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A Response to the Last Emancipation Review

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While Cheryl Brown is a patriotic soldier and loyal gatekeeper in the preservation of Black History she seems to be much too jumpy and trigger happy to be given a rifle in the future. In the July 29, 2010 edition of the Black Voice News, she put me, the writer of “The Last Emancipation,” in the scope of her literary rifle and fired – Bang! Someday history will reveal whether she succeeded in shooting an enemy, a comrade, or shooting herself in the foot. A writer named Barbara Jenkins submitted a review of the first production of “The Last Emancipation,” which was published in the Black Voice News on August 7, 2008. The headline read: “Five Thumbs up for The Last Emancipation.” The second production, two years later, was better than the first according to many people in the audience who saw the first production. However, Mrs. Cheryl Brown didn’t see the first show two years ago, and from her commentary last week, it appears she missed the second one as well even though she was present in the theater. The headline of Mrs. Brown’s commentary dated 7/29/10 read: “How Dare You Last Emancipation – We Must Not Support Buffoonery.” Read both articles online at: www.blackvoicenews.com Type Barbara Jenkins’ name in search box to access her article.

“Welcome to The Emancipation Train. You’re about to take a journey back in history. I’m taking you back beyond your childhood, beyond the childhood of your parents and grandparents. We’re going back to only a few decades following slavery. Look and listen as this train journeys along the track of injustice and the struggles of a few unsung heroes in their fight for equality.”

The above passage was the monologue that opened the play, “The Last Emancipation”, at The Lewis Family Playhouse in Rancho Cucamonga on June 21 & 22, 2010. I, as the conductor, clearly and loudly announced my intentions to take the theatergoers on an imaginary journey back in history only a few decades following slavery. I asked everyone to look and listen. Unfortunately, Cheryl Brown co-publisher of the Black Voice News was so infuriated by some of the sensitive scenes that she didn’t clearly hear the dialogue and abandoned the objectivity required for any journalist. Evidence of Cheryl Brown’s failure to listen to some of the dialogue became apparent as she expressed her great disgust with me over the telephone about the way the character Mary McLeod Bethune was dressed during the court scene – in a pant outfit instead of a dress as Mrs. McLeod would surely have worn. I interrupted and asked, “Besides the clothes do you agree with what the Bethune character had to say?” The reply was something to the effect that she didn’t hear what was said because she was too upset by that time after having seen Mary McLeod Bethune inappropriately dressed. For the record, I agree with Mrs. Brown on that issue – and I apologize for that wardrobe oversight. However, Mrs. Bethune’s words were powerful, intelligently presented, and revealed useful and little known information about history such as the reason whites referred to older Blacks as “aunts” and “uncles” instead of Mrs. or Mister. It was also uncovered during Bethune’s testimony many of her notable accomplishments.

Regarding the courtroom scene, Mrs. Brown, in her commentary indicated that the entire courtroom scene was inappropriate because African Americans were not allowed to testify in court during those days. Mrs. Brown further asserted that “The Last Emancipation” made Booker T. Washington look like a sellout. A poem called “Booker T. & W.E.B.” by Dudley Randall written in 1929 opened up the courtroom scene and enlightened the audience of the social views of Washington and Dubois. Everyone should read this historical poem, which is an accurate glimpse of the adversarial relationship between Washington and Dubois. The Washington character was a defense attorney with an unpopular client who was white.

Washington’s role as a defense attorney was to attack the claim of a popular character, Aunt Jemmy aka Aunt Jemima who was suing the pancake company to have her image removed from the pancake box. Of course a nearly all Black audience favored Aunt Jemmy and was against Washington and his client; however, it was Washington who pointed out some very meaningful historical facts during the trial. Washington pointed out that it was characters such as Uncle Tom in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s 1852 novel, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” that exposed slavery as the horror it really was and lead to the war that ended slavery.

And there were several other interesting nuggets of history presented by Washington, which the DVD will reveal.

Personally, I prefer to form a union rather than a tit-for-tat challenge. It would be great if all socially conscious citizens, civic groups, and educators united to emancipate the slave images from the products.

Mrs. Brown greatest complaint was with the fictional symbol of “Uncle Tom”.

