Civil Rights Theater Of 1950S Essay Research

Civil Rights: Theater Of 1950S Essay, Research Paper

The 1950s was the time that Civil Rights issues were coming

to a head. African Americans were making bold steps

forward, becoming heard and becoming seen. Unfortunately,

many Whites resisted these steps forward, refused to hear

and recognize these invisible men. People s ignorance

closed the doors of opportunity to many well-qualified and

deserving Black people. Even though many laws were passed,

the South was predominantly and publicly against integration

and the North was secretly racist and openly opposed. More

than laws had to change in American society. America s eyes

were soon wide open to the injustices that happened

everyday, all over the country. The social upheaval of the

1950s took place, not only on the streets, the court-rooms,

and in the home, but in the theater as well. While Civil

Rights were finally coming in to the public eye through the

new television media, play-writes pushed the issue further,

putting racial stereotypes and discrimination in the

forefront of their plays.

The inspiration for plays such as Member of the

Wedding, Trouble in Mind, A Medal for Willie, and Raisin in

the Sun came from the everyday living conditions that

America had been turning a blind eye to. The public was

desegregated through Supreme Court rulings starting with

Brown vs. The Board of Education. Brown vs. The Board of

Education decision said that segregated schools were

unconstitutional. This decision was practically impossible

to enforce on the Southern States that held that the

decision to segregate, or to DEsegregate for that matter,

was completely up to the State. The most severe show of

resistance was in Little Rock, Arkansas, where Governor

Orval Faubus was openly against nine high achieving Black

students entering all-white Little Rock Central High School.

The resistance was so, that Governor Faubus announced that

the students would have neither protection from the mobs of

White segregationists, nor would they have support from the

State. On the students second attempt to enter the High

School, Governor Faubus called in the National Guard to turn

them away with bayonets. President Eisenhower, after much

deliberation with the Governor, sent in Federal Troops to

escort the youths to and from school, as well as class to

class for four months. The next school year, Governor Faubus

closed all the public schools, and White students attended

Private Schools .

The KKK became very active, spreading violence and fear

throughout Black communities. Burning crosses, marches,

demonstrations and lynching ravaged the South. Blacks were

lynched for the most menial of infractions, if you could

call them that. Emmitt Till was beaten and drowned in the

Tallahatchie River. His body, found days later, was barely

recognizable. His crime was allegedly flirting with a White

woman. The two White men were identified and put on trial.

Testimony from his Uncle who saw the men take Emmitt from

his house, evidence of the cotton gin fan and other

obviously incriminating evidence was obviously not enough

for the men to be convicted. They confessed, or rather

bragged, about the murder months later. In other

communities, Whites spoke out against the arrival of Black

families. But somehow progress was being made. Slowly but

surely, the television screens lit up the eyes of America as

to what was REALLY going on.

The movie Member of the Wedding touches lightly on

several race issues. Censorship was running rampant thorough

Hollywood and much of the script was horribly altered. In

the original play, the old Black man corrects the young

Black man when he response harshly to Frankie s father.

Frankie s father then rips into the two of them, telling

them how they should respect White men and how stepping out

of line could be very dangerous. Later in the play, the

young Black man is thrown in jail for fighting with a White

man and while in jail commits suicide by hanging himself.

And, of course, there s the stereotypical Aunt Jemima

character. The big Black mothering slave who hands out

candid sage advise. What is actually seen in the movie is

toned down considerably and the issues are lost amidst the

tidal waves of McCarthyistic censorship.

Trouble in Mind takes the Black aspect of Wedding and

makes it into a full length play within a play. Civil Rights

and stereotypes are talked about by a Black woman play-write

named Alice Childress. She addresses almost every aspect of

the Black movement at the time. Childress writes in a

wonderfully casual and free-flowing manner, overlapping

conversation and using stereotypes to their fullest.

Through these stereotypes, Childress is able to show many

different views of Civil Rights through the eyes of the

people that Civil Rights was all about. But she did not

limit her play to Blacks talking about Blacks. In Trouble

she makes the White people the minority in their little

studio world. Childress provides classical characters and

through dialog with other characters, shows the audience why

they are thinking what they are thinking.

Another play that uses stereotypes to make a point is A

Medal for Willie. Medal, however, focuses more on

segregation and separate but equal issues. A town prepares

for a distinguished Army General to present Willie s mother

with a medal of honor because Willie died in combat. In this

play we see how the cycle is perpetuated through ignorance,

fear, and complacency. Willie s mother breaks the mold in

the end by not accepting the medal and refusing to read the

pre-written speech that she was told to read.

Lorraine Hansberry s Raisin in the Sun brought an even

more intimate look at a struggling Black family. This was a

typical, hard-working, honest family that just wanted the

American Dream: They wanted a house of their own. They

wanted their dreams of stability to come true. They wanted a

better life and they knew that they deserved it. This look

at African American life took the theaters by storm. Not

only was the cast all Black, but so was the director, and

the crew, and even the producers. Raisin was one of the

most influential plays about Civil Rights ever because of

what it said as a play and because of how it was produced.

It really brought Black play-writes, women, and actors into

the hearts of indifferent, uninvolved Americans.

The 1950s was certainly an age of racial enlightenment.

Besides the Cold War, the nuclear arms race, McCarthy s Red

Scare, the space race and the Korean War, Civil Rights was

literally next-door. It was something that many people

thought that they did not have to be involved in because it

did not affect them. People, and by people I mean White

people were more than willing to stay uninvolved because

becoming involved would say something about them. Whether it

was standing up to let a tired Black woman have a seat on

the bus, or speaking out against schools that refused to

desegregate, people were content to sit back and watch their

commercials and think, Thank God I don t have to deal with

that. These movies and plays showed the American public

that they DID have to deal with Civil Rights. That their

voice DID make a difference. That saying nothing was just

as harmful as supporting segregation. Truly, It was the

best of times, it was the worst of times, and America was

waking up.


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