WMU News

Von Washington play selected for civil rights anniversary

Jan. 7, 2005

KALAMAZOO--A Western Michigan University theatre professor's play about civil rights pioneer Rosa Parks has been picked to help commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

"Rosa Parks--More than a Bus Story" by Dr. Von Washington, director of multicultural theatre at WMU, will be staged Jan. 12 and 13 in Montgomery, Ala. The work is an outgrowth of Washington's 2001 play "Rosa," which was premiered on the WMU campus and uses Parks' autobiography as a window into her role in the civil rights movement.

"This is what I had hoped for all along, to perform this play in Montgomery, where the momentous activity began," Washington says. "Having it as a part of the 50th Anniversary celebration is almost unbelievable."

Washington has been in contact with several companies in Montgomery since his play's world premiere at WMU. Representatives came to see the production in 2001 and have been enthusiastic about staging the play ever since in the place where the historic events unfolded. The 50th anniversary of the famous bus boycott provided the perfect opportunity.

Washington and his wife, Fran, who together operate the theatre company Washington Productions, will perform in the play. Washington Productions also has produced theatre presentations about Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass. Washington will be the main narrator and plays several other characters, while Fran Washington will reprise her role as Rosa Parks from the world premiere. Others also will portray Parks in various stages of her life.

Also appearing and singing in the production will be WMU alums Curtis Gulledge and Dwandra Nickole, whose last name was Lampkins when she attended WMU. Gulledge is the shows featured vocalist. Last, but certainly not least, Washington's daughter, Alicia, also will perform.

The Montgomery Bus Boycott, while considered by some as a political movement, is defined by those involved as a spiritual movement. Led by a 26-year-old preacher named Martin Luther King Jr., nearly 50,000 African Americans moved to support Parks' refusal to move to the back of a bus in deference to a white American by declining to use public transit in Montgomery. For 381 days, they walked despite hounding, humiliation and death threats and maintained their commitment to non-violent resistance. The Supreme Court eventually overturned the segregationist policies of the city of Montgomery, and Parks was then able to sit where she pleased when riding city buses.

Washington's play is the only production of Rosa Parks' life that has been personally authorized by the civil rights giant. He says having it chosen to be part of the 50th anniversary celebration is great for WMU.

"It means a lot to our multicultural theatre program and Washington Productions and it is a definite high for me and my family," he says. "I hope all of Montgomery comes out to see the show that Rosa Parks approved. It is a scaled-down version, but it is no less effective. Having Fran as Rosa and Curtis Gulledge to do the music is food for my soul."

Performances will take place at Montgomery's Davis Theatre for the Performing Arts. Tickets and information are available at (334) 279-1157 or <www.50busboycott.com>.

Media contact: Mark Schwerin, 269 387-8400, mark.schwerin@wmich.edu

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