MLK play draws hundreds
Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday was celebrated this year in Polk County as in no other year.
“We Are the Dream,” a community play, brought races together and brought hundreds to see the work.
More than 200 people attended opening night at the Tryon Fine Arts Center on Friday, Jan. 14; a matinee was held on Saturday.
“We Are the Dream,” by Kathy Shultz-Miller, was directed by Marianne Carruth. The performance marked the first time King’s birthday has been celebrated with a play in the area.
Carruth helped open the play by quoting one of King’s messages, “Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”
Carruth said organizers had to have faith in the community, faith that the cast would come together and faith they could pull a choir together, all in the midst of the holidays, school closings and snow.
“It’s gone in some turns that couldn’t have been predicted when we took that first step,” said Carruth. “This show is not about rehearsal, not about perfection. It’s about faith and it’s about freedom and love and the message of Dr. King….This dream is for all of us. We are the dream.”
The play was told from the viewpoint of a girl, Julia, who was 10 years old in 1968.
Young Julia, played by Hannah Brown, and adult Julia, played by Mia Brown, told the story.
The play begins in 1968 in a classroom in the rural South. The children, played by Luke Umphlett, Regina Dotts, Eric Hanelson, Savanna McBurnett and Ryan Fox, are excited about an expected visit from the civil rights leader, King. The children do not realize that by the end of the week, King will not make his visit because he will be assasinated. They received the news at the end of the play from their teacher, Mrs. Williams, played by Mary Meyers.
The play goes back in time to when King was a boy and his friend, Billy, was no longer allowed to come out and play with him. King, played by Fox as a boy and by Roy Miller as an adult, later marries Coretta Scott, played by Michelle Miller.
Martin Luther King had to convince Scott to marry him and travel back to the South, despite her reluctance to leave Boston and return to a place where she was treated like she “wasn’t as good as the white girls.”
“Has anyone ever told you you are proud?” said Corretta Scott, played by Michelle Miller.
“Proud to be a man?” asked King, played by Roy Miller. “Proud to be an African-American? Proud to have a brilliant woman like you at my side? Guilty as charged.”
The play told the stories of Rosa Parks and Vivian Malone Jones as well as that of King. Parks, played by Sandy McDowell, refused to give up her seat on the bus. She battled with the bus driver, played by Ingrid Tart-Remington, and the sheriff, played by Jake Gilbert.
Jones, also played by Sandy McDowell, was one of the first African-American women to enroll at the University of Alabama in 1963. She was refused entrance by then Governor George Wallace, played by John Calure. President John F. Kennedy ordered guardsmen to escort her into the college.
Roy Miller recited several excerpts of King’s famous speeches throughout the play. He called for all African-Americans to stay off the buses following Parks’ news-making event and called for people to march on several occasions.King urged the black community to gain its freedom not by violence or breaking laws, but peacefully.
Roy Miller recited much of King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech, which was delivered on the steps at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. on Aug. 28, 1963.
“I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character,” Miller said as King.
“I have a dream today. I have a dream that one day the state of Alabama, whose governor’s lips are presently dripping with the words of interposition and nullification, will be transformed into a situation where little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls and walk together as sisters and brothers.
“When we let freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, ‘Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!’”
The production included the unity choir, directed by Dr. Joseph Fox, with the audience joining in singing many familiar songs, such as “My Lord, What a Morning,” “Oh Happy Day,” “Free at Last” and “We Shall Overcome.”
The play ended in a standing ovation from a hand-holding crowd and many hugs between a mix of people in the audience.
Thermal Belt Friendship Council Vice-President Donna Tatnall closed the program, thanking Carruth for delivering her dream.
Tatnall said she was 17 years old in 1968 during the events depicted in the production. She thanked the cast for “breaking my heart all over again.”
“Thresholds have been crossed, streets have been crossed and friendships have been made in a way they have never been done before,” said Tatnall. “And I think our little community will never be the same.”
The event was jointly sponsored by the Thermal Belt Friendship Council and the Tryon Fine Arts Center. The play was also partially sponsored by the Kirby Endowment Fund of the Polk County Community Foundation.