Monday, October 21, 2013

Jubilee in the Rear View Mirror

The above is the title of a play by a quite unknown playwright. He wrote to me this past week and he got my attention. I’m intrigued by the work and want to know more about it.
by Charlie Leck

Garrett Mathews is a retired newspaper reporter. In retirement, he polished a two act play he had been working on. It, Jubilee in the Rear View Mirror, ran last year in Evansville. Well, that Indiana city would not be called one of the great centers of live theater, but it’s worth learning a bit about Mathews and his play anyway – especially, I think, it you have lingering curiosities about the southern civil rights movement in 60s.

I’m intrigued by what I’ve read about the play. For starters here’s what a local paper in Evansville wrote about it before its opening

“The drama is set in the fictional town of Jubilee, Miss., during Freedom Summer when hundreds of activists headed South to register African-American voters and to desegregate schools, bus stations and businesses. Beatings and arrests were common. The Montgomery, Ala.-based Southern Poverty Law Center lists more than 40 murders during the 1950s and ‘60s, including several at the hands of local law enforcement.
In the play, a young black civil rights worker from the North finds himself in a cell with a white racist who is behind bars for beating his wife,’ Mathews says. ‘The background comes from dozens of interviews I conducted with men and women of both races who risked their lives to challenge the deeply-rooted segregationist social and political structure in the South in the 1960s.
Before pressure was brought to bear, black children in department stores were not allowed to try on new shoes,’ Mathews goes on. ‘Salesmen traced the edges of their old shoes onto butcher paper and fetched an approximate fit from inventory. Many African-Americans who attempted to vote were fired from their jobs by white employers. Some had their homes fire-bombed by the Ku Klux Klan.’”

Mathews has read several of my blogs about my own experiences in Mississippi in 1964. He thought I might be interested in his work

One thing he said grabbed my attention…
In the theatre, the audience was divided into white and colored sections in order to set a mood for the play itself. Wow! That would have grabbed my attention had I been there.

Here’s something else Matthews told me in his letter; and I think you might be interested…

“For our educational pre-show, we videotaped African-Americans in Evansville and Greenwood, Miss., who talk about living under segregation until the movement took root. The two 28-minute DVDs are on YouTube at I hope you'll want to spread the word about them (The Greenwood piece includes a reading of a deposition filed by June Johnson after she was brutally beaten in Winona, Miss.) The idea was to immerse the play's audience in the time period. We showed the DVDs before the performance, at intermission and at the end after the cast fielded questions.”

I’m posting the two videos here so you may watch them if you like. The information is pretty basic for most of us who went through the era, but I can see how it would be surprising material for young people. Mathews said in his note to me that “…few young people have more than a second grade knowledge of the civil rights movement.” That’s sad, but quite true.

It appears that the play is going to be staged in Indianapolis in 2014. I’ve asked Mathews to keep me posted about this possibility. I’d like to go down there to see it.

Mathews is a graduate of Virginia Tech. He’s written a number of books. He, like most of us who worked on civil rights in the 60s, is a grandparent now. As a newspaper man he wrote more than 6500 columns. His work makes me curious. I may try to learn more about him.


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