Sheila Arnold

Sheila Arnold | Master Storyteller

About the Artist/Ensemble

“Locks Opened: Underground Railroad” Historical Storytelling Presentation Series
These presentations are historical storytelling at its best. Through story and song, Sheila shares about local waterways that were part of the Underground Railroad. Most of the stories are from a 1870s book written by William Still, a conductor for the Underground Railroad and secretary of the Philadelphia Abolitionist Society. However, many other primary and secondary sources are used. This program shares the stories of the people who ran from slavery, those who assisted in the escape, and those who were actively opposed to escape using federal and state laws, as well as other tactics. Discover the stories that will make you begin your own search into local history and help you understand what the desire for freedom can help a person overcome. Each presentation 30-60 minutes in length.

Historic Character Presentations
These presentations are usually 30 – 45 minutes in length, with 15 – 20 minutes of Q&A both in and out of character.

  • Mary Johnson – wife of Anthony Johnson, slave, indentured servant to free Negro and landowner, 17th-century Eastern Shore resident
  • Ol’ Bess – 18th-century tavern slave in Williamsburg, VA; pre-Revolutionary War
  • Oney Judge – 18th-century Free Woman; personal maidservant to Martha Washington who ran away in the last year of Washington’s presidency
    • “A Conversation with Oney Judge” – Reversing Interpretation – the Oney Judge presentation but for younger ages (PK – 3rd grade; 5 – 8 years old)
  • Betsy Costner- 19th-century pre- or post-Civil War slave, shares about this “new thing called freedom”.
  • Mary Peake – 19th-century; African-American teacher of contraband slaves in Hampton, VA
  • Madam C.J. Walker – post-Civil War and early 20th century, nationally respected businesswoman and 1st Negro female millionaire.
  • Zora Neale Hurston – 20th-century Harlem Renaissance African-American author of many stories and books including “Of Mules and Men” and “Their Eyes Were Watching God”
  • Daisy Bates – Arkansas NAACP President who worked with the “Little Rock Nine” as they were desegregating Central High School.
  • Fannie Lou Hamer – “The Song Voice of the Civil Rights Movement”; an American voting rights activist and civil rights leader and instrumental in organizing Mississippi Freedom Summer and the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party


Storytelling Program Descriptions
All programs are 30 – 60 minutes in length and for all ages, unless noted.

  • 18th-century: Ol’ Bess speaks at a Gathering
    Ol’ Bess, a tavern slave from 18th-century Williamsburg, Virginia, comes in her period clothes and invites folks to a slave-gathering. 3rd grade to adult
  • African: Mother land comes Home
    All stories come from Africa and have a moral or theme.
  • African-American: Keeping Heritage Alive
    Stories written, told or passed down through the African-American culture, with an emphasis on reading and writing.
  • Around the World…IN STORIES
    Vietnam. Malawi. Germany. West Virginia. California. Rhode Island. Mississippi. Ms. Sheila has traveled to various parts of the world and around the country and everywhere she goes she gathers stories.
  • Invisible Threads
    Race & Life: Sheila says “My parents had race defined in their history, but they determined that race would not define the history their children would have.” With this as her thesis statement, Sheila takes us on an exploration of race in her life, her parents and finally in the life of her son.
  • “Love Entrances”
    Love is on everyone’s mind in February – but other times of the year. This interactive program shares about love through stories, skits, activities, poetry and song. An adult-only program.
  • “Hallowed Ground” Storytelling & Song Program
    In the African-American culture, there are places that are sacred: from slave quarters to family homes sometimes scarred by prejudice and ignorance; from bridges of the trampled, to churches of the bombed. This program uses stories – humorous, historical and inspirational – to encourage.
  • Slightly Scary Tales and Sometimes Slightly More
    Need to scare ‘em just a little? Or, do you just want to show the genre of horror and slightly grisly? Well, this is the program.
  • The Ties That Bind
    Family is the tie that binds this Storyteller. This program is done in honor of family and all the blessings, and love they give, while we also having challenging and even confrontational times. Family oriented program.
  • “We Own the Night”: Storytelling & Poetry Program for Teens (Middle and High School Only)
    Using the words from LeRoi Jones’ poem, “We Own the Night”, as a starting point, teens will take a walk through the world of poetry, song and short stories of the 1960’s, and other times when people stood for their rights.
  • A Women’s Place: Stories, Poems and Songs for Women to enjoy and Men to Ponder

Concert/Performance Description

Microphone: Handheld with microphone stand or Lavalier microphone preferred. A non-rocking, non-rolling adult-sized chair. Some programs might need a small table or stool.

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