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About The daily Astorian. (Astoria, Or.) 1961-current | View Entire Issue (Jan. 11, 2018)
4 // COASTWEEKEND.COM
An unsung hero of the Lewis and Clark Expedition
One-man show portrays
Corps of Discovery’s
By BRENNA VISSER
here are many things to remind people
who live on the coast that their home is
built on the footprints of 19th century
explorers Meriwether Lewis and William
But there’s another set of footprints,
walking right alongside the famous explor-
ers. They belong to York, Clark’s slave who
was the only African-American member of
the Corps of Discovery. It’s a story in the
shadows of the larger expedition to explore
the American West, and one that North
Coast resident Gideon For-mukwai believes
should be brought into the light.
For the past two years, For-mukwai has
been developing the one-man show “Dare
to Tell: Crossing the Columbia with York.”
His 45-minute performance will debut 7
p.m. Saturday, Jan. 13, at the Hoffman
Center for the Arts in Manzanita.
It’s a show that aims to entertain as
well as open up a community conversation
on issues relating to equity, diversity and
inclusion in today’s world, he said.
“There’s a lot of history in the Pacific
Northwest, and I started reading extensive-
ly about Lewis and Clark. The more I read,
the more interesting it became,” For-muk-
wai said. “I thought, ‘Someone needs to
tell this story.’ Many stories like York’s are
missing and need to be told.”
An ‘unsung hero’
For-mukwai has long been a storyteller.
He has made a career out of educating busi-
nesses and students with his book, “The
Science of Story Selling.” But telling it in
the form of a one-man show will be a new
experience for him.
York’s contributions to the expedition
are intermittently documented throughout
the Lewis and Clark journals.
Between 1804 and 1806, York was
recognized as a free man and an integral
crew member who helped prepare shelters,
hunt game, portage around rapids and scout
travel routes. Most notably, he was given
power to delegate trades with Native Amer-
icans and allowed to vote on decisions.
PHOTOS COURTESY GIDEON FOR-MUKWAI
LEFT: Gideon For-mukwai brings his one-man show about the only African-American member of the Lewis and Clark expedition to the Hoffman Cen-
ter for the Arts in Manzanita on Saturday, Jan. 13. RIGHT: Gideon For-mukwai spent two years developing his show about the only African-Ameri-
can crew member of the Corps of Discovery.
“And despite this, he did not exploit
his advantages. These small moments give
us indication of the type of guy he was,”
For-mukwai said. “He was very unique. He
refused to be stubborn. He refused to be
After the expedition, York went back to
a life of slavery before being freed some-
time in the 1810s.
“He didn’t get to go to D.C. like every-
one else. Everyone else was given land,
double pay. He was given nothing. He
served with dignity even when things didn’t
end that well. He was the lowest on the
totem pole yet became one of the strongest
Part of York’s appeal, For-mukwai said,
comes from the parallels he drew between
his journey and the modern-day plight of
those who contribute to a world that doesn’t
recognize them. Today, they work at food
banks, as bus drivers, as flaggers on U.S.
“They are today’s Yorks, and I feel
there’s a need to tell these stories. They’re
the unsung heroes,” he said. “If we collec-
tively forget, we forget the best of us.”
More than 200 years later, For-mukwai
sees portraying York’s story as a way to
evaluate how far society has come, and as a
roadmap for where it needs to go.
“Lewis and Clark gave permission to
this man to vote. Now we ask: Are we
giving people permission to be free today?”
After the performance, For-mukwai
hopes to lead a discussion about what peo-
ple can learn from York’s story and apply it
to modern attempts at equity and inclusion.
After living in various countries across
Africa, Europe, North America and the
Middle East, he believes that learning and
sharing stories is what builds community.
“I recognize if I were ignorant about
York, others were, too. But ignorance can’t
let us keep us from leading,” he said. “Eq-
uity comes from recognition. It comes from
knowing who is doing what.”
For-mukwai said while he was partic-
ularly inspired by York, he doesn’t plan
to stop there. He hopes to take his show
around the country, and hopefully expand
his work to highlight more of history’s
“They couldn’t tell at the time their
work would define the West. You don’t
know who or what will be significant.
But telling these stories helps us to tell us
how far we can go,” he said. “Who knows
whose story I will be telling next?” CW
North Coast resident Gideon For-mukwai
decided to develop a performance centered
around York, a member of the Corps of Dis-
covery, after reading extensively about the
Lewis and Clark expedition.