A two-act play, In White America is divided into the century prior to the American Civil War and the century that followed the war’s end. In epic style, it depicts the struggles of pre-Civil War abolitionist movements, the era of Reconstruction, early twentieth century racism and segregation, and the Civil Rights movement. As the curtain opens a white man reads the date from a newspaper (January 12, 1964) as the pros and cons of racial integration are debated among three black and three white characters. The opening scene concludes with the white man predicting violence and a black woman singing “Oh Freedom.”
The play then begins its chronological story, drawing its text and characters from historical documents that the playwright notes are paraphrased only “where a word or two was absolutely necessary for clarity or transition.” The action starts with African American slaves aboard a slave vessel in the mid-eighteenth century as the ship’s doctor describes the horrid conditions faced by slaves during the Middle Passage. The horrific conditions described prompt a late seventeenth century Quaker woman to call for the abolition of the trade, while two congressmen debate the pros and cons of the petition. Although the petition is tabled by Congress, the audience watches Thomas Jefferson reflect on the issues involved and the place of African Americans in American life. He predicts that the hour of emancipation is approaching but concludes that the inferiority of blacks makes it impossible to govern them in the same manner as whites.
The living conditions of African American slaves, along with their worldview and their aspirations, are revealed in a number of slave interviews and letter exchanges between escaped slaves and their former masters. A white minister from Canterbury, Connecticut, Samuel May, describes one racist treatment of free blacks in the North: They are denied any form of organized schooling. Court statements by Nat Turner and John Brown, two eighteenth century men who used violence to fight slavery, are included in act 1, as are the statements of Sojourner Truth, an illiterate former slave who, in 1851, tied the antislavery...
(The entire section is 894 words.)