Lynching the inspiration for 'Parade'

                    By Sandra C. Dillard
                    Denver Post Staff Writer

                    September 3, 2000 - The photos turn your stomach, and hurt
                    your heart. Yanked from America's shameful legacy, they go on
                    and on, page after hideous page of hangings, burnings,
                    castrations, and other maimings and mutilations in the book
                    "Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America" (Twin
                    Palms Publishers, $60).

                    The photos - most of them drawn from the collection of antique
                    collector and book co-author James Allen, and recently on exhibit
                    at the New York Historical Society, where they attracted huge
                    crowds - are from a bleak, dark chapter in American history:
                    Between 1882 and 1968, there were nearly 5,000 recorded
                    lynchings in the United States. Most of the victims were black,
                    including my own maternal greatgrandfather, who was lynched in
                    the late 1800s Deep South, not because he was accused of a
                    crime, but because a crowd of drunk, white Mississippians found
                    themselves in need of an evening's entertainment.

                    I didn't find Grandfather Jones' picture in the book that identified
                    victims by name, date and place, but there are plenty of others,
                    mostly black men, but some white men, one black woman, and
                    one white woman.

                    One of the white men was Leo Frank, a Jewish factory
                    superintendent convicted in 1913 of murdering 13-year-old Mary
                    Phagan, who had returned to the pencil factory (on her way to a
                    Confederate Memorial Day Parade) to get her pay.

                    Frank was convicted amid boiling anti-Semitic feeling, and when
                    Georgia's governor commuted his sentence to life without parole,
                    instead of death, an enraged mob dragged Frank from the prison,
                    and hanged him in front of a jubilant gathering of more than
                    6,000 men, women and children. The hanging inflamed yet more
                    anti-Semitic sentiment, and triggered a resurgence of the Ku Klux

                    The incident inspired playwright Alfred Uhry, himself an Atlanta
                    Jew who knew Frank's widow as a child, because she was a
                    friend of his grandmother. Uhry's works include "Driving Miss
                    Daisy" and "The Last Night of Ballyhoo," and he is the only person
                    ever to win a Pulitzer, an Oscar and a Tony. He searched his
                    community's past to write the acclaimed musical "Parade," which
                    will be presented at the Buell Theatre Sept. 12-24 on national
                    tour. (303-893-4100.)

                    The tragedy also inspired the drama "The Lynching of Leo Frank."
                    The season opener for the Theater in the Square in Marietta,
                    Ga., the play covers the murder, trial, conviction, death
                    sentence, the governor's commuting of the sentence (the
                    evidence against Frank was thin to nonexistent) and the resulting
                    angry lynching.

                    "Parade" director Hal Prince focuses less on the lynching and
                    more on the love story, as the accused man and his new bride
                    begin to know and love each other during his imprisonment.

                    But the Georgia production, staged in a former cotton warehouse
                    near Mary Phagan's grave, has stirred up lots of angry feeling in
                    Marietta (a suburb of Atlanta.) More fuel was added to the fire
                    by the recent posting on the Internet ( by
                    a Jewish research librarian of the names of the men involved in
                    the lynching - most of whose descendants still live in the area.

                    "Minstrel Show," yet another theatrical piece about a lynching,
                    will be presented by the award-winning TheatreWorks, in the
                    Dwire Theatre on the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs
                    campus, Sept. 22-Oct. 8. (719-262-3232)

                    "Minstrel Show" is the account - often in song and dance - of
                    two black minstrel players who were witnesses to a 1919 lynching
                    in Oma ha, Neb. A mob of 15,000 people charged the county
                    courthouse to get their hands on an African-American named
                    William Brown, who was accused of molesting a young white
                    woman. When the mayor tried to stop them, the crowd strung
                    him up, too, but he was cut down before he was killed.

                    Brown, however, was hanged; then his body was mutilated, shot,
                    burned, and finally dragged through the streets.

                    The Sept. 28 performance will take place on the 81st anniversary
                    of Brown's death, and will be a benefit for the Colorado Springs
                    chapter of the Urban League.

                    Murray Ross, the artistic director of TheatreWorks, said they
                    chose "Minstrel Show," by playwright Max Sparber, "because it
                    opens the door to a dark chapter in American history that only
                    recently have we begun to pay attention to.

                    "I also think it's more than just a race play, it's about mob
                    violence and hate-crime, both of which are still with us today.

                    "I also think is a brilliant play, that the playwright would apply
                    this comic form to this kind of tragic subject is completely unique,
                    and the result is a completely original history play." Roas said the
                    production "is essentially the same production that played in New
                    York; our cast features one of the original New York cast
                    members, and the original first alternate. We also have the
                    show's original director, Rob Urbinati." There are those who
                    believe it's best to let wounds heal and those who agree with
                    Marietta rabbi Steven L. Lebow, who was quoted in a Aug. 26
                    New York Times story about the Georgia controversy, as saying
                    such silence is "selfdefeating behavior, because silence always
                    encourages ignorance and bigotry." I agree with the rabbi. And
                    what better way than theater to illuminate the past, invigorate
                    thought and discussion in the present, and point a wiser path
                    toward the future?

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