Art, activism, and uncompromising attitude in Georgia Douglas Johnson's lynching plays.
This study provides a view of Johnson as both an outspoken advocate in the anti-lynching movement and a central figure in the lynching drama tradition. This perspective of Johnson is offered not in opposition to her more familiar and highly gendered reputation as "lady poet" of the New Negro Renaissance, but as an additional dimension of her artistic life. (2) Focusing on Johnson as a playwright supplements previous scholarship to contribute to a fuller understanding of Johnson as a multi-talented artist and to provide insight into her rich and complex dramatic vision. An intertextual analysis of Johnson's six extant lynching plays explores the formal basis of her artistry as well as her increasing sophistication in employing Black theatre as a means of social protest. According to theatre scholar Harry Elam, "African-American theatre critics and artists, from W. E. B. Du Bois to Amiri Baraka to August Wilson, have asserted that Black theatre practitioners must not only have authority over the representational apparatus but must use the theatre as a means of protest and revolt in order to change black lives and fight oppressive conditions" (Elam 6). Theatre historian and scholar James V. Hatch places anti-lynching plays specifically in the protest tradition initiated by antislavery plays: "The antilynch dramas, comparable only to the passionate appeal in antislavery plays, became the second form of American protest drama" (1996, 232). I analyze Johnson's use of irony, music, and the figure of the Black family as artistic strategies that both locate her plays on lynching within the tradition of African American expressive culture and inform her unique approach to theatre as social protest.
While several of her pioneering dramas have been examined in recent books and articles, we still need a volume that focuses exclusively on Johnson as a playwright and includes all of her extant plays. (3) Johnson was a persevering and prolific dramatist who worked under difficult circumstances to produce her art. It is ironic that she won lasting recognition as a poet but not as a playwright since she spent her creative lifetime working in both genres. As early as 1925 she wrote to Howard University's Alain Locke requesting his opinion of her recently completed Blue Blood, which she felt confident enough to describe as "a mighty good play." (4) In 1926 she submitted Blue Blood to the Urban League's Opportunity playwriting contest and won honorable mention; in 1927 her play Plumes was awarded the competition's first prize. Between 1930 and 1935 Johnson submitted several plays to the newly organized Federal Theatre Project (FTP), and in 1938 she contributed her playwriting skills to the NAACP's anti-lynching campaign. (5) By 1943 she had submitted her entire "book of plays" to the Wendell Malliet publishing company in New York, and her 1952 correspondence with Harlem Renaissance patron Harold Jackman reveals she continued to seek a publisher for her "book of plays." (6) As late as 1955 Johnson wrote to her friend Langston Hughes, thanking him for encouraging the "Phyllys [sic] Wheatley" YWCA to request one of her plays for production. (7) Noting the emphasis that Johnson placed on her dramas in her "Catalogue of Writings," scholar Gloria T. Hull has noted, "were it not for the peculiarities of the genre and the vagaries of literary fortune, she [Johnson] could have just as easily come down through history known predominantly as a playwright rather than a poet" (Hull 168).
Why was Johnson more successful in gaining public recognition and acclaim as a poet than as a playwright? In addition to Hull's assessment that "lyric poetry," rather than drama, was viewed as the "proper genre" for women during the Renaissance era, I am suggesting that Johnson may have contributed to her comparative obscurity as a playwright by courageously choosing to create dramas about the effects of racial divisions and racial violence.
Johnson's published poems with titles such as "Youth," "Faith," and "Joy" are often described as ladylike, genteel, and "raceless," while, in contrast, many of her plays, with titles such as Blue-Eyed Black Boy and Blue Blood are bold, provocative, and racially charged. Claudia Tate cites the severe limitations that Johnson faced as a Black woman writer and concludes that Johnson, unlike the more audacious Zora Neale Hurston, accepted the minor role assigned to her as "lady poet" of the New Negro Renaissance. "This was the only uncontested position available to her," Tate continues, "and she chose a non-oppositional stance for herself" (Tate lxvii).
