Former slave subject of church presentation

Published 7:37 pm Friday, February 24, 2012

CHOCOWINITY — Edythe Williams assumes the persona of a woman twice her age when she portrays Miss Jane Pittman during a celebration of black history this weekend.

Williams will be featured as part of Sunday morning’s praise and worship service at Aurora’s St. Peter Baptist Church, led by pastor Barry Squires. The program, which will include presentations by church youth, begins at 11 a.m.

Edythe Williams of Chocowinity will assume the identity of a former slave when she presents a program featuring Miss Jane Pittman during an Aurora church’s Sunday worship service. (WDN Photo/Kevin Scott Cutler)

Pittman is the title character in a book of historical fiction written by Ernest L. Gaines and published in 1971. “The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman” explored the life of a woman born into slavery in the 1850s, but who lived to celebrate her 110th birthday while taking part in the civil-rights movement of the 1960s.

Acclaimed actress Cicely Tyson portrayed Pittman in a made-for-television movie in 1974; the role earned Tyson two Emmy awards, one for best lead actress in a drama and another for actress of the year.

Williams said she knows she has big shoes to fill. Since she has already taken on the role of Pittman in the past, she said, she is up to the challenge.

“I’ve done this for several years. … I’ve gone to different churches and done this program for years,” she said. “I like doing this because it helps educate the black community about its heritage and slavery.”

Although Pittman is a fictional character, Williams said that character represents the struggles faced by many African-Americans. Williams has also portrayed real-life heroines Harriet Tubman and Rosa Parks, but she said Jane Pittman has a special place in her heart.

“I give myself a week to memorize her story, from the time she was born until the 1960s,” said Williams, who resides near Chocowinity. “Then, as I work around the house or whatever, I recite her life in her own words.”

Learning Pittman›s narrative is only part of the process. Williams works hard, too, to look the part.

She has carefully selected her costume for the presentation: a plain cotton frock, modest black shoes, stockings rolled down to the knees, gloves, eyeglasses a crocheted hat and a shawl to which she’ll fasten house keys with a safety pin.

To that she’ll add heavy foundation make-up and a gray wig. Rounding out the look is a walking stick, which she plans to use as she stoops and assumes the posture of a proud woman more than a century old.