Quilts put together made to look like Tobacco. Hung in Trahern for Alfords “Smoke: Abridged”. Isabella Morman
APSU’s College of Arts and Letters, in partnership with the Clarksville Arts and Heritage Council, provided APSU students an opportunity to look at the dark history of the Black Patch capital of the world and its tobacco war of the early 1900s of APSU’s alumn, David Alford’s, “Smoke: Abridged.”
Smoke: Abridged is a condensed version of his popular play “Smoke: A Ballad of the Night Riders,” which was performed in Trahern Building Tuesday at 4 p.m.
“In 2000, I was approached by Kay Bagby, a community leader in the Adams area, to write a play about the Bell Witch. After the success of that piece, Kay asked if I could do another piece. This time about the Night Rider movement and the Tobacco Wars. I thought it was a great idea. I’m a history nut and I love the challenge of making history accessible to audiences through drama,” said Julliard-trained actor, David Alford.
Through song, audience members are taken on a journey to unfold the heart-wrenching tragedies of the Hartley family and big business turning people against one another as the tobacco industry faces a time of deceit and vigilantism.
“The Night Riders were a sort of unrecognized and unofficial wing of the Tobacco Planters Protective Association which was organized to combat the price-fixing practices of a tobacco monopoly,” said Alford.
Alford continued, “the monopoly was making it impossible for farmers to earn a living. For the Association to work, they needed to convince a large majority of farmers to join. Many did, but not enough. At first, the Night Riders tried to talk people into joining, then they started using intimidation and threats, and eventually, they turned to violence. They believed they had no choice: that unless they forced farmers to join, they would lose their way of life. Of course, violence begets violence, and eventually, it spread across the region in acts that had little or nothing to do with tobacco. It was a dark and dangerous time.”
In bluegrass infused songs audience members learn of the deliverance of the Night Rider’s justice expressed through acts of violence such as whippings, arson, and more.
“Since arriving at Austin Peay, I have been trying to help tell the stories of our students and faculty to the community. Last night’s presentation of “Smoke: Abridged” was an example of an APSU alumnus, David Alford, using some of the skills he learned here at Austin Peay to tell a fictional story about the area’s history,” said dean of College of Arts and Letters William ‘Buzz’ Hoon.
So, with big business at its worst in Western Kentucky and Middle Tennessee and the tobacco companies pulling the string one question is asked : Why did the Night Riders never come to Clarksville?
“Ben Sory was one of the biggest reasons. He was an aggressive opponent of the Night Riders and the Sheriff of Montgomery County at the time. But I will leave the details of that question to the next speaker in the series, Dr. Rick Gregory. His dissertation was on the Tobacco Wars, and he is an actual historian. I’m just a playwright. I strongly encourage anyone interested to attend his talk. You will learn a lot”, said Alford.
On March 28th, Dr. Rick Gregory will be sharing a story on the “War in the Tobacco Black Patch”, educating the community on the importance of the tobacco crop.