Expanding Tate's feminist analysis, Elizabeth McHenry notes how critical comments on Johnson's poems, described by William Stanley Braithwaite as "intensely feminine" and praised by James Weldon Johnson for their "sheer simplicity," are "representative of the reductive and simplistic ways that Johnson's poetry was viewed, especially by those male literary figures whose opinion and endorsements shaped the burgeoning literary renaissance" (McHenry 279, italics mine). Despite Johnson's own mixed race background, both McHenry and Tale observe that her poems, including those in her most racially oriented volume, Bronze (1922), "reveal very little of her own racial consciousness or concerns" (McHenry 281). McHenry raises the question of Johnson's complicity in the production of narrow and stereotypical views of her "feminine poetry" by suggesting that "[t]his endorsement of her literary talent probably made her less and less willing to develop her writing in significant ways, or to venture beyond the formulaic feminine verse on which her reputation had been built to address in more challenging ways some of the increasingly complex aspects of her identity and experience" (McHenry 280).
An examination of Johnson's plays complicates her circumscribed and highly gendered identity as a poet, however. From her first playwriting award in the 1926 Opportunity one-act play contest through her writing for the NAACP's anti-lynching campaigns in the late 1930s to her dogged persistence in seeking a publisher for her volume of plays in the 1950s, it is clear that Johnson was a dedicated, assertive, and activist playwright. She created dramas that explored the effects of racial injustice on families and communities of her time. Those plays that she categorized as her "plays on lynching" provide especially a perspective of Johnson's racial consciousness as well as her rage against lynching, the historical form of racial violence that was seen as a "valid index of race relations" in the United States from 1865 up until the 1950s. (8)
The language used by contemporary scholars to address lynching suggests its central role in constructing a hierarchical relationship between Black and White "races" in the United States. Trudier Harris has analyzed lynching, both in society and literature, as a "rite of exorcism," designed by whites to eradicate the presence of the "black beast" from their midst while David Levering Lewis has characterized lynching as "the apotheosizing of white supremacy." (9) The representation of lynching in artistic expression and specifically in American theatre cannot be fully studied without an examination of Johnson's lynching dramas. In her groundbreaking essay, theatre scholar Winona Fletcher suggests Johnson's lynching dramas mark a turning point in her writing career that shifts her artistic identity from "genteel poet" to "revolutionary playwright" (41). These dramas show that Johnson drew on her own mixed ancestry to examine the (representation of the) complexities of "race" in America and to condemn racial boundaries enforced by mob violence. Generated during the 1920s and '30s (decades in which mob violence against Black Americans, especially in Southern States, was not an uncommon occurrence), her lynching dramas constitute a significant site of the development of the lynching drama genre in the New Negro era.
Georgia Douglas Johnson, The Lynching Drama Tradition, and The Anti-Lynching Movement
In Strange Fruit: Plays on Lynching by American Women (1998), Kathy Perkins and Judith Stephens define a lynching drama as "a play in which the threat or occurrence of a lynching, past or present, has major impact on the dramatic action" (3). Previous studies by Stephens examine lynching drama as a unique genre and locate the first reference to lynching in American drama in William Wells Brown's The Escape; or, A Leap For Freedom (1858). (10) Lynching drama developed as a genre in the early twentieth century when playwrights moved beyond brief references to focus on specific incidents of lynching. Plays such as Thomas Dixon's The Clansman (1906), Edward Sheldon's The Nigger (1909), Ridgely Torrence's Granny Maumee (1914), Angelina Weld Grimke's Rachel (1916), Mary Burrill's Aftermath (1919), Tracy Mygatt's The Noose (1919), Georgia Douglas Johnson's A Sunday Morning in the South (1925), and Joseph Mitchell's Son Boy (1928) are only a few of the early contributions to the genre. The lynching drama tradition includes close to 100 (currently known) plays, and continues on the contemporary stage with such plays as Toni Morrison's Dreaming Emmett (1985), Cedric Turner's Dat Great Long Time (1990), Michon Boston's Iola's Letter (1994), Yvonne Singh's Lynch P*in (2002), William Parker's The Awakening (2003), and the collaborative "Emmett Project" (2003). (11)
Georgia Douglas Johnson contributed more plays to the lynching drama genre than any other playwright in history. (12) Her unprecedented and unflinching focus on the injustice of lynching, beginning with Sunday Morning in the South (c.1925), and culminating in A Bill to be Passed (1938), reflects her overriding concern with this particular form of racial violence as well as her involvement in the NAACP's national anti-lynching campaigns of 1936 and 1938.
