Storyteller, Speaker and Performer: Willie W. Payne

Dr. Payne, storytelling

In his multimedia lecture/stage performance, The Underground Railroad Michigan Connection, which can be modified to storytelling, historian and author, Dr. Willie W. Payne uses music, song and photos of Michigan Underground Railroad stops to narrate stories and excite audiences while describing places in Oakland, Wayne and other Michigan communities used to harbor fugitive slaves. He highlights the southern fugitive slave struggle to escape captivity and how Michigan abolitionists and free Blacks assisted them on the Underground Railroad. His salt and pepper beard, brown knickers, boots, and ruffled white shirt help him transform into the character of an antebellum slave laborer. The audience will also be treated to a medley of Negro spirituals and dance which illustrate how slaves used both to communicate escape plans. Payne, a former schoolboard trustee, has mesmerized audiences of all ages at libraries, schools, festivals and organizations in Michigan, Arkansas and his native state of Louisiana.

 The Underground Railroad Michigan ConnectionKnowing that schools, libraries, churches, corporate and community organizations across America search for activities commemorating Black History Month and programs addressing diversity, this historian, former news reporter and author contends the collaboration of American to abolish slavery address diversity, cultural awareness and race relations in the most unique way and shows that despite differences in culture and religion, people came together to eradicate slavery, a lesson that changed the face of America. Something all people can draw from.

Payne began his research on the Underground Railroad in the early 80s while highlighting Black History in Oakland County and while working as a news reporter for the Oakland Press. His story centered on the small, rural community of Cassopolis which, at that particular time, contained the highest percentage of mixed ancestry in Michigan. After learning that the community was Michigan’s first stop on the Underground Railroad and the intermingling between the slaves, Native Americans, Quakers and other settlers was the reason for the race mix, it heighten his interest because of his slave and Native American descent and compelled him to research other stops. Even though slaves were brought to America to become laborers and servants, this former Pontiac mayor said because of the tenacity of slave to be free and the help they receives from Michigan abolitionists, they and their descendants were able carved out different destinies for themselves as American citizens.

The performance/lecture, which is enjoyed by both youth and adult audiences, is recipient of the Certificates of African American Historic Merit, the Frederick Douglass Award, Commendation from Michigan’s Governor John Angler, and the Congressional Certificate of Merit.

Description of Program

This program is designed for schools, libraries, family reunions, festivals/museums, nonprofit organizations, historical societies and corporate groups.

  • The Underground Railroad’s Michigan Connection: $1,500. Fill stage performance. A one hour and 30 minute show.
  • Multimedia Lecture price range: $200-$600 depending on the length of event and distance traveled. This 30-40 minute, lecture includes song, music, and projected photos of slave houses. Q&A.
  • Storytelling $200. Approximately 30 minutes and will engage student participation. Recommended for middle school students.


Classroom, Dr. Payne

Willie W. Payne has many successes. Published The Underground Railroad Michigan Connection, He is a former Pontiac Michigan mayor, veteran police officer, educator, published author, past member of Detroit’s Charles H. Wright Museum, The Boys and Girls Club of America, Michigan Association for Leadership Development, NAACP, Optimist Club, and Rotary Club, member of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc., and Free and Accepted Masons Gibraltar Lodge No.19 F. &.M. State of Michigan


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Oak Park, Michigan 48237


Historical Society of Michigan 5815 Executive Drive Lansing, MI 48911
Email | Phone (517) 324-1828 | Fax (517) 324-4370

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