Durham Premiere of “Fire of Freedom” Spotlights Historical Black Leader

Mike Wiley in performance as Abraham Galloway. A trunk lies in front of him
Wiley in performance as Abraham Galloway. Photo by Trevon Carr.

CONTACT: Sarah Rogers
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DURHAM, N.C. — Abraham Galloway was a freedom fighter. Born near Wilmington, N.C. in 1837, he escaped from slavery, became a radical abolitionist, risked his life behind Confederate lines as a Union spy, and recruited hundreds of Black soldiers to fight during the Civil War. He was known for his fiery oratory, his swagger, and his habit of visibly wearing his pistol at his hip. He was part of a delegation of Black southerners who met with Abraham Lincoln in the White House to demand suffrage and the full rights of citizenship. Following the war, he was one of the first Black men elected to the North Carolina state legislature.

Despite these accomplishments, Galloway’s story is not yet well known, even in his home state of North Carolina.

“The Fire of Freedom,” a one-man play starring actor Mike Wiley and featuring vocalist Mary Williams, promotes Galloway’s legacy by depicting the freedom fighter’s journey from ex-slave to the one of the most compelling political leaders of his time.

Wiley will perform “The Fire of Freedom” at the Carolina Theatre at 7 p.m. on Monday, April 11, the play’s Durham premiere. This performance is free and open to the public, but tickets are required. They are available online via registration at TheFireofFreedom.eventbrite.com.

“Galloway’s presence in the story of America should come as no surprise,” said Mike Wiley. “The resilience of enslaved Black people is documented in detail in the pages, songs, and stories of our nation’s history—for those who are looking, for those who are listening. The surprise that a man such as Galloway could exist arises more often from those who are not paying attention.”

An MFA graduate of the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and winner of its Distinguished Alumni award, Wiley is an acclaimed actor, playwright, documentarian, and director. He plays dozens of characters in his one-man shows, often based on key events and figures in African American history.

“The Fire of Freedom” is inspired by a biography of Galloway by North Carolina historian David Cecelski. Playwright Howard Craft wrote the theatrical adaptation. Cecelski and Craft will join Wiley onstage after the one-hour play for an audience talkback.

This performance is sponsored by the Kenan Institute for Ethics at Duke University, where Wiley recently began a three-year appointment as Artist in Residence. He will co-direct a project called “America’s Hallowed Ground,” which tells the stories of historical sites through community-engaged art.