a literary journal published by the Black Earth Institute dedicated to re-forging the links between art and spirit, earth and society
Elizabeth Freeman (c.1744–December 28, 1829), also known as MumBet, was the first enslaved African American to file and win a freedom suit in Massachusetts.
A film about MumBet’s life is being developed by writer Stephen Glantz, director Alethea Root, and executive producer Octavia Spencer. I was commissioned to write this piece for a sizzle reel used for fundraising.
MumBet was born a slave and lived in slavery for nearly thirty years. She could not read or write, but in 1780 when she heard the “Sheffield Resolves” (which predated the Declaration of Independence) read at a public gathering, these words inspired her to approach a lawyer who helped win her freedom case in court:
“All men are born free and equal, and have certain natural, essential, and unalienable rights; among which may be reckoned the right of enjoying and defending their lives and liberties; that of acquiring, possessing, and protecting property; in fine, that of seeking and obtaining their safety and happiness.”
This piece needed to tell the story of her enormous courage, of her strength of will, of the war she lived through (and to which she may have lost a husband), of her life as a slave, of her longing to be free, and all this in a very short amount of time.
I chose instruments I felt reflected both her American upbringing and her echoing African heritage—strings, snare drum, mbira—and improvised ideas and layers in response to the footage put together by the director and editing team.
Estelle Bajou is a Polymath. Winsome Lose-Some. Professional Beginner. Actor. Composer. Mover. Educator. Painter. Carpenter. Feminist. Union Member. The Resistance. Hero With a Thousand Faces. Heteroclite. Child of an Immigrant. She earned a BA in Creative Writing and Theater from Bard College at Simon’s Rock at age nineteen. She then earned an MFA in Acting from The New School. As a NY Innovative Theatre Award-nominated Actor she has worked across the U.S. and internationally, from Spielberg’s The Post, to Broadway’s Once, to HBO’s Boardwalk Empire, the Edinburgh Fringe to Venezuela to Iraq. As a Composer she was a Drama Desk Award nominee for Outstanding Music in a Play alongside Philip Glass. She is currently coming out of the closet as a Writer.