Fostering humanity: Abolitionist letters come to life

[Joe Rydzefski]

Actress Lynne McKenney Lydick performed the one-woman show “Yours for Humanity,” a play based on the letters of 1800s anti-slavery abolitionist Abby Kelly Foster, on Monday in the Forum.

McKenney Lydick, who played Foster, spoke to the audience as if they were from the 1800s, immersing them in Foster’s world.

She shuffled between addressing the audience and acting out scenes in which she wrote letters to Foster’s husband, Steven, and daughter Pauline.

Foster left her family in Worcester, Massachusetts in order to lecture around the country about the anti-slavery movement.

In her letters to Pauline, Foster reminded herself that her separation from her family is not as devastating as one of a slave mother’s.

“I owe [leaving my family] to the broken-hearted slave mother,” said Foster.

Throughout the performance, McKenney Lydick would sniffle and wipe her nose with a tissue.

Foster said her time away from her family is a sacrifice but necessary to the development of the abolitionist movement.

According to Foster, changing people’s minds is like “planting a garden.” She believes she must weed the town she is lecturing in of ignorance in regards to slavery.

As she recites Foster’s words, “I’m here to plant trouble,” McKenney Lydick stomped her foot and clenched her fist, emphasizing Foster’s determination to cause change.

Foster recalls in a letter the names she was called, such as “nigger lover” and the time rocks were hurled at her.

“I rise because I am not a slave,” she cried, believing she must fight for those who cannot fight for themselves.

She wrote that once a rifle was pointed at her head because she believed “all human beings were created equal.”

To her astonishment, a group of people blocked the rifle’s path.

“I saw people change. … They peacefully disobeyed the law,” she happily reported in her letter.

This time, McKenney Lydick cried tears of joy.   

She concluded the performance by telling the audience, “If things are going to change, it’s up to you.”

McKenney Lydick signed off with how Foster ended all her letters – “Yours for Humanity, Abby.”

As the audience applauded, McKenney Lydick wiped her nose and said she would accept the applause, “For Abby,” gesturing to the six-foot tall banner displaying the only viable photo of Foster.

McKenney Lydick opened the floor for any questions.

Audience members asked questions about Foster’s family, her religion and how her life was before she joined the anti-slavery movement.

One audience member asked if Foster ever returned home to her daughter and if Pauline ever became an abolitionist like her mother. McKenney Lydick said Foster not only returned home, but stayed there for over year as she cared for her daughter who had scoliosis. 

She mentioned that Foster was born exactly 118 years before Martin Luther King Jr.

This fact gives her “chills” every time she thinks of their historical connection, she said.

McKenney Lydick believes Foster was “lost in history,” as not many people are aware of how courageous she was as a female anti-slavery abolitionist.

“She knew it was her calling to make a difference in the world,” said McKenney Lydick.

She passed around Foster’s medal from the National Women’s Hall of Fame, in which Foster was inducted in 2011. McKenney Lydick accepted the medal in honor of Foster, who she dressed up as for the ceremony.

That same year, Foster was inducted in the National Abolition Hall of Fame.

Senior Benilde Cardoso said, “I’m glad I came. I never heard of [Foster] before. I respect her for fighting for the anti-slavery movement.”

Senior Jaeda Mann-Lambert said, “Everyone should know about” Foster.

History professor Jon Huibregtse organized the event.

He said the play has “The message of fighting for injustice. … Abby was unsure [about her evolvement as an abolitionist] and she still continued her work. It is a message we can all take away.”

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