Samuel Diggs is a free black laborer in the employ of Dr. Summers. He harbors a secret knowledge of and ability in medicine, which he learned as a young servant in an enlightened northern doctor’s household. Sam is qualified to do much more than anyone would allow at this point. A black man with education and talent, he is like Alexandria itself—caught between two worlds and two modes of thinking about the future. He is drawn to a young “contraband” (escaped slave) laundress named Aurelia. Despite her reserve and prickly facade, he gradually earns her trust. When she finally shares her secrets, he feels compelled to help her, no matter the cost.
(Note: Prior to the Emancipation Proclamation of January 1st, 1863, African-American doctors were not permitted to work in Union hospitals.)
McKinley on Samuel:
I think it's really interesting that he grew up in a household of a physician, so he almost had an informal apprenticeship, but no one knows that. So he arrives here under the guise of being a laborer, and I feel like he's a very single-minded man. He knows what he wants to do with his life, he knows who he is falling in love with, but the society around him doesn’t allow him to do those things.
It's really exciting because in every scene I do there's a balance to be struck between what I show and what I actually know. I think it's a beautiful challenge to have. It's really true to the time — to have a certain intelligence and comfort in the field that you've chosen to be involved in, but not to be able to reveal all of that. It’s almost like you're playing a character of yourself in that you say, “This is what is expected of me from other people and this is who I am.”
McKinley Belcher, originally from Georgia but now a New Yorker, can currently be seen playing Dwayne Meeks in David Simon’s HBO mini-series “Show Me a Hero,” directed by Paul Haggis and starring Oscar Isaac. He also recurs as Marcus on the STARZ series “Power,” now in its second season. Belcher has guest starred on network and cable shows like “Chicago PD,” “Madam Secretary,” “Elementary,” “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” “Rizzoli & Isles,” “Louie” and “Law & Order: LA.” He graduated from USC’s School of Dramatic Arts, where he won the Ava Greenwald Memorial Award, with an MFA in Acting in 2010.