Obscure play about racism comes to Southampton Elementary School

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An obscure stage play written in 1955 by the late actor and civil rights activist Ossie Davis is coming to Southampton Elementary School today, Thursday, April 17, at 6 p.m.

“The People of Clarendon County” chronicles a group of black parents in Clarendon County, South Carolina, who filed the first legal challenge to segregation in public schools, a case which was later merged with four others by Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall to become Brown v. Board of Education. In that landmark case, the court ruled that the policy of “separate but equal” was unconstitutional, thus ending segregation.

Mr. Davis’s play was first performed in New York at the Health and Hospital Workers Union in 1955 and starred the playwright, his wife, Ruby Dee, and Sidney Poitier. The play was rediscovered in 2004 by New York ?columnist Alice Bernstein while she was researching black culture. Ms. Bernstein, who ?came to know Mr. Davis through her work as a journalist, edited the play to include authentic photos and documents depicted in the drama. Her book, “The People of Clarendon County,” is the newest release by Third World Press in Chicago, a black-owned publishing house celebrating its 40th anniversary.

The revival of the play began with the launch of Ms. Bernstein’s book in November 2007 at the Harlem School in New York City. At the performance, Ms. Dee spoke about the play’s history and her late husband’s desire for it to serve as a learning tool for children. In the audience listening to Ms. Dee was Bertha Richard, principal of Southampton Elementary School, who was so moved by the play she decided to bring it to her school.

Ms. Bernstein said she made a promise to Mr. Davis, who passed away in 2005, to use his play as a means to teach children history, drama, and the answer to racism.

School officials are recommending those interested in attending the play make reservations by calling (641) 715-3900, ext.: 2246161#. There is no charge for tickets.

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