Where were you when…

UD theatre presents “One Sunday in Birmingham”

By Janell R. Ward

Photo: Gloria Humphrey, who plays the lead role, and her mother Dalisse Humphrey, also a cast member; photo: James Wynn

It was a Sunday morning when four girls lost their lives. That morning, in 1963, the girls arrived at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama to worship in peace, but chaos struck when a bomb was set off by members of the Ku Klux Klan. The attack fueled a justice campaign in Birmingham that would reach across the United States. It has been 52 years since the fight for social justice began in Birmingham. This spring, the University of Dayton Theatre along with Hope Road Youth and Community Theatre will commemorate the historical movement through the play “One Sunday in Birmingham.”

“One Sunday in Birmingham” was written by Joyce A. Barnes, who directs the play and is also the Artistic Director of Hope Road Youth & Community Theatre. Her play tells the story of two occasions during the 1963 Civil Rights Movement including the story of the September bombing that took the lives of four teenage girls at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church. “One Sunday in Birmingham” also details the Children’s Campaign, during which more than 1,000 young people skipped school and led a march in Birmingham to show their support of political justice, in May and June of that same year.

The story is worth telling because the struggle continues; the war on injustice is far from over,” Barnes said. “Many people know little to nothing about the events of Birmingham 1963 and the people involved. Young people, any people, but especially young people, can not only learn about the Children’s Campaign but also witness how children – who look like them, who are their age – took action and changed their world.”

Carolyn Seymour, the assistant director of “One Sunday in Birmingham,” also noted the key role of the children in history, “What the children have done changed the face and culture of our nation,” she said.

The influence of “One Sunday in Birmingham” aims to kindle a continued passion for social justice. Stage Manager Katlyn King has learned the lesson first-hand.

“As a young white woman, I came into this production anxious to learn about the history but learn cultural differences while expanding my knowledge of the theatre industry,” King said. “The reward was so much more compelling. I gained a sense of strength and unity of those involved during this time and those who still face prejudice and hatred. It’s a story of empowerment, courage, fear and strength. This production not only recites the events but recreates every feeling: every tear the children cried in jail, every ‘battle cry’ the parents sang while their children were locked up and the fear and courage of the children who changed history forever.”

Not only will audiences watch history unfold in this play, but they will also be able to listen to the songs, chants and heartfelt shouts that were expressed during the civil rights movement including “99 ½ Won’t Do” and “I’m On My way to Freedom Land.”

“This is a multi-modal presentation including live music, dance, video and audio recordings,” Barnes said.

Seymour also spoke of the importance of the music: “The movement was rooted in song and chants. Many of these songs helped to maintain the motivation and purpose of the marchers.”

Local jazz pianist Khalid Moss will also contribute music to the play.

Key players in the Civil Rights Movement including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr; Fred Shuttlesworth, a Baptist Minister who fought against segregation; Diane Nash, a fearless leader in campaigns for justice; and many others will have roles in the play. The cast of the play includes several Dayton area school children.

“Each cast member was able to tell the story of their character so profoundly that you can’t help but get lost in every scene, holding onto every last word,” King said. “Some lines hit hard – real hard – and your heart can only ache for the pain they experienced.”

“One Sunday in Birmingham” not only displays how the community was joined together in the past, but Barnes hopes it speaks to how Dayton’s community can get involved right now.

“We hope the music, the speeches, the action and the energy of the play inspires audience members to participate, to ‘join the Movement,’ at least for the duration of the play,” Barnes said. “We hope they laugh, sing along, cry and cheer, and feel joy watching these energetic Dayton area school children march, chant, and sing on stage.”

University of Dayton theatre will present “One Sunday in Birmingham” will show at 8 p.m. Friday, Feb. 27 and Saturday, Feb. 28 at the Boll Theater in Kennedy Union located on the UD Campus at 300 College Park. General admission tickets are $12 and $7 for students, staff and faculty. For more information or to book tickets, please call 937.229.2545 or visit udayton.edu.

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