growth,’”says Reed. The young man blew smoke in Reed’s face and went to his seat for theshow. Afterthe show, the young man approached Reed and apologized for his behavior beforethe show. “He wanted to know how he could learn to do what I do,” says Reed,who then suggested he look into his school’s speech team. That’s where Reed gothis start in acting, at Arsenal Technical High School in Indianapolis. “Iwas in the ninth grade and one of my teachers leveled with me, she said, ‘Don’tyou want people to be able to understand you?’ Then she challenged me to jointhe speech team,” remembers Reed. Because he was already on the school’sbasketball team, the teacher made a deal with him. “She told me that she hadthis buddy named Knight she would invite to one of my basketball games if Itried this little sissy speech class,” says Reed. “She really challenged me,she genuinely cared.” Reedaccepted the challenge, joined the speech team and Bobby Knight, then coach ofthe Indiana University men’s basketball team, did attend one of his games. “Hedidn’t stay long though,” Reed remembers ruefully. IT’SALL ABOUT TEACHING Reedis the youngest of nine children born to William Reed, a Kentucky sharecropper,and his wife Mary. After the Reeds lost two children to the hardships of farmlife, they decided to move to Indianapolis, where they hoped to give theirchildren a better life. Reed’sfather went to work for the city, and began taking his youngest son to workwith him every Friday. “We would ride around and pass out the checks,” saysReed. After his father’s death, Reed’s mother explained to him that his fatherhadn’t taken him along only for fun. William had not gone far in school and hadtrouble reading the names on the paychecks he distributed. “He would take me toread the names on the checks he passed out to employees,” explains Reed. Thatknowledge fueled Reed’s already-strong determination for each of his own fourchildren to get a good education. Reed’s high regard for education alsocontributes to his performance mindset. Viewing the shows as educationalopportunities for audience members, he strives to ensure they learn somethingfrom each performance. “WhenI went to the show, I felt like I was learning, like I’d been taken back there,”saysPatriciaWilliams, a patient care assistant at Methodist Hospital who has attended oneof Reed’s Freetown performances. Reedsays it is always fresh, that his Freetown performances never become routine. “It’snever just another town, another building,” explains Reed. “We’ve never had abad show in what we’re doing; it’s always good - it’s the truth.” ❖
FreetownVillage is a symbolic community representing many of the predominantly African-Americansettlements scattered throughout Indiana during the post-Civil War years. Its missionis to educate the public about African-American lives and culture in post-CivilWar Indiana through living history performances, the collection andpreservation of artifacts, exhibits and allied programs. FreetownVillage has 15 different programs to help educate the community, includingtheater, craft and heritage workshops and special events such as an EveningDinner, 1870s Christmas and Vintage Baseball. Formore information about Freetown Village, visit www.freetown.orgor call (317) 631.1870.