by Len Lear
It is not possible, of course, to meet the legendary figures of African American history who have long been deceased, but the next best thing would be to go to the Second Baptist Church of Germantown, 6459 Germantown Ave. in Mt. Airy, on Sunday, Feb. 10, 2 p.m. There you can meet a doppelganger of Sojourner Truth, a courageous abolitionist, suffragette and author who lived a miserable life as a slave, serving several masters throughout New York before escaping to freedom in 1826.
After gaining her freedom, Truth became a Christian and, at what she believed was God’s urging, preached about abolitionism and equal rights for all, highlighted in her stirring “Ain’t I a Woman?” speech, delivered at a women’s convention in Ohio in 1851. She continued her crusade for the rest of her life, earning an audience with President Abraham Lincoln and becoming one of the world’s best-known human rights crusaders.
A one-woman play, about 45 minutes, after a potluck lunch that starts at 12:45 at the church will feature Dr. Daisy Century, a multi-talented Southwest Philadelphia actress with a PhD in Science Education who has also written four books, has a Black Belt in Tae Kwon Doe and plays the violin and guitar.
Just how did this extraordinary woman (who politely declined to state her age) wind up portraying Sojourner Truth, as well as other great African American women of U.S. history? “I read just the speech of Sojourner Truth’s ‘Ain’t I a Woman?’ for Women’s Day at a church (in 2004), and that Saturday when I was practicing, I got teary-eyed. It wasn’t an emotional piece; I didn’t know what was going on.
“But that Monday, I was compelled to go to the library to get all the books about her, and I read them all and said to myself, ‘This is amazing; her life was amazing, and I’m going to tell her story!’ That was the beginning. Two years before I even entertained the idea, I started to collect the clothes I would later use for the historical figures. I didn’t know it at the time, but these seven women chose me instead of the other way around.
“So when I perform their life stories, I feel the hurt and disappointments. I embody their spirit. Now I feel they want me to tell their stories. I started back in 2004, and since that time I have performed about 500-plus shows. My motto is ‘Whoever calls, I will come.’ I have performed at churches, libraries, colleges, family reunions, museums, birthday parties and so on.”
By the way, Daisy Century is her real name. “It is not a stage name,” said Century, who calls herself a historical interpreter. “I get asked that quite often. I am named after my grandmother, and Century is my married name.”
Century, who taught science in Philadelphia public schools for 20 years, was born and reared on a small farm in Cross, South Carolina. She knew she wanted to be an actress since the third grade, when she recited “The Creation” by James Weldon Johnson. “That’s a pretty big piece to recite for a third grader, but I did it and didn’t miss one word. Afterwards I got a standing ovation, and I can see myself to this day just bowing and bowing. I liked it. I was hooked.”
Century attended Temple University for her doctorate in Science Education, which she was awarded in 2001. She was also in several independent films by local writers and directors and was an extra in a few major movies: “Beloved,” “The Sixth Sense” and “Twelve Monkeys.” She also modeled for a company called “Spirit of a Dove” for three years. “That was very nice; we borrowed the clothes from big stores to model.”
Century is often asked which historical figure is her favorite to inhabit. “It’s very, very, very difficult because they are all a part of me, but if I had to really, really, really pick one, it would be a tie between Sojourner Truth and Harriet Tubman.”
The smallest audience she ever performed for was three people at a library in New Jersey. “It was a mix-up of dates, and the librarian did not get the flyers out in time, but the show must go on. The largest group was when I was in Milwaukee at the Milwaukee Art Museum, which looks like something out of Star Wars. They were celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Sojourner Truth Home there. It was a black tie affair, and the crowd was about a thousand-plus.”
Many people who have seen Century’s performances have commented that her shows should be on Broadway or as filmed documentaries, possibly on public television. For example, a typical comment comes from Tammy P. Yeadon, a network engineer for AT&T: “I have seen Dr. Century perform all of her characters. When she transforms from one character to another, you would think one would not be as great as the other, but they are all equally well done, polished, genuine, inspiring and awesome! Hollywood and Broadway, what are you waiting for?”
Although perfecting her performances was hard enough, Century insists that the hardest thing she ever did was “the work and research for my doctorate … The best advice I have ever received was from my mother, who told me ‘to work hard to make something of yourself and mind your own business’ … My greatest regret is that I wished I had taken more risks. I wished I were a ballerina because a ballerina takes you on a mythical journey to other places. They are so light and airy and magical … I would like to live on one of the Caribbean Islands because of the weather, beaches, farmlands and fishing.”
Century has a brother in Atlantic City, Rev. Dr. Lawton Nelson; a sister, Betty, in Linden, New Jersey; a brother, Harold, in Maryland; and a brother and sister in South Carolina, Myer and Liza. She lives with her husband Roy, son Greg and his wife, Adrienne, and their three children: Jalen, Ava and Alessia.
For more information about the Feb. 10 performance, call 215-849- 0257. For more information about Dr. Century, visit daisycentury.com