Our Producer - Denise Christy-Moss
Denise Christy-Moss is a retired High School Teacher, who taught at Milwaukee High School of the Arts, in the Milwaukee Public School district for 25 years. She taught American and British Authors, Composition, Speech, and Theatre. She retired from the Milwaukee Public School System in June 2009. She has a Bachelor of Arts Degree from Syracuse University and a Master of Arts Degree from Kent State University. She was a Forensics Coach for a variety of speaking competitions, from one-act play competitions to interpretive reading, play-acting, poetry, and extemporaneous speaking. Teaching students to think on their feet, backed by ample knowledge, was a skill she was able to bring to casts for the plays she directed and speaking competitions she guided.
Extra-curricular activities included coordination of the school's two major events; a school Folk Fair celebrating the multi-cultural community of the school and a school Mardi Gras, which used the vehicle of this festival to share information about the history of the celebration, the French influence, Louisiana History, and more.
These experiences have helped her coordinate the various branches of the Enduring Families Project. In June of 2018, the first African-American Living History Tour was performed. Ms. Christy-Moss was both the producer and acting coach for this event. Under her tutelage using her past experiences, she developed the skills of the artists who were the reenactors of the lives of some of La Crosse's historical figures for this tour.
My Story: I taught English, speech, and (sometimes) theatre for 25 years at Milwaukee HS of the Arts, an arts magnet school in Milwaukee. I retired in 2009. During my time there, I was the coordinator of two major events- our school Folk Fair, an event that celebrated the multi-cultural diversity of the school’s students, and our school Mardi Gras, a festival which provided an opportunity to learn about this fascinating celebration and its history including the French influence.
Other positions included director of some of the school’s theatre productions and coach for High School Forensics activities. Along with these was my teaching schedule of classes in American and British Authors, Composition, Oral Communication, and Theatre.
In retirement after moving to the La Crosse area, I found outlets for my creative talents helping to form a Madrigal Singing group, and becoming a member of local groups specializing in Indian and Mediterranean Dance.
A former Milwaukee HS of the Arts colleague, Rebecca Mormann Krieger, suggested creating a dramatization of the histories of early La Crosse African American residents. We introduced this idea to Peggy Derrick, Executive Director of the La Crosse Historical Society, and she was interested and supportive.
This lead me to become a re-enactor, (with Rebecca’s encouragement) in the Silent City Production at Oak Grove Cemetery, sponsored by the La Crosse County Historical Society. I portrayed my mother-in-law, Mrs. Robbie Moss, one of the early La Crosse area settlers and an ancestor of my family. The next year, I portrayed Lillian Davenport, an African-American musician born in La Crosse who graduated from La Crosse High School in 1917.
After connecting with other community activists, we opened a dialog about producing the Enduring Families Project with several community groups, such as the School District of La Crosse, the La Crosse Public Library, the La Crosse Community Theatre, the Weber Center, and the La Crosse Community Foundation. Cecil Adams, CEO, and Founder of the African American Mutual Assistance Network, Inc. agreed to be our fiscal sponsor.
The level of astonishment demonstrated when people learned about this amazing group of historical people, told us we were on the right track. An Advisory Board was created representing various community organizations, who were there to offer assistance and authenticity furthering the evolution of the Project.
Eventually, a group of courageous performers was assembled who were willing to take the first steps towards presenting this story to the community. The African American Living Bus Tour was the result, and the beginning of getting this information from “the written to the spoken word”.
Our Historian- Rebecca Mormann-Krieger
Rebecca Mormann-Krieger has a UW-La Crosse undergraduate Education degree in social studies. She worked professionally in the Milwaukee area theatres before teaching in the Milwaukee High School of the Arts. She completed graduate studies in multi-cultural education at universities around the country through programs sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities, Gilder-Lehrman Institute of American History, and the Woodrow Wilson Foundation.
In 1996 for the sesquicentennial anniversary of Wisconsin, Ms. Mormann was awarded a grant to work with students, professional novelists, poets, and musicians to write a series of monologues of the history of Wisconsin. "Faces of Wisconsin in Spoon River" was performed in November of 1998 at the Milwaukee High School of the Arts.
She continued to use her skills to team-teach using “arts, literature, and history” in a project-based-learning curriculum. She was given the Herb Kohl Teacher Fellowship in 2000. In 2007 Rebecca received the Metropolitan Milwaukee Alliance of Black School Education award.
Rebecca has spent nearly two years researching the La Crosse area history of early non-white settlers.
My Story: I first met people from Enduring Families in 1986 while researching an original production for the Milwaukee High School of the Arts. One character in this play, Thomas Shivers, was a former slave from Tennessee. After the Civil War, he and his family walked to Wisconsin’s Cheyenne Valley located near Hillsboro where he purchased a farm. This journey took almost two years. When another teacher at the school, Denise Christy-Moss, spoke to her husband, John Moss about the scene and he startled us by saying, “ These are my relatives and this is my family’s story”.
In 2016, after retirement, I revisited the idea of writing a play about the history of Cheyenne Valley, formerly known as Revels Valley, and the La Crosse area. Finding Bruce Mouser’s research, Black La Crosse, I realized that there was a solid foundation for a link between these two places. One of the direct connections was the marriage of Zachariah H. Moss Junior and Emma (Revels) Walden. Zachariah L. Moss Senior’s family have lived in La Crosse since its early days in the mid-nineteenth century.
The first six months of my research followed Mycajah and Morning Revels family from Robeson, North Carolina to the Lick Creek and Hamilton Settlements in Indiana and then to Cheyenne Valley in Wisconsin. The family left North Carolina to escape the Black Codes in the 1830’s and left Indiana in the 1850’s to escape the Fugitive Slave Act. The research for this Project was obtained by scratching through family history; reading diaries, wills, notes, and letters and was further substantiated by connections with other primary documents.
The history for people of color has not been documented in traditional manners. For example, Effie Revels’ Diary which can be found on-line supported a thesis about the gradual changing race relations in Wisconsin in the nineteenth century. Written a hundred and ten years ago her writings reinforced the premise of my research. This primary document written by a farmer's wife is remarkable. She was an exceptional woman, as were all the men and women I met during my research. I heard their voices like someone trying to adjust the sound on an old-time radio. The bits and pieces of information gathered became their message from the past and a vital part of the Enduring Families drama.