Contributed by Lynette Braxton
Michael Green, Artistic Director of Shades of Truth Theatre and Voza Rivers/New Heritage Theatre Group have produced several American racial history plays. Previous productions include: The Meeting, Camp Logan, and Whistle in Mississippi:The Lynching of Emmett Till. Green brings to the stage another must see installation of ritualized history in this production of Black Wall Street.
Amiri Baraka identifies ritualized history as “history that allows emotional and religious participation on the part of the audience.” Black Wall Street retells the moving story of an economically thriving, all-Black community that once was known as “Paradise” for Blacks migrating from the South and other parts of America at the beginning of the twentieth century.
Greenwood, Tulsa, Oklahoma, a diverse community of Blacks, Native Americans, and Jews was built primarily by Blacks for Blacks. It was influential and affluent because of Tulsa’ s liquid black gold—oil. Their economic independence was envied by its neighboring poor Whites and the KKK.
The playwright Celeste Bedford Walker’s major theme is universal—racial genocide prompted by envy and greed. In Black Wall Street Walker focuses on the events and activities of a prominent family and their friends in Greenwood.
Walker’s knowledge of Greenwood and Tulsa’s history is evident thorough a lengthy exposition before arriving at the turning point or crisis at the end of Act I. She skillfully chronicles the final days and hours of these Greenwood citizens, weaving narratives on familial relationships, financial freedom, civic loyalty, blossoming romance, and the looming jealousy and unleashed terrorism by White Tulsa citizens.
Under the direction of Michael Green and Fulton C. Hodges, the overall efforts of the creative team and actors produced an emotional and authentic shared learning experience of Black American history. There were minor inconsistencies in the use of period costumes and within the light and sound design; however, the production was generally successful in depicting the ultimately tragic world of this play.
Not too long ago, I was unaware of the tale of Greenwood. A Guyanese friend of mine, Charles Gordon shared its story with me. Being from Guyana, he was shocked that I did not know my own American history.
“It is imperative that you Black Americans know your own history in order to tell your children,” he said. “In Berbice, Guyana, the Africans started the first slave rebellion for freedom in 1763 for all of the Americas.”
“Our national motto is ‘Never Forget’. From a small child, from generation to generation, our children are taught who they are—fierce and great! Why don’t you know your history?” I could only say that I was not taught. He then challenged me to do my own homework.
In viewing Black Wall Street I was able to put a face to the survivors and victims I have read about in my research. To experience the emotional impact of Greenwood’s devastation brought tears as the stories unfolded on stage.
As a Native American and African American storyteller, Black Wall Street inspires me to continue researching and telling our stories: that we are descendants of ancient chiefs, kings, and queens, and modern entrepreneurs. Our children must learn and never forget their greatness and history.
“And, like all good ritual, its purpose is to make the audience stronger, more sensitive to the historical realities that have shaped our lives and the lives and the lives of our ancestors.”
—Amiri Baraka, The Theatre of Black Americans
Black Wall Street is “good ritual.” It celebrates our history and touches the heart with a sincere retelling of the great American tragedy that is Greenwood, ensuring that we will never forget.
Black Wall Street
by Celeste Bedford Walker
September 18-October 5, 2014
Thursdays and Fridays | 7:30PM
Saturdays | 3PM and 8PM
Sundays | 8PM
Black Tie Gala
Saturday, September 27, 2014 | 6PM
Andrew Freedman Home
1125 Grand Concourse
Bronx, NY 10452