A Close-up Look at ‘The Good Negro’

 Yetide Badki (l.), Christoff Lombard and Rodger Bridges are part of a stellar cast in the stage play, "The Good Negro." Photo Credit: Ian Foxx
Yetide Badki (l.), Christoff Lombard and Rodger Bridges are part of a stellar cast in the stage play, “The Good Negro.” Photo Credit: Ian Foxx

HOLLYWOOD-The Civil Rights Movement brought a lot of victories in the struggle for equality for African Americans. Without the relentless push of the civil rights movement, voting rights would still be voidable to the oppressed few. Without dignitaries and common folk coming together in the pursuit of the American dream, segregation would still be alive to benefit those at the top of the social order in the United States.

The Civil Rights Movement meant a coalition of justice seekers being incarcerated, beaten or murdered just for standing up to Jim Crow racism and all of its wicked philosophy and teachings.  The terror of hooded-men breaking the night’s silence with guns and a rope was not a fictionalized novel. Fighting for equal citizenship for African Americans usually meant societal scorn, bombings, brutal beatings, being lynched or worst, death.

Capturing the essence of that particular era can be a trying task for any acting ensemble to tackle. Tracy Scott Wilson’s “The Good Negro,” directed by Michael Phillip Edwards and produced by Sam Nickens, plays on that era with a conviction that resonates. Set in the background of Birmingham, Alabama in 1962, “The Good Negro,” which has enjoyed a spectacular run at the Hudson Mainstage Theatre in Hollywood, makes you think that you’re right there smack in the South living the struggle.

When it came to deep-rooted racism, the state of Alabama became center stage with the national spotlight looking down upon it. And with it came the uncovering of all kinds of human rights abuses. Alabama was the last state in the union to integrate its universities and college institutions.

All one have to do is examine the intense standoff between President John Kennedy and then Alabama Gov. George Wallace, who threatened to even stand in the entrance doorway of the University of Alabama to block any such actions.

Actor Tyson Turrou in "The Good Negro. Photo Credit: Ian Foxx
Actor Tyson Turrou in “The Good Negro. Photo Credit: Ian Foxx

The famous Montgomery Boycott that derailed the city’s public transportation system took place in Alabama. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. led the march on Selma, Alabama to protest African Americans being denied the right to vote Of course, Birmingham, Alabama’s largest city, was Ground Zero when it came to denial of equal opportunity and restriction of freedom for African Americans.

Hope and change was often times met with the ravaging of flesh by police dogs and being bombarded with pressured water streams gushing out from a fireman’s waterhose. And who can forget King’s famous “Letter from Birmingham Jail” letter the civil rights leader wrote while behind bars.

All this history brings us to the examination of the powerful journey that “The Good Negro” is able to take us on.  The gist of the stage play is somewhat similar with the storyline encompassing the life of a civil rights leader who battles to keep his internal demons of lust from overtaking what is the good fight against open bigotry and unjust oppression.

The story begins simple enough with a black woman (Keiana Richard) doing the unthinkable and going into a ‘Whites Only’ restroom to accommodate her four-year daughter.

She’s beaten and then arrested for breaking the law. Her saving grace would later become her curse in the form of a magnetic preacher (Rodger Bridges) who has a lot more to offer than his gift of gab. As he put a move on Claudette, Richard’s character, Bridges (playing the fictional role of Rev. James Lawrence) must unify the people around him amid  internal conflict in order to keep the movement going forward, be a family man-all the while trying to eradicate the persistent racism that permeates the very society that has ostracized people that look like him.

With the backdrop of the FBI lurking about and listening in on the civil rights leader, ”The Good Negro” has a story that many of us are all familiar with as it correlates the action of the movement’s leaders and their flaws. As it moves with certain concepts reflecting the Civil Rights Movement, “The Good Negro” is a masterpiece theatrical production that gives a hard-hitting look at the suffering of African Americans during a time period in which being black meant living in fear and walking around with a great dose of self-deprivation.

White supremacy was in its prime. Beatings and death became synonymous with the civil rights movement. The vigilante bunch of Night Riders brought terror. Watching Tyson Turrou play a down on the farm, backwater racist with easy aplomb, “The Good Negro” cuts through the pretense and invites the audience to take a seat to history.

“The Good Negro” is a strong reminder of how the consciousness of America was buried in the darkness of oppression before it was awaken to the reality that true freedom is not subjective to one race. It is a universal privilege.

 

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