BY GEORGE J. DACRE
The year was 1964. It was a time of continuing frustration for black people in the State of Mississippi as obstacle after obstacle was put in their way as they tried to register to vote. They were still being demeaned by the white folk, called “n****r” and other derogatory slang.
It was under this setting that members of the Students Nonviolent Coordinating Committee came to the state to try to help black residents get registered. In the midst of this “Freedom Summer” as it’s come to be known, and as William Tucker’s play is titled, there was murder.
A 23-member cast at Shades in Haverstraw did an excellent job of portraying the scenes and with accompanying music, the production of “Freedom Summer,” directed by Samuel Harps comes across strongly in this month of Black History. It is as believable as the frustration of the folks who stood in long lines waiting to vote in the State of Florida in our last U.S. presidential election.
But the people of our time do not face what black would-be voters did in McComb, Mississippi in 1964. Tucker was there himself, as one of the SNCC students, and he has caught the essence of those troubling times in his play.
On Thursday at Shades it was all brought back, finely presented in a series of different scenes, featuring appropriate music such as Sam Waymon’s gospel humming “Mrs. Jackson,” bridging one scene to another.
The play told the story of Bob Moses, a Harvard graduate and the other members of SNCC, who along with some brave black civil rights workers in Mississippi, challenged the dominant white population. The segregationists would go to any means, including murder, to keep the black people down.
There is intense drama portrayed in “Freedom Summer,” and there is joy, as some cast members sing Gospel music as the tale is told. Justin Smith as Bob Moses, Donna James as the 85-year-old Mrs. Jackson who had never voted in her life, Keith Bulluck as Reverend Steptoe, Ebon’ee Collins as Lovenia, and Lou Morris as the sheriff are outstanding in this play of history that serves to remind us how it was in those days, and as a reminder that we are not yet out of the woods when it comes to discrimination.
“Freedom Summer” at Shades Repertory Theatre in Haverstraw rates Three Out Of Four Stars!!!
NOTE—Because last Friday night’s performance was snowed out, the play will be performed again on February 15. Don’t miss it!