Nancy’s Story, Award-Winning Historical Play Comes to ETSU on January 21st

In 1820, Elihu Embree published his newspaper The Emancipator on Main Street, Jonesborough. The seven-edition paper is the first publication dedicated solely to the cause of abolitionism. Embree passed away in December of 1820, and the paper died with him. Even though it was short-lived, The Emancipator had over 2,000 subscribers and its reach went all the way to Boston and Philadelphia. In spite of his abolitionist beliefs, Embree himself was an enslaver. Nancy was an enslaved woman owned by Elihu Embree, and her story will be shared on Sunday, January 21, 2024, inside the Bach Theatre at the James C. & Mary B. Martin Center for the Arts at East Tennessee State University.


Written by Anne G’Fellers-Mason, Former Executive Director of the Heritage Alliance and new Program Manager for the McKinney Center, “Nancy” follows a year in the woman’s life, from January 1820 when Elihu Embree wrote his will to January 1821 when his will was read before the Washington County court. In his will, Embree tried to free Nancy and her five children, but were his wishes carried out? What was Nancy feeling and thinking during this time? The play is based on primary research relying heavily on documents from the Washington County Archives. Local actress Ubunibi Afia Short takes on the titular role of Nancy. “We’re excited to finally be able to bring Nancy’s story to ETSU,” says Mason. “It’s an honor to perform in the Martin Center for the Arts and to share this experience with Black American Studies and the ETSU Department of Theatre and Dance. Without their support, this wouldn’t be possible.” The play is the recipient of an Award of Excellence from the Tennessee Association of Museums and a History in the Media Award from the East Tennessee Historical Society.


One performance will be held on January 21st at 2:00 pm inside the Bach Theatre in the James C. and Mary B. Martin Center for the Arts at 1320 W State of Franklin Road. The theatre will open for seating at 1:30 pm that afternoon. The show is about an hour in length followed by a question-and-answer session with the actress and playwright. If you have questions about this show, please contact the Heritage Alliance at 423.753.9580, or email Dr. Daryl Carter at Admission to the performance is free, but donations for the Heritage Alliance and Black American Studies are encouraged. Seating inside the Bach Theatre is limited, so you must register for your free ticket at


The Heritage Alliance is dedicated to the preservation of the architectural, historical, and cultural heritage of our region and to providing educational experiences related to history and heritage for a wide range of audiences. For more information, visit our website at or call our office at 423-753-9580. Black American Studies serves a critical role for the College of Arts & Sciences and ETSU by offering high quality academic course offerings, superb programming, and opportunities for personal growth through service. For more information about the Black American Studies Program at ETSU, visit For more information on the ETSU Department of Theatre and Dance, visit


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