Joyce Jefferson, telling the stories of African American women in South Dakota
RAPID CITY, S.D. (KOTA) - Joyce Jefferson came to South Dakota because she was a “military brat”, originally from Louisiana, Jefferson is a southern girl at heart. When she and her husband moved here, knowing about African Americans in the area was important to the couple.
“When my husband and I first came here, we wanted to see evidence of ourselves, so we went all over to the museum in the area, and we stopped at one. We looked for the Buffalo Soldier and we did find any buffalo soldiers to speak of,” said Jefferson, who tells the tales of six South Dakota African American women. “We walked all over that museum and when we got ready to leave there was this huge panoramic picture of all these African Americans in white uniforms astride horses and that was just like, oh my goodness, we are here. But that was only one picture in that entire museum.”
Right then is when she found the need to tell stories of African American women in South Dakota including Lucretia Marchbanks who is said to be the first black woman in the Black Hills and the first woman Jefferson portrayed.
“There was this six-foot-tall picture of Lucretia Marchbanks on the wall, and I just stood there, and I’d let them sit down and they’d look at me and they’d look at the picture. And look at me and look at the picture and then when everybody was started...or seated...I would start and I would tell about Lucretia Marchbanks as if she were living today and one of the questions was, you can’t be 150 years old?”
Jefferson says that even though she tells her stories to educate others, she does not have a direct purpose for the stories, rather she hopes that people will take what they need from them. “There was also a man, after the woman from the Holocaust and visited with me, and I don’t think he could speak, because he grabbed my hands and he just looked at me and I can’t remember if he was trying to talk or not, but he was just holding my hands. And he had a tear come down and then he looked at his hands and then he put a bill in mine, and he walked away. So, that told me he knew what I was trying to say, even though I may not have, I hit his heart strings through what I was able to portray”
Portraying characters from the past has helped not only Jefferson, “Since I am a military brat and I have been lots of places, I lost a little bit of my culture I did not learn about Juneteenth until I came here to South Dakota.”
Jefferson says that South Dakota originally celebrated Emancipation Day, rather than Juneteenth. The importance of knowing what each holiday is helps bring our community together. Jefferson suggests educating children, so they know who the people of America are.
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