Mrs. Brown is proud to be acquainted with the real life family of Josiah Henson, the ex-slave that inspired the novel “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” Therefore, when the name or memory of the fictional Uncle Tom was used satirically in my play, Mrs. Brown’s compassion lied with the real life person - Josiah Henson – and she tossed a Molotov cocktail at the conductor… However, my play had nothing to do with Josiah Henson. It’s highly unlikely that anyone in the theater, except Mrs. Brown, and her passengers on Brown’s annual Underground Railroad Trip who can’t separate satire from reality, thought of Josiah Henson during the brief Uncle Tom appearance.

The Uncle Tom in the play was a symbol of unwarranted loyalty and obedience from a Black man to an undeserving white man/woman or job. In the book “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” Uncle Tom died before slavery ended. In real life the exslave Josiah Henson died in 1883 before Aunt Jemima Pancake mix was created in 1893. Therefore, it was impossible for Josiah Henson to be the imaginary figure in the courtroom scene, Uncle Tom was merely a symbol of oppression. All of the other characters in the courtroom scene would have been alive in 1897. In the play, the mythical Uncle Tom was a sharecropper because slavery was over. However, he still stayed on the plantation without pay through trickery by the landowner. Uncle Tom testified in court, three decades after slavery ended, that he thought he was still a slave. And yes, the symbol of Uncle Tom was an intentional buffoon in this play; however, another buffoon was the character, R. T. Davis, the white owner of the pancake mix. For the record, there’s a buffoon (clown) or two in most comedic plays.

The slideshow showing characters in blackface and Black characters on commercial products also offended Mrs. Brown. I suppose this is the root of her reducing the entire play as buffoonery. However the slideshow of offensive characters on products during the post slavery era was part of the journey the conductor told the audience that they would be taking. That so-called offensive slideshow was countered at the end of the play by an updated and very positive slideshow. The updated version displayed a sample of many accomplished African Americans and reminded the audience that we really have come a long way.

The updated version aptly ended with an image of President Obama and his family.

Unfortunately, Mrs. Brown was too indignant to appreciate the real message of the play. Prior to the play, few people in the audience had ever given serious thought as to why the images of Aunt Jemima, The Cream of Wheat Man, and Uncle Ben are still on the boxes of products after all these years. The larger message is that people, especially African Americans in the limelight today, are being swindled in their contracts just like our early luminaries. Few people knew The Cream of Wheat Man’s real name was Frank L. White. Nor did they know that Mr. White died in 1938 and was without a name on his tombstone for 69 years - this is also Black history. Few people knew that Uncle Ben now has a website and is called Chairman Ben. The message to the audience via Uncle Ben was not to get too impressed with job titles but to become a person of true significance. In my opinion, Mrs. Brown missed the essence of “The Last Emancipation” as she also likely missed or overlooked the standing ovation and many people saying throughout the lobby that “The Last Emancipation” was the best play they ever saw".

Such accolades to both performances and also the debut performance two years ago leads me to conclude that Mrs. Brown believes that the 1,600 + theatergoers who loved the play were lacking in racial pride and were amiss in their obligation to become enraged. Mrs. Brown was a one-woman firing squad on “The Last Emancipation,” in her newspaper commentary, without interviewing one person in the theater or acknowledging the rave reviews on the lips of hundreds of others.

I feel compelled to propose an open forum with an unbiased audience with the common interest of ridding the play of any harmful misrepresentation of African American History or their icons. In closing, I challenge Cheryl Brown to a panel discussion following a public DVD viewing of “The Last Emancipation,” at a church, community center, or library. If she accepts, the details will be publicly announced. Everyone is welcome to attend and participate. Finally, Mrs. Brown stated that she hopes I scrap the play or get some help from the professionals at Cal State San Bernardino or University of California Riverside to do it right. Well, the fact is, I received valuable advice from theatrical professionals at both universities and neither one had any objections to the portrayal of the historical characters. Each of the professionals, and Cheryl Brown knows who they are, advised me to add more conflict, and to show and not tell the action.

The two professionals also suggested that I had too many typos and the script was not professionally written and in such form would not be read by a professional theatrical director; however, the plot had potential.

Imagine that! Here’s a good play with a strong social message and these scholarly robots were more concerned with the packaging rather than the content. Nevertheless, upon improvement of the manuscript, I was blessed and highly favored to have had the play read and accepted by director Rev. Bronica Martindale and producer Tammy Martin- Ryles of Brota Productions who saw beyond my lack of stage writing protocol and saw the talent. Thank God, I’m truly grateful. It’s a good thing multimillionaire, darn near billionaire, high school dropout, later earned a GED, playwright Tyler Perry didn’t wait on approval from the scholarly university robots or he would still be sleeping in his car.

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