A busload of student actors, a noted playwright/actor, a civil rights historian, and several documentarians will be traveling to Mississippi over Spring Break (March 6-11) to present The Parchman Hour, an original play featuring the songs and stories of the 1961 Freedom Riders.
For the ’61 Freedom Rides, a group of mostly young people, black and white, came together from across the United States—leaving families, college campuses, and jobs—to travel by bus through the segregated Deep South. These acts of nonviolent direct action landed many of the riders in jail. Some were beaten and hospitalized. Some were sent to Parchman Penitentiary in Mississippi. The Parchman Hour brings to the stage powerful oral histories and conversations from the Freedom Rides’ most iconic protagonists and antagonists alike.
Based on interviews, newspaper accounts, documentary imagery, and other primary sources, The Parchman Hour is the outgrowth of a yearlong residency by actor and playwright Mike Wiley, a visiting professor at the Center for Documentary Studies (CDS) at Duke University in 2010. Wiley, whose plays include Dar He: The Story of Emmett Till; Tired Souls: The Montgomery Bus Boycott; and Brown v. Board of Education: Over Fifty Years Later, worked with students at Duke and at the University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill to research, write, and produce The Parchman Hour, deemed “world-class work” by the Independent Weekly when it debuted in December at UNC.
To commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the Freedom Rides, the Center for Documentary Studies, in partnership with Mike Wiley Productions and the Mississippi Conference of the United Methodist Church, is taking The Parchman Hour on a tour of Mississippi.
The Mississippi Conference of the United Methodist Church is hosting the tour in conjunction with a national gathering to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Freedom Rides. Performances will be held at the Jackson Convention Complex (March 6), Mississippi State University (March 7), Durant High School (March 9), Delta State University (March 10), and St. Luke’s United Methodist Church, Jackson (March 11). The trip also will include additional church and community events.
The crew traveling with the cast will include historian Timothy B. Tyson, author of the award-winning book Blood Done Sign My Name: A True Story, who helped produce the play; photographer Tom Rankin, director of the Center for Documentary Studies and a former faculty member at the University of Mississippi and Delta State University; and Charles D. Thompson, author, filmmaker, and faculty member at CDS.
Leading the tour will be playwright and actor Mike Wiley, who has more than twelve years of credits in theater, film, and television. Wiley’s work, including the theatrical adaptation of Blood Done Sign My Name by CDS Professor Tim Tyson, focuses on expanding cultural awareness through dynamic portrayals based on pivotal moments in African American history. In his work, Wiley hopes to unveil a richer picture of the total American experience. His expanding repertoire of original productions displays his acclaimed ability to bring to life multiple intertwined characters. The Parchman Hour is his newest production.
March 6, 2011 – 5 p.m.
Jackson Convention Complex
105 E. Pascagoula Street, Jackson
Reception after play
March 7, 2011 – 6:30 p.m.
Mississippi State University – Lee Hall
262 Lee Blvd., Starkville
March 9, 2011 – 10 a.m.
Durant High School
65 Madison Street, Durant
March 10 – 6:30 p.m.
Delta State University – Jobe Auditorium
1003 W. Sunflower Rd., Cleveland
March 11 – 6 p.m.
St. Luke’s United Methodist Church
621 Duling Ave., Jackson
PHOTOGRAPHS AND NOTES FROM MISSISSIPPI, MARCH 6–11
March 7: Mississippi State University | Starkville
“Continuing a tour of Mississippi, The Parchman Hour played to an audience of pastors, students, faculty, and the general public Monday night, March 7, at Mississippi State University in Starkville. After the show, the cast and audience engaged in conversation about the play and the history of the Freedom Rides. Soon after that the traveling troupe tore down the set, packed up, and made the dark trip from Starkville to Jackson, arriving at midnight.” - Tom Rankin
March 8: Jackson
“On Tuesday morning, March 8, the Reverend Ed King, Mississippi native, Methodist minister, and close confidant of Medgar Evers, led a tour of Jackson historical sites. Later in the afternoon he gave a brilliant presentation in the Tougaloo College Chapel, weaving stories with a deeply moving lyricism. Toward the end he read an Elizabeth Sewell poem, an ode to Tougaloo.” - Tom Rankin
March 9: Durant High School | Durant
“On Wednesday morning, The Parchman Hour crew went to Durant High School in Holmes County to perform a slightly abridged version of the play for middle- and high-school students. The high school in Durant, Mississippi is an old, historic structure, renovated many times since the original construction in the early 20th century. The history of the Freedom Rides and the larger context of the Civil Rights Movement seemed foreign to many of the students (though certainly not to the teachers and administrators), but as the play progressed the audience became increasingly engrossed with the music, history, and tension in the show.” -Tom Rankin
“Afterward the cast and crew left on the tour bus to find lunch in Durant. Tim and I headed by car to the Delta, driving through Lexington to Tchula, where we had our midday meal: fried chicken necks and Diet Coke. I photographed a church near Tchula that I like to re-visit and from there we drove to Greenwood. We visited Robert Johnson’s grave just north of Greenwood and then continued on to the Bryant store in Money, Mississippi. We stayed there for over an hour, Tim scribbling notes in his black journal and me trying to make pictures. While slowly circling the store, Tim noticed a beautifully simple bouquet of wild flowers left for Emmett Till—or were they left for someone else?—at what would have been the front porch and door to the building. What had previously seemed an abandoned but haunting ruin now took on a spirit of communal presence and deep memory, our visit clearly intersecting with other reverent pilgrims. With the gray afternoon leaning to a close, we loaded up and drove down Highway 49 through Yazoo City and on to Jackson for the night.” -Tom Rankin
MORE INFORMATION ABOUT THE PARCHMAN HOUR
Review of The Parchman Hour in The Herald-Sun
Review of The Parchman Hour in The Independent
Hear Mike Wiley and Bill Svanoe on WUNC
Read more about The Parchman Hour
Contact: Lynn McKnight / firstname.lastname@example.org
Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University