“Have you heard the story of a little colored town?” This question opens the tale of a town that was prosperous, self-sufficient and wholly owned and operated by African Americans. One of the many boon towns of the 1920s where African Americans fled oppression, fended for themselves, found opportunities and ultimately destruction. Greenwood was such a town. Black Wall Street is the dramatic play that recounts its story.
The play is set in a popular eating establishment, as the towns’ wealthy Blacks gather to tell their story to a traveling journalist. The actors are aptly cast to reflect a wide range of professionals from Doctor, to Butcher, to Businessman. They tell their story of this utopia at a peppy pace of movement which includes laughter, tons of humor and fun interaction. The audience can almost feel what living in such an unencumbered state does for a group of people.
And then tragedy strikes, as it always does, when a colored person is perceived as stepping out of line.
The tide of happiness quickly turns and a chain of disastrous events begins. And it is the fatal line from the play that explains it all “it’s always about the land”.
As equally joyful as the cast portrayed during the good times, they brought the same intensity to the events of its demise. The play, performed in the intimate theater of York College’s Performing Arts Center, brought the audience front and center to the evil that was at the center of the destruction. The moment when cast members donned their white sheets and surrounded the audience was unnerving, a sight that many today are (happily) unfamiliar with. Yet it drives home the level of hatred and destruction that could bring down the town.
Cast members used the many staging areas of the theater to depict the fight that the town put up before its ultimate loss. With the sounds of guns firing as part of the play’s soundtrack, it was not surprising to see an audience member jump a time or two. Images from the actual events in Greenwood, added to the realism as they flashed on the big screen in the backdrop of the set.
The play is currently performing at various sites in the five boroughs including an upcoming collection of shows at Long Island University.
If you don’t know the story of the little town named Greenwood, it is a good time to find out.