August Wilson introduced the “red door” as the entryway to 1839 Wylie Avenue, the home of his character Aunt Ester, who appears in four of his plays. Aunt Ester, whose name is almost a homonym for “ancestor,” is as old as African-American history—she’s 285 in Radio Golf—which means her birth coincides with the first shipment of slaves to New England.
As the caretaker of the African-American experience, Aunt Ester acts as a refuge from a society ripped apart by the legacies of racism and slavery. Those who walk through her door, like Sterling Johnson in Gem of the Ocean, experience journeys of transformation and redemption.
Read one of Sterling’s monologues below:
[Source: Wilson, August. Gem of the Ocean. 2004]
STERLING JOHNSON: That’s Aunt Ester‘s house. You should go up there. I bet you ain’t even been inside. Used to be a line to her door every Tuesday. I went up there to see Aunt Ester once. Had to go up to the red door three different times before she see me. She was sitting in this room. You had to go through some curtains into this room and she was just sitting there. Had this peacefulness about her. Aunt Ester told me I got good understanding. She say that before I could say anything to her. She just looked at me and said that. I talked to her a long while. Told her my whole life story. I asked her how old she was. She say she was three hundred and forty-nine years old. That was twenty-nine years ago. I was sorry to hear that she died. I we
nt up to see Aunt Ester cause I was feeling sorry for myself for being an orphan and I was walking around carrying that. She told me set it down. “Make better what you have and you have best.” Told me if I wanted to carry something carry some tools. I‘ve been carrying tools ever since and I’ve been at peace with myself. You should go up there.