Blues for Mister Charlie is based on the case of Emmett Till, a young black man who was murdered in Mississippi in 1955 for allegedly whistling at a white woman. The murderer was subsequently acquitted. The play is cyclical in its structure, opening and ending with the killing of Richard while occasionally utilizing a series of flashbacks to establish the reasons for Richard’s death. This structure allows for a focus on issues such as race, sex, and Christianity.
With Richard’s murder established at the very beginning, the action switches to show Richard’s father, Meridian, and a group of black students demonstrating in protest of the murder. Parnell James, the editor of the local newspaper, interrupts with the news that a warrant has been issued for Lyle Britten’s arrest.
Caught between his desire for justice and his friendship for Lyle, Parnell runs off to alert Lyle of the impending arrest. With Parnell’s assurance that he will “never turn against” his friend, Lyle is confident that he will not be convicted. After all, Lyle says, Richard was “a northern nigger” who “went north and got ruined” and came back to the South “to make trouble.”
Lyle’s stereotypical racist interpretation of Richard’s behavior is underlined in the first of a series of flashbacks in the play. Richard appears talking to his father and his grandmother soon after he has returned from New York. Richard is bitter with hatred for whites; he has no tolerance for Christianity, and he is impatient with the powerlessness that his father exhibits. What is more, he has a gun.
Richard next appears at Papa D’s juke joint, where Richard publicly boasts about...
(The entire section is 697 words.)