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May Miller4
Riding the goat
"A comedy, Miller’s Riding the Goat1 centers on a young black women’s efforts to involve her resistant fiancé, a doctor new to the area, in the traditional activities of the community."2 First published in 1929, this one-act play by May Miller [Sullivan] (January 26, 1899 - February 8, 1995), presents Dr. William Carter as the grand master of the United Order of Moabites3 who considers it all foolishness and has decided not to participate in their parade. Ruth Chapman, in order to protect his standing in the community, and his medical practice, dons his uniform and rides in his place. The play ends with him reclothing himself in the uniform to cover her deception and then he and Ruth move to embrace.
"The grand exalted ruler of the United Order of Moabites" [p. 68.]
Carter: "Damn that lodge and all it’s parades!" [p. 66.]
Ant Heddy: "I ustah hear my poor dead Sam talk 'bout a women who hid in a closet at her husban’s lodge meeting an' heard an' saw all the 'nitiation. Nobody knew that she was there; but jes' as they was 'bout to leave, she sneezed an' they opens the closet an' there she was."
Carter: (laughing) "What did they do to her?"
Ant Hetty: "They gave her a choice—she could jine the lodge or die."
Carter: "Which did she take?"
Ant Hetty: "She went aridin' the goat, of course." [p. 68.]
Ant Heddy: "What would your grandpap’s funeral've been without his lodges?"
Ruth: "I don't know; I hardly remember."
Ant Heddy: The paradin' of his brothers wid their swords ashinin' an' their plumes awavin' was a gran' sight." [p. 69.]
Stage directions: Lodge grand inspector Christopher Columbus Jones "wears the uniform of the order. the long-tail, double breasted coat with bright brass buttons. The badges of the order decorate his breast. His helmet-like hat is decorated with a fine curled white ostrich feather." [p. 70.]
Ruth: "Are you—are you going to give up the lodge?"
Carter: "Oh, Ruth, I am sick of all that foolishness. From the day I put on that little white apron and rode a bony gray mare around the block, I've been hating it, and I'm just about through with all of it." [p. 73.]
Stage directions: Without taking off her dress she dons the costume, which is like Jones' except for a bright golden plume on the hat and a large black mask. [p. 74.]
An historical outline of initiation by riding a goat, both in euphemism and fact, is available at freemasonry.bcy.ca/anti-masonry/goat,html. The story of the curious wife echos that of the lady freemason, The Hon. Miss St. Leger. For the role of this play in black literature see: "Dramatic deception and black identity in The First One and Riding the Goat (Critical Essay)", Taylor Hagood. African American Review. Washington, DC : 3/22/2005.

1. "Riding the goat," Wines in the Wilderness, Plays by African American Women from the Harlem Renaissance to the Present, Edited and Compiled by Elizabeth Brown-Guillory. Contributions in Afro-American and African Studies, Number 135. New York : Greeenwood Press, 1990. ISBN : 0-313-26509-7 hc. 251 p.. First published in 1929.
2. Plays and Pageants from the Life of the Negro, edited by Willis Richardson (d. 1977), Copyright, 1929 By Associated Publishers, Inc. Carter G. Woodson. 1993 reprint introduction by Christine R. Gray. hc. 373 p., p. xxx.
3. Although the United Order of Moabites is fictional, Miller’s naming of the fraternity may be found in the theory of Afro-American origins in the Moabite peoples, as developed by Noble Drew Ali, and others. We have two main sources for information on the Moabites, the Moabite Stone, found in Dhiban, Jordan in 1868 and now in the Louvre, Paris, and numerous references in the Old Testament, specifically the Book of Ruth. From the Moabite Stone we learn of Mesha’s liberation of Moab territory from Israeli control.
4. Portrait (c. 1940) p. 141 with biography from Black Female Playwrights, An Anthology of Plays before 1950. Kathy A. Perkins. Bloomington : Indiana University Press, 1989. ISBN : 0-253-34358-5 hc. 288 p.


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