From bus boycotts to lunch counter sit-ins, a free musical drama that unfolded Monday afternoon at The Commons summarized much of the civil rights movement and its charismatic leader, the late Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
Local students among about 85 people in attendance for the presentation of “Struggle For Freedom” mentioned that their school classes have dovetailed nicely with the two-person, multi-character presentation by North Carolina’s Bright Star Touring Theatre.
But for some, learning has extended far beyond the classroom.
CSA Lincoln Campus first-grader Sam Bosley excitedly talked about his visit last year to Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. King ministered there from from 1954 to 1960. The church, now a National Historic Landmark, figured into part of the narration of “Struggle For Freedom” that set up King’s bursting onto the scene of the civil rights movement shortly after Rosa Parks refused to give up her public bus seat to whites in December 1955.
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“One thing I’d hope people would take away with them (from the show) is that the environment of racism was so real,” actress Samantha Eyler said. “We’ve of course come a long way now. But we still have a long way to go.”
Northside Middle School eighth-grader Isaac McCray said he learned much of his history of King during fifth and sixth grade. He mentioned that the 45-minute drama’s moral for him made the trip to The Commons worthwhile during a day off from formal classroom learning.
“I liked the lesson that it taught us all — that you can be one to help change things, no matter who you are,” McCray said.
The show, organized by the Columbus Area Arts Council with the support of the city of Columbus and the local African-American Fund, presented that lesson straightforwardly on a stage with a single, spartan backdrop. The story showed King as a human figure who never quite planned to lead a movement, even a spiritual one. The script included the aside that King initially told people he wanted to avoid the ministry path his father had followed.
But the production showed how the civil rights movement of the South eventually brought change to the entire nation, and finally made King an international figured revered by many although also hated by some. He became Time magazine’s Man of the Year in 1963 and the Nobel Peace Prize winner in 1964. But his home was also bombed several times.
Actor Guillermo Jemmott told the crowd afterward that one part of the play is especially important for him.
“I would want people to take away that you should never stop fighting for what you believe in,” Jemmott said. “And we have to remember that all of us can do our part (to bring needed change about racial relations). In fact, being here today is an example of a good first step.”