The Hyers Sisters

With Joseph Bradford and Pauline Hopkins, the Hyers Sisters produced the “first full-fledged musical plays… in which African Americans themselves comment on the plight of the slaves and the relief of Emancipation without the disguises of minstrel comedy”, the first of which was Out of Bondage (also known as Out of the Wilderness).

The Hyers Sisters were singers, Anna Madah born in 1855 and Emma Louise born in 1857. Their father, Samuel B. Hyers, came west to Sacramento with their mother, Annie E. Hyers (née Cryer), after the Gold Rush. He made sure his daughters received both piano forte lessons and vocal training with German professor Hugo Sank and later opera singer Josephine D’Ormy and they performed for private parties before making their professional stage debut at on April 22, 1867 at Sacramento’s Metropolitan Theater. Anna was a soprano and Emma a contralto. Under their father’s management, they embarked on their first transcontinental tour in 1871. On August 12, 1871, they performed in Salt Lake City to much acclaim.

They were later called “a rare musical treat” by St. Joseph Missouri’s Daily Herald and earned equal praise in Chicago, Cleveland, and New York City. Their tour reached Worcester and Springfield, Massachusetts, as well as New Haven, Providence. They visited Boston, which was known to be extremely critical of new acts, and were also well-received, performing in the 1872 World Peace Jubilee which was one of, if not, the first integrated major musical production in the country.

The Hyers’ family organized a theater company, where they produced musical dramas starring Anna and Emma, including “Out of Bondage,” written by Joseph Bradford and premiered in 1876, “Urlina, the African Princess” by Getchell written by E. S. Getchell and premiered in 1879, “The Underground Railway,” by Pauline Hopkins in July 1880, and Hopkin’s stage version of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” in March 1880. In addition, there was “Colored Aristocracy” by Hopkins. Overall, they had at least six shows between the late 1870s and 1880s. They set the path for black musical theater and performance in the years that followed. They traveled until the mid-1880s with their own shows and continued to appear on stage into the 1890s. Though Emma Louise had died, in 1901, Anna Madah continued to travel with a show of John Isham.

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Howard University was there from the beginning

Howard University

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Shortly after the end of the Civil War, members of The First Congregational Society of Washington considered establishing a theological seminary for the education of African American clergymen. within a few weeks, the project expanded to include a provision for establishing a university. The new institution was named for General Oliver Otis Howard, a Civil War Hero, who was both a founder of the University and a Commissioner of the Freedmen Bureau.

It was only fitting that Howard University led the excavation project, analyzed the remains and documented the results.

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