Admittedly, many "New Negro" artists addressed the brutality and violence of lynching in their poetry, fiction, music, and drama. Billie Holiday's rendition of "Strange Fruit" (1939) is probably the most recognized single artistic work addressing lynching and its legacy. However, Johnson's lynching plays form an entire body of work that spans a decade. By its sheer volume, her unique single-authored body of work reflects the influence of the anti-lynching struggle on the art and literature of the New Negro Renaissance.
As an artist activist Johnson contributed her playwriting skills to the service of the anti-lynching movement, a historical struggle that began in the nineteenth century and continued during the New Negro Era under the leadership of the NAACP. (13) In 1936 Johnson sent to Walter White, Executive Secretary of the NAACP, several of her lynching plays for possible production by the organization's Youth Council. White eventually returned the plays with the council's concern that "they all ended in defeat" and "gave one the feeling that the situation was hopeless despite all the courage which was shown by the Negro characters." (14) Johnson replied that she understood the Board's point but hesitated to rewrite the plays since "it is true that in life things do not end usually ideally" and the plays "would lose their greatest dramatic moment ... and a play depends so largely upon this." (15) Johnson s response to White reveals her artistic integrity as a playwright and her dedication to her own vision of theatre as social protest. Although the NAACP Youth apparently preferred to produce lynching dramas with the victorious ending of The Awakening (1923), written by NAACP founder Mary White Ovington, Johnson would not change her plays simply to appease those who controlled the production apparatus. (16) As Harry Elam has noted, "[t]he politics of representation concern not only understanding the power inherent in the visible representations of African Americans but also recognizing the mechanisms of production, which dictate the dissemination of these images" (6). By hesitating to give her plays "positive" endings in which a lynching is defeated, Johnson was forcing her audience to confront the reality of lynching by employing the current style of theatrical "realism" in which a social problem is baldly portrayed and left unresolved. (17) In the words of drama critic David Krasner, "Johnson's realism negotiates the area between actual history and the stage. The frame that theatre provides brought to audiences a vision of the normalcy of black life and shows lynching's wrenching effect upon it" (Beautiful Pageant 159). While Johnson's realistic representation of lynching and its effect on Black families did not suit the NAACP Youth Council, White, in an apparent gesture of appeasement, agreed to call attention to her plays through "our press service and the Crisis and people who might inquire about plays dealing with lynching." (18)
Johnson's exchange of letters and plays with Walter White established her identity with the NAACP as an activist playwright in the anti-lynching cause and the organization subsequently called upon her to write a skit for its 1938 campaign. (19) Johnson responded by writing And Yet They Paused and A Bill To Be Passed, but both unpublished manuscripts were categorized as "lost" by theatre historians and literary scholars until 1999, when they were discovered among the NAACP Papers in the Library of Congress. (20)
The two typescripts, slightly different versions of the same play, offer a strong critique of the foot dragging and filibustering that were responsible for the United States Congress's failure to pass a federal anti-lynching bill. In both versions Johnson boldly indicts the United States government for its complicity in mob violence, and portrays the urgent need for anti-lynching legislation by juxtaposing scenes of unending political wrangling in Washington DC with events surrounding a brutal lynching in Mississippi. Correspondence from the NAACP files suggests that the anti-lynching movement's leading political figures were aware of Johnson's play. NAACP attorney Charles Houston, who was invited to speak at a large 1938 anti-lynching rally, sent the following telegram to the organization's New York Offices: "Will Speak February Eleventh. Georgia Douglas Johnson Wants Play Returned Immediately With Your Suggestions." (21)
The recovery of And Yet They Paused and A Bill To Be Passed from the NAACP Papers provides a clear perspective of Johnson as an artist activist. The typescripts of these plays and the correspondence about them remind us that the New Negro Renaissance was not only an artistic movement but also a political struggle for social change. Their recovery also provides a new perspective on the historical production venues of African-American theatre. While churches, schools, and lodges in the Black community are acknowledged as the most common production sites, anti-lynching meetings and rallies might also have served as Black theatre venues in the New Negro era.
