“Little Rock, The Play” – Reflections by Estella Pate
August 17, 2018 photo, taken in Little Rock, AR,
of Rev. Dr. Richard Sturm and Grace and Preston Davis,
former members of The Park and sister and brother-in-law
of Thelma Mothershed-Wair, one of the Little Rock Nine
This past Wednesday evening, August 29, 2018, 9 participants in the SoulFood Fellowship and their guests attended the play “Little Rock” at the Sheen Center. It was an incredible experience – the actors, the play, the fear, the hatred.
Written and directed by Rajendra Ramoon Maharaj and performed by a cast of 13 incredibly talented young actors – who could also sing – it brought to life the horror and fear those incredible students faced. Nine of them, young African American high school age students, wanting nothing more than an education and the right to have the best education they could receive. It started with their hopes and dreams and moved rapidly into hate, racism, fear and despair. And integration.
I read about the Little Rock Nine – in 1957 I was in Junior High in Tucson, Arizona – but in all honesty it meant nothing to me. It was an assignment for a class. After all, I lived in the middle of the desert in a purely white neighborhood and went to an all-white school – at least I think it was – I didn’t have an African American acquaintance until I was in college – and we quickly moved from acquaintanceship to friendship – she had a great sense of humor, was highly intelligent and we worked together on theory and listening assignments. We were also in the same national music honorary. We didn’t discuss racism – and the only time I remember acknowledging the difference between us (skin wise) was when I asked her why her eyes were blue, if her hair was naturally straight and did she get sunburned…but we never discussed hatred or racism. At that time and that place it was not part of our lives.
The above is what seeing this play did to me – it brought back memories – or the lack of memories – made me realize that I had never known the hatred that was expressed towards those kids. I had such a hard time that night dealing with what was taking place on the stage – made all the more horrific because I knew it was not a figment of the author’s imagination – it was based on real life events. Real hatred, real racism.
I am absolutely in awe of the black actors who were on the receiving end of the vitriol that spewed from the mouths of the angry white actors – young and old – who did not want these young people in their school or mixing with their children and had no qualms about expressing their hatred in incredible terms. And then there were the white actors – playing parents, school and government officials and members of the National Guard and the media. Even though it was a play – how did they feel about what they were saying – in learning their lines, in rehearsals and finally production? I don’t think I could have done it.
As I said at the beginning – it was an incredible experience – one that I am so glad I had the opportunity to see but one that I am so sorry had to have happened to those nine young people.
Director of the PACC Recorder Consort
Member of The Park since 1979