Special Performer
Dr. Nancy J. Dawson is the artistic director and playwright for Music is Spirit. She has been a professor of African American Studies at Southern Illinois University, Austin Peay State University and Western Kentucky University. She brings more than 20 years of experience to the company. She co-authored the Frederick Douglass Encyclopedia which was just released on Greenwood Press. Dawson's first version of Stories From Da Dirt has been included in the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom. Her performances are based on actual historical figures such as her great grandmother, Elizabeth Thompson, a runaway slave from Liberty, Missouri, who settled in Quindaro, Kansas.



Robert K. Sutton retired as Chief Historian of the National Park Service in 2016, after having served in the position for nearly nine years. He came to this position following his tenure as the Superintendent of Manassas National Battlefield Park for the previous twelve and a half years. From 1986 to 1990, he directed the Historic Preservation and Historical Administration public history programs at Arizona State University.

He has published a number of books, articles and reviews on various public history topics. One of his primary interests as Chief Historian and as Superintendent at Manassas Battlefield was leading the emphasis on expanding the interpretation of the Civil War for the Sesquicentennial. As part of that effort, he encouraged Civil War battlefields to expand their interpretive programs to focus more attention to the social, economic, and political issues during the Civil War Era.

Sutton serves as a consultant to the American Battle Monuments Commission, assisting commission staff in developing interpretive programs to commemorate the Centennial of World War I. In that program, he edited a collection of essays by leading World War I historians released in April 2017. He is working on a book on World War I aimed at middle school children.
Sutton has continued teaching. He teaches courses in the Johns Hopkins Osher Senior Adult program on the Civil War and the American West. He will be the Resident Historian for Viking Ocean cruises as well.

Sutton also has written a book on the Civil War Era in Kansas, Stark Mad Abolitionists: Lawrence, Kansas and the Battle Over Slavery in the Civil War Era, published by Skyhorse Publishing in August 2017. The book explores the efforts of abolitionists to ensure that the Territory of Kansas would become a free state, focusing on the support of Amos Lawrence, a wealthy businessman in Boston, to the town that bore his name in Lawrence, Kansas. He tells the story from the perspective of the major players. Sutton and his son, Lee, are editing an autobiography written by his father (Lee’s grandfather).

Keynote Speaker's Biography
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