In honor of Black History Month, Charles Dumas, director of the Acting in Media program, presented a staged reading of his play, “A Visit with Mr. Justice Marshall on the 38th Anniversary of the Brown Decision” last Tuesday at the James E. Beasley School of Law.
Dumas, a graduate of Yale Law School, wrote the play to honor U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall and his involvement in the Brown v. Board of Education decision.
The landmark Supreme Court decision in 1954 dismantled the legal basis for segregation in schools and other public facilities and helped in creating educational and social reforms that many benefit from today.
The play, which first premiered at Yale Law School during the 25th reunion dinner of the class of 1979, portrays an interview between a young “Washington Post” reporter and the justice.
Valerie Harrison, an attorney for affirmative action in the Office of University Counsel, helped bring Dumas’ production to the university for Black History Month along with the Beasley School of Law, Temple Theater and Loaves and Fish Traveling Repertory, who produced the performance.
“This production was very detailed in terms of the history of the case. It taught a lot about how the case started … and it went behind what most people know and gave some insight of the strategists, the attorneys who were handling the case and also the justices,” Harrison said.
Dumas said he was inspired to write the play because of many students’ lack of knowledge about the case.
“A lot of times when things are close to us, we don’t know what it’s like outside. In the process of putting this together I was really surprised at how little is known about Brown,” Dumas said.
Junior theater major Meghan Johnsen, who plays the role of the “Washington Post” reporter, said being part of the production was a valuable learning experience.
“Unfortunately I wasn’t too familiar with [Marshall’s] story beforehand, so it was really great to learn about the case,” Johnsen said, adding that the play conveyed the importance of equality among races.
Dumas said the play is supposed to make the policies of the Brown v. Board of Education understandable to both students and faculty.
“I was one of those kids who went to an integrated school because of the Brown decision,” Dumas said.
Dumas said he also wanted to highlight Marshall because he is not in the “forefront” when students think about Black History Month.
“We all know about Martin Luther King and Malcolm X,” Dumas said. “But the people who trudged along and did stuff like work for the Supreme Court … I just wanted to make sure they get their just dues as well.”
Harrison said she credits her decision to become an attorney to the achievements of Marshall.
“When I was in law school, everyone wanted to be a civil rights lawyer because that was the model, an attorney who was not only legally sound but had a commitment to changing the social fabric of the United States,” Harrison said.
Dumas said the play publicized the importance of creating social transformation in today’s society.
“This man did more for bringing about change. Now it’s easy for us to say segregation is wrong, but in those days, segregation was right. [Marshall] kept fighting and used the tools of the very society … to bring about change for all of us,” Dumas said.
Brittany Diggs can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.