Early morning, April 4th
shot rings out in the Memphis sky
Free At Last They took your life, but
They could not take your pride.
-Pride (In the Name of Love), performed by U2
Today is the 40th anniversary of the death of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. It is a coincidence that it is also the opening night of Crowns, but it is a very serendipitous coincidence. In addition to the performances this weekend at the Long Center, Civic Theatre is also participating in a poetry reading at the Tippecanoe Public Library of A Wreath for Emmett Till, by Marilyn Nelson. This is a weekend where we will celebrate, in part, the legacy of the Civil Rights movement in America.
Last night we had the Pay What You Can Preview for Crowns. There were approximately 300 people in attendance (I think, we are still trying to figure out the exact count), including several Purdue students, Arts Directors, former Mayors and the ambassador to the United States from the Kingdom of Swaziland, Ambassador Ephraim Hlope. Not a bad cross section of audience. The show went very well, and the audience loved every moment. I was happy to see a very diverse crowd and happy to see the show so well received. It was a wonderful evening.
Now we have made it to opening night, tonight at 8 will mark the beginning of a new chapter at Civic Theatre. This is the first show we have done in out 77 year history that features a cast of African American actors, and is written by an African American woman, the talented Regina Taylor. This would have never happened in the pre-civil rights days. The truth is we are still a far way from realizing Dr. Kings dream, but we are closer today than we were before.
Tomorrow is the poetry reading. This started with a request from the Library to assist in presenting the poem in celebration of the beginning of National Poetry Month. A new found relationship with the Beacon Academy made this collaboration complete. The Beacon Academy is a charter school in Lafayette that has been growing recently. The youth enrolled at the school have not found success in more traditional school settings, Beacon has given them a place to thrive. I have been working with them for the past few weeks. Five of the kids will be performing this powerful set of 15 sonnets tomorrow at 2.
Emmett Till was a 14 year old African American boy from Chicago who was brutally murdered while visiting family in Mississippi. Emmett was guilty of the horrible crime of talking to a white woman. Three days after saying "Hey Baby", or whistling possibly, at the woman in question, her husband and his half brother kidnapped Emmett Till, beat him, shot him and dumped him in a river with a 75 pound mill wheel tied around his neck with barbed wire. Emmett's body was found a few days later, horribly disfigured and mutilated. His mother, Mamie Till, insisted on an open casket funeral service so that the world would see what those men did to her boy. Pictures that appeared in Jet magazine stirred a national reaction of revulsion and anger. The trial that followed sadly followed the same story as any other trial of a white man who is accused of a crime against an African American, the two men were acquitted despite overwhelming evidence against them. The outrage at the crime and verdict helped start a national revulsion that came to a head on a bus in Montgomery just a few months later, where a young woman named Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat, she was arrested for not giving up her seat. A young, pastor at a local church was chosen to lead the boycott that followed the arrest. This young preacher soon became a national leader of the Civic Rights movement. Dr. King would go on to win a Nobel Peace Prize, take on issues of race, poverty and the Vietnam War and to this day is revered as one of the greatest speakers and leaders in our nations history. Thanks to Dr. King, a lot has changed, not to the level that Dr. King dreamed of, but still significant change has occurred. Mississippi is the unfortunate scene of the brutal murder of young Emmett Till, but 54 years later another African-American traveled from Chicago to Mississippi, and he walked away winning the states Democratic primary.
The poetry reading is only the beginning of a budding relationship with The Beacon Academy, there will be more to report in the coming months, stay tuned.
There is much more I would like to say, about Crowns and about the reading of A Wreath for Emmett Till, but because of the phones ringing so much, it has taken me 4 hours to write this already.
Have a good weekend, I hope to see you at the Theatre and at the Library.