Editor's note: This story was written as a part of the Observer's Explorer Post program, which gives high school students the chance to learn about journalism.
East Mecklenburg HIgh got to see a glimpse of the past recently when the school’s drama department presented plays about the Civil Rights Movement on March 12.
The performances, themed Women in the Civil Rights: Unsung Heroes, featured three women who were active during the Civil Rights Movement: Barbara Cross, Shirley Cherry and Dorothy Counts-Scoggins.
The three women retold their lives to the staff and students at East Meck. The students also shared the story of these women through plays they wrote, directed and acted in. They came together to spread the message of love.
“So long as there is breath in my body, I will spread the message of love and nonviolence,” Cherry said, “because we cannot forget the injustices in our past.”
The night began with the poem “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” performed by senior Yvonya White.
The first play presented was “Carry You to Freedom,” which was written and directed by junior Grant Cunningham. The play was about two slaves, a young man and woman, who wanted to run away to freedom.
They were helped by the daughter of their master. Like the song sung to them, the couple found their way through the drinking gourd, the Big Dipper constellation. Although, they were captured and killed at the end, the play helped portray the struggles slaves dealt with and how freedom was not easily gained. Cunningham also co-directed “Matriarchy” with Katie Otto.
“(Directing) put me in a leadership role that I had only had once before,” Cunningham said. “Though at times it was frustrating. But all in all, it went pretty well.”
Another play portrayed the life of Counts-Scoggins, who was one of the first four black students to integrate schools in Charlotte. The play shows how Counts-Scoggins was treated on her first day at Harding High School. While at Harding, Counts was bullied both physically and emotionally by white students.
One thing the play didn’t show, however, was the violence and hatred Counts-Scoggins experienced as she entered the school. Her father had to park a few blocks away because the streets were lined with people protesting against her arrival.
Counts-Scoggins did manage to become friends with someone, but that didn’t last long because her friend was threatened over their friendship.
“One day I was walking down the hallway and she suddenly dropped her head and ignored me,” Counts-Scoggins said. “She didn’t have to tell me why, I knew. She emailed me to apologize and explain herself a few years ago, but I already knew.”
The performance ended with her leaving the school to attend boarding school.
“(The plays) were very creative,” said Cross, a survivor of the Birmingham church bombing, “You get the feeling, and you get to see the enactment, of what hatred does.”
One of the most memorable performances was that of senior Karl Lewis who sang “Amazing Grace.” Lewis, along with senior Stephen Meekins on acoustic guitar, left the stage with the audience giving them a standing ovation.
The event was organized by Social Studies teacher Lawrence Bosc and drama teacher Catherine Metz.
“I thought the plays were wonderful,” Cross said. “One thing I like about theater and poetry is that it shows what the past looks like on stage. People can realize how ugly it was ... and we don’t want to go back.”
Said one of the actors, freshman Leo Merrik, “It’s great to have been part of something so great. I’ll definitely never forget.”