In addition to her work with the NAACP, Johnson was a member of the Writers League Against Lynching, an organization composed of writers, editors and publishers who joined together to work for the passage of a federal anti-lynching bill. In the League's numerous letters and telegrams Johnson was listed as a sponsor, along with other leading New Negro figures such as Countee Cullen, E. Franklin Frazier, Jessie Fauset, James Weldon Johnson, Alain Locke, Alfred Knopf, and Carl Van Vechten. (22)
When the American theatre is studied from the perspective of the lynching drama tradition, Johnson emerges as the first playwright to name and develop the category. The dramas she categorized in her unpublished "Catalogue of Writings" as her "Lynching Plays" and referred to in correspondence as her "plays on lynching," reveal her dedication to both the anti-lynching struggle and the development of the genre. (23) Apparently, none of her anti-lynching dramas were published during Johnson's lifetime. A Sunday Morning in the South first appeared in Hatch and Shine's Black Theatre USA (1974), eight years after Johnson's death. These six dramas constitute an historical core of the genre and locate Johnson at the center of the tradition. (24) Examining Johnson's use of irony, music, and the figure of the Black family provides insight into the formal basis of her artistry.
Irony As Rhetorical Strategy
Johnson's use of irony as a rhetorical strategy is apparent when the plots of her plays are considered in relation to their titles. According to Henry Louis Gates, Jr., the use of irony to disrupt the conventional meaning of language reflects the African American literary tradition of "Signifyin(g)," the term Gates uses to denote all of the rhetorical strategies in African American culture that subvert the dominant meaning of words and phrases through forms of linguistic free play. In The Signifying Monkey, Gates cites irony as one of the most common forms of signifyin(g) and stresses the central role of indirection (the indirect use of words to effect alteration of meaning) within the tradition (90). Johnson uses irony in her titles as a strategy to create expressive space to represent the experience of a Black family confronting the lynching of one of its members. Playwrights before Johnson, such as Angelina Weld Grimke (Rachel, 1916) and Mary Burrill (Aftermath, 1919) had portrayed Black families confronting the past lynching of a family member but Johnson boldly moved the lynching into the present, still offstage but during the dramatic action. The focus remains on the reactions and resistance of the family.
The title A Sunday Morning in the South may, at first glance, suggest a pleasant, leisurely pastoral interlude, but instead the play portrays the events surrounding a lynching that, with double irony, are carried out to the accompaniment of Christian music coming from a nearby church. Johnson again deployed irony in her play Safe. Here, Johnson's one word title compels the reader or spectator to reconceptualize "safety" and "security" as a distraught Black mother witnesses a lynching and subsequently kills her newborn son in order to keep him "safe from the lynchers" (Johnson in Perkins and Stephens 115). Blue-Eyed Black Boy initiates and then disrupts the expectation of the more familiar "blue-eyed blonde" and thus brings into focus the tangled histories of race and violence in the United States. The play centers on a young Black man who is saved from a lynch mob only because his Black mother is able to prove the White governor is his father. The title Blue-Eyed Black Boy disrupts expectation to critique racial violence in America. It forms a concise rebuttal of contemporaneous anti-miscegenation laws that supported the myth of two separate races--one "Black" and one "White." Similarly, And Yet They Paused, one of Johnson's final plays in the genre, points to the irony of the United States Senate's refusal to pass federal anti-lynching legislation even in the face of the national outcry that arose following an extremely brutal and highly publicized lynching in Mississippi.
To signify (on) the experiences of Black families confronting the lynching of a family or community member, Johnson's titles play on language, and function through indirection. Her artistry in what Gates calls "the esthetics of Signifyin(g)" lies in her ability to invoke an absent or latent meaning ("Safe" = "Dead") that becomes ambiguously "present" in her titles (Gates 86). The meaning signified in the titles can be discerned only when the words are placed within the context of the play's action.
Music as Metaphor and Mediator
In "Interactions Between Writers and Music during the Harlem Renaissance," Richard Long describes the Renaissance as "a period of intense interaction between music and the writers engaged in interpreting African American life" (129). Long discusses the use of music in the works of James Weldon Johnson, W. E. B. Du Bois, Zora Neale Hurston, and Langston Hughes. Although the work of Georgia Douglas Johnson is not as widely known as that of her more famous contemporaries, drama and music converge in her plays to interrogate and illuminate racial violence. The prominence of hymns and spirituals in Johnson's lynching dramas is due not only to the "heightened [musical] consciousness" that Long detected among writers of the period, but also to the fact that Johnson was a composer as well as a poet and playwright. Johnson's approach to the genre included drawing on the expressivity of music to counter the violence of lynching and to focus on the resistance and reactions of Black families and communities.
The importance of music in Johnson's life is reflected in the 24 songs she wrote and copyrighted between 1898 and 1959, and in her resigning a teaching position in 1902 to study music at the Oberlin Conservatory in Ohio, ("Catalogue" 12 and Tate xxix). In a 1927 interview, Johnson recalled the significance of music to her youthful aspirations: "Long years ago when the world was new for me, I dreamed of being a composer--wrote songs, many of them." (25) Johnson's lynching plays uniquely use sacred music in the cause of the anti-lynching movement to reflect what scholar Samuel Floyd, Jr., has recognized as "the primacy of music to Renaissance philosophy and practice" (Overview 3).
Music is integral to both versions of A Sunday Morning in the South. In the Black church version, the sound of hymns and spirituals enter the family home of Sue Griggs and her two grandsons from the choir singing in the church next door. The sounds of "Amazing Grace," "Let the Light from the Lighthouse Shine on Me," "Alas And Did My Savior Bleed," and "Lord Have Mercy Over Me" weave in between the sequence of events, accompany the dialogue, and frame the dramatic action.
The White church version is written in two scenes, emphasizing the separation between the White church and the Black home. In this version Sue Griggs must leave her home and walk to the White church since she is seeking to enlist the help of (White) Judge Manning in rescuing her grandson from a lynch mob. As she stands outside the church, the sounds of the choir singing "Jesus Savior Pilot Me" punctuate her wait; the soothing sounds of "Going Home" from Antonin Dvorak's "World Symphony" accompany her sickening discovery that any attempts to save her grandson are now too late.
To insure the productions of her plays accurately reproduced the musical sounds she intended, Johnson included her handwritten musical scores with both versions of A Sunday Morning in the South (Figs. 1 and 2). (26) In her 1936 letter to Walter White, Johnson wrote, "I have written the musical score for the songs indicated as the old time melodies are the ones to be used and there might be a variation in the tunes chosen to sing them by. I wanted the mournful and ancient ones." (27)
Johnson's continued reliance on powerful music is evident when both versions of A Sunday Morning in the South are considered in conjunction with what I am suggesting are her final lynching plays, written almost a decade later. In And Yet They Paused and A Bill To Be Passed, Johnson repeated her technique of including music as an integral part of dramatic text. As in the Black church version of A Sunday Morning in the South, she incorporates hymns and spirituals of Black vernacular (church) music but in these later plays, she places the singing congregation on stage, making visible what was invisible in the earlier play. Songs such as "Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho," "Go Down Moses," and "Sisters Don't Get Weary" are sung by the congregation while they await word, from delegates in Washington DC on the fate of a bill to enact federal anti-lynching legislation. While other playwrights of the genre, such as Annie Nathan Meyer (Black Souls, 1932) and Langston Hughes (Mulatto, 1935), incorporated spirituals and other religious music in their plays, only in Johnson's plays is the music so pervasive, so tightly woven through and around the dramatic action. (28)
New Negro Renaissance writers are widely recognized for their innovative use of indigenous African American music. Johnson should also be acknowledged as the Renaissance playwright who most frequently incorporated the sounds of religious music, especially the singing of hymns and spirituals, as a component of plays written for the anti-lynching cause. In her plays, singing frequently signifies moods of tranquility and hopefulness as well as struggle and defeat. In a recent study of "choric communication" as practiced by a women's musical organization in Togo, West Africa, scholar Stephanie Nelson reasons, "If the musical context grants permission to say the unsayable--and to make the unsayable a new possibility--this makes music a particularly useful vehicle for those whose voices are suppressed and ignored. Indeed, music is the penultimate mode of delivery for protest or lament" (281). The music in Johnson's lynching dramas expresses the sounds of hope (Let the Light of the Lighthouse Shine of Me), defiance (Joshua Fit the Battle), supplication (I Must Tell Jesus, I can not bear my burdens alone), and lament (Lord have Mercy Over Me.) The music thus becomes a metaphor for the voices of Black families and communities raised in unison throughout the century long struggle against lynching.
Margaret Wilkerson succinctly characterizes the power of Black music as an artistic tool for playwrights: "This music 'speaks' the rage, the irony, and the profundity of Black American life in tonalities and colorations absent from conventional western speech" (62). By focusing on Black families confronting the lynching of a family member and deploying music to express what her stage dialogue could not, Johnson helped to pioneer a tradition that, as Wilkerson notes, continues in the more recent work of playwrights such as Lorraine Hansberry, Ntozake Shange, and Aishah Rahman.
In his overview of the Harlem Renaissance, Samuel A. Floyd, Jr., points out that music provided the New Negro movement with much of its "color, spirit, and quality" and that its indispensable role in the Renaissance was often taken for granted, "since music had always been a critical part of the existence of all Afro-Americans while literature had not" (Floyd 4-5). As a multi-talented artist, Johnson drew on the expressive powers of music for the same purpose she employed irony: to create an artistic space in which to express the injustice of lynching and its devastating effects on Black families and communities.
The Black Family as Community
As a single authored body of work, Johnson s dramas uniquely portray Black families confronting the lynching of one of its members. Judging from volumes such as Ida B. Wells's On Lynchings: Southern Horrors, A Red Record, and Mob Rule in New Orleans (1892, 1969), Ralph Ginsburg's 100 Years of Lynching (1976), and photography collections such as James Allen's Without Sanctuary (2000), graphic photos and detailed newspaper documentations of the brutality of lynching assaulted the public eye throughout the 1920s and '30s. Certainly not as common were dramatic portrayals of Black families confronting the lynching of a family member or neighbor. Johnson's lynching dramas aimed to fill this significant void in public consciousness by focusing not on the gruesome nature of lynching, but on the reaction and resistance of the Black family and community.
A Sunday Morning in the South, Safe, and Blue-Eyed Black Boy are all set in Black Southern homes, and all depict families living out their daily routine when they are suddenly forced to confront the violence and injustice of lynching. While each group confronts the lynching of a family member or member of the local community, the families are portrayed in various configurations such as a grandmother and grandsons in A Sunday Morning in the South; as mother, daughter, and son-in-law in Safe; and as mother, daughter, and daughter's fiance in Blue-Eyed Black Boy.
Within each of these domestic settings a middle aged or elderly woman is head of the household. Johnson's plays reflect the fact that Black men were the primary targets of lynching, but by focusing on women characters, they express what Gloria T. Hull has called the "unique horror" that Black women faced in regards to lynching (Hull 229n19). In each play the Black family circle is expanded to include characters, friends and neighbors, who take part in the resistance by serving as aides and messengers. These secondary characters are also invariably women, such as "Tildy" Brown and Liza Twiggs in A Sunday Morning in the South, Hannah Wiggins in Safe, and Hester Grant in Blue-Eyed Black Boy. (29)
In her analysis of Black women portrayed in lynching dramas, Trudier Harris notes the "decrepit" nature of the female heads of families and suggests their failing bodies, indicated by sore or injured feet, advanced age, or a weak heart, become "a metaphor for American racism" and reflect "how sick their society really is" ("Before the Strength" 41, 39). Harris acknowledges that playwrights such as Johnson were daring in their treatment of lynching, but she also points to ways in which their portrayal of Black women as ailing and "ineffectual" can be interpreted as "a sympathetic response to the continuing destruction of the black male body" (41). While Johnson does represent elderly female heads of households as aging and ailing individuals, she also carefully locates them within the context of their communities. Johnson's communal sensibility or what Elizabeth McHenry has called her "clear vision of the importance of community to the creative artist," was vital to the success of the literary gatherings that Johnson held regularly in her home during the 1920s and '30s (McHenry 274). Although the literary community she created there resulted in a safe and supportive environment for "New Negro" artists, the concept of a communal sensibility is also useful for contextualizing the individual characters she created for her lynching dramas. Each of the elderly Black women in Johnson's plays join with members of their extended family to plan and carry out whatever resistance they can. In fact, these elders often lead the resistance efforts while more able-bodied family members follow their directions.
In A Sunday Morning in the South Sue Jones at first reacts singly by shaking her cane at the police officer who is arresting her grandson, Tom: "Whut you doing? [sic] What you doing? You can't rest my grandson--he ain't done nothing--you can't rest him!" (Perkins and Stephens, A Sunday Morning 106). But when police drag Tom out of the house, Sue and her friends Matilda and Liza improvise a plan of collective action. Even Bossie, Sue's seven-year-old grandson, contributes to the group effort. Although the women's plan also requires the aid of "some of [Sue's] good white folks," one of whom is conveniently a judge, Johnson inscribes their unity and collectivity as exemplary Black rebellion against White depravity (Perkins and Stephens, A Sunday Morning 107-08).
A similar scene of collective discussion and action takes place in Blue-Eyed Black Boy as Pauline Waters learns of her son's impending lynching and, subsequently, takes command of the family's resistance. The family group consists of Pauline, her daughter Rebecca, Rebecca's fiance Dr. Grey, and Pauline's "best friend," Hester Grant. During the scene of collective deliberation even Pauline's soon to be son-in-law, Dr. Grey, obeys her orders although he and the others do not fully understand her plan:
Pauline: Wait, wait. I know what I'll do. I don't care what it costs. (to Rebecca) Fly in yonder (points to the next room) and get me that little tin box out of the left hand side of the tray in my trunk. Hurry Fly! (Rebecca hurries out while Dr. Grey and Hester look on in bewilderment) Lynch my son? My son? (she yells to Rebecca in the next room) Get it? You got it?
Rebecca: (from next room) Yes Ma, I got it. (hurries in with a small tin box in her hand and hands it to her mother.)
Pauline: (feverishly tossing out the odd bits of jewelry in the box and coming up with a small ring. She turns to Dr. Grey) Here, Tom, take this. Run, jump on your horse and buggy and fly over to Governor Tinkham's house and don't let nobody nobody--stop you. Just give him this ring and say, "Pauline sent this. She says they goin to lynch her son born 21 year ago." Mind you, say 21 years ago. Then say, listen close. "Look in his eyes and you'll save him." (Blue Eyed Black Boy in Perkins and Stephens 118-19).
Elderly Black women like Pauline and Sue who head the families portrayed in Johnson's lynching dramas, may be "decrepit" in body but their ailing bodies emphasize both the necessity for collective action and the spirited resistance that, historically, have enabled African American communal survival. Whether or not Johnson's elderly women characters end specific lynchings, and though they do not bring to an end the horrific institution, they represent an honored elderly leadership in African American communities. They contribute significantly to Black collective memory and through their aging bodies reinscribe the defiant spirit of the Harlem / New Negro Renaissance expressed perhaps most memorably in Claude McKay's classic sonnet "If we must die": "... we'll face the murderous, cowardly pack, / Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back" (11. 13-14).
In her final works in the genre, Johnson continued to portray elderly individuals as central to the Black community. Interestingly, elderly male characters in the later plays are less prominent than their female predecessors, but contribute in subtle yet powerful ways to collective strategy formation and dramatic action. The structure of And Yet They Paused (1938), for example, reveals Johnson's growing sophistication in representing situations in which multiple voices are raised against lynching. In And Yet They Paused, the action occurs in two settings: one inside a Black church in Mississippi and another in the halls of the United States Congress in Washington DC. "Brothers" and "Sisters" comprise the church congregation in the Mississippi scenes, and in the Washington DC scenes three Black men form a multivalent unit standing together outside the chambers of Congress during its debate of the anti-lynching bill.
In the Mississippi setting, the voice of "Old Brother" joins with the voices of "Boy," "Sister," and "Brother" to describe in gruesome detail a lynching in progress outside their church. Old Brother delivers the final descriptive statements in a chilling staccato: "They's through. They's burning him up. They set fire to him" (And Yet They Paused 11). The Washington DC scene avers the ideology of the NAACP and portrays federal anti-lynching legislation as the (hoped for) remedy that can stop or, at least, help alleviate White mob violence. While "Elder Jasper Green" stands in the hallway of Congress with his two younger colleagues listening to the Congressional debate, he supports the legislation but also holds a religious philosophy distinct from the views held by the Newspaper Reporter and Church Delegate Williams.
Williams: (To Elder) Think they're going to pass it tonight?
Elder: God knows we can just hope and pray.
(Sounds of uproar and a gavel rapping are heard from inside the door.)
Reporter: (Turning to the two waiting men) They're at it again--playing ball with each other--having a good time.
Elder: Ain't it a shame--How long, Jesus, how long?
Williams: It's enough to make a man doubt God.
Elder: (Chidingly) Don't say that, soil. It seems dark I know but God reigns. Right's going to triumph....
(ts. And Yet They Paused 12)
Elder Green's paternal role repeats the roles of secondary female characters from the early plays, including A Sunday Morning in the South's Liza and Blue-Eyed Black Boy's Hester. Elder Jasper Green, Old Brother, Sue Griggs, and Pauline Waters all contribute to the community's anti-lynching struggle in diverse ways, and with varying degrees of success, but their presence in Johnson's plays speaks to the important role of elders in the African American families. The figure of the extended Black family, often led by an elder, was Johnson's collective anti-lynching protagonist, her artistic portrayal of resistant agency cast in multiple forms.
Together with the range and volume of her contribution to the genre, her astute use of irony and music, her deployment of the figure of the Black family as the embodiment of ideological contradictions and incongruities within Black American communities, Johnson's lynching dramas provide a unique sustained focus on Black communal confrontation and defiance against the murders of its membership. She was a dedicated, courageous artist activist who contributed to the national black theatre movement of the Harlem/New Negro Renaissance era and the NAACP's campaign for anti-lynching legislation a singular body of work within the lynching drama genre. (30) Georgia Douglas Johnson's gifts to the 20th-century theatre of social protest and the tradition of African American expressive culture deserve greater recognition in cultural studies, women's studies, theatre studies, and, especially, studies of the New Negro/ Harlem Renaissance.
Allen, James, Hilton Als, Congressman John Lewis, Leon F. Litwack. Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America. Santa Fe, NM: Twin Palms P, 2000.
Brown, William Wells. The Escape; or, A Leap For Freedom. 1858. Hatch and Shine 35-62.
Brown-Guillory, Elizabeth, ed. Wines in the Wilderness: Plays by African American Women From the Harlem Renaissance to the Present. Westport, CT: Praeger, 1990.
Brundage, W. Fitzhugh. Lynching in the New South: Georgia and Virginia, 1880-1930. Urbana: U of Illinois P, 1993.
Elam, Harry J., Jr., and David Krasner, eds. African American Performance and Theatre History: A Critical Reader. New York: Oxford UP, 2001.
Fletcher, Winona. "From Genteel Poet to Revolutionary Playwright: Georgia Douglas Johnson." Theatre Annual 30 (1985): 41-64.
Floyd, Samuel, Jr., "Music in the Harlem Renaissance: An Overview." Black Music and The Harlem Renaissance: A Collection of Essays. Ed. Samuel Floyd, Jr. Knoxville: U of Tennessee P, 1993.
Gates, Henry Louis, Jr. The Signifying Monkey: A Theory of African American Literary Criticism. New York: Oxford UP, 1988.
Ginsburg, Ralph. 100 Years of Lynching. New York: Lancer, 1976.
Harris, Trudier. "Before the Strength, the Pain: Portraits of Elderly Black Women in Early Twentieth Century Anti-Lynching Plays." Black Women Playwrights: Visions on the American Stage. Ed. Carol P. Marsh-Lockett. New York: Garland, 1999. 25-42.
--. Exorcising Blackness: Historical and Literary Lynching and Burning Rituals. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1984.
Hatch, James V., and Ted Shine, eds. 45 Plays by Black Americans: 1847-1974. Vol. 1. Black Theatre USA. 1st ed. New York: Free P, 1974.
--. Plays by Black Americans: 1847-Today. 2 Vols. Black Theatre USA. 2nd ed. New York: Free P, 1996.
Hull, Gloria T. Color Sex, and Poetry: Three Women Writers of the Harlem Renaissance. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1987.
Jackson, Juanita. (Special Assistant to the Secretary of the NAACP). Letter to Georgia Douglas Johnson. 12 Jan. 1938. NAACP Papers, Box C-299. Manuscript Reading Room, Library of Congress.
Johnson, Georgia Douglas. "Catalogue of Writings." Georgia Douglas Johnson Papers. Box 162-2, Folder 17. Moorland Spingarn Research Center, Howard University, Washington, DC.
--. "A Bill To Be Passed" and "And Yet They Paused." NAACP Papers. Box C-299. Manuscript Reading Room, Library of Congress.
--. "A Sunday Morning In the South: A One Act Play in Two Scenes" (White church version) and "A Sunday Morning In the South: A One Act Play in One Scene" (Black church version). The Federal Theatre Project Collection. Playscripts: Box 779. Music Division. Library of Congress.
--. Letter to Walter White. 2 June 1936. NAACP Papers. Box C-299. Manuscript Reading Room, Library of Congress.
--. Letter to Walter White. 19 