One of the first women to make a mark in religious thought in America had a unique - and improbable - background for her calling.
The story of Phyllis Wheatley is the stuff of peculiar fairy tales. Bad things happened to her and from them blossomed opportunity she would likely otherwise have been denied.The little girl was only 7 when she was kidnapped from her village on the western coast of Africa. Because she was too young to be sold as a slave in the West Indies or southern colonies, she was taken to America, where at age 9 she was purchased by a prominent Boston family.
There she got her new name: Phyllis Wheatley. As was the custom, she took the surname of her new owners.
It was a name destined to be written into American history.
Unlike others in her position, she never undertook menial labor. She was so bright that her new owners set her aside from the other slaves and taught her to read and write. By the time she was 11, she had read much of the Bible, many Greek and Latin classics, studied astronomy, geography, history and British literature.
At age 13, she wrote her first poem. And poetry would become the stamp she left on history.
The child was black, and white Americans were unwilling to accept her intelligence or her gift of language. She couldn't get published in Boston, but a London publisher welcomed her collection of 39 poems, which focused on religious and moral subjects.
She never used her poetry to attack slavery. Instead, she reached out to people of all types and her work was popular with Americans and Europeans. She wrote to President George Washington and was invited to meet him.
In time, she married and had three children, two of whom she outlived. Her husband, John Peters, died in debtor prison. She died at age 31.
Hers was a short but colorful life. And its essence is being captured - more than 200 years after she died - by members of the Faith Temple Pentecostal Church in a play called "A Little Slave Girl."
Proceeds from the production Sunday, March 29 at 7:30 p.m. at the Capitol Theatre, 50 W. 200 South, will benefit The Tender Loving Care Teaching Learning Center's latchkey program.
Faith Temple was founded by Rosemary Cosby and her husband, Bishop Robert C. Cosby. The church started Tender Loving Care to provide day care for preschoolers, according to Lois Johnson, administrator of TLC. It also sponsors the latchkey program, which was added later and operates in part with volunteers.
Children ages 5-12 can go to the program before and after school while their parents work. Breakfast is provided in the morning, and they get a snack in the afternoon. Teachers also help the children with their homework, see that they get off to school OK and sometimes even pick them up from school. A child who has been suspended from school can be enrolled in the program until the suspension is lifted.
Thirty children are enrolled in the latchkey program, according to Deborah Cosby-Brainich, director.
Benefits like "A Little Slave Girl" are crucial to the latchkey program's survival because while parents who can afford to pay something do, those who can't afford it aren't charged.
The play is being billed as a musical drama and features the Faith Temple Pentecostal Church Choir, which has become internationally renowned under the direction of minister of music Rosalind Cazares. Most recently, the choir performed at Deer Valley during the passing of the Olympic torch celebration.
Tickets for the play are $25, and the stub can be used for $5 off any dinner at the Southern Plantation Restaurant, 1465 S. State.
Tickets are available at the door, at TLC, at Southern Plantation and TLC Elegante.
The Utah Arts Council is co-sponsoring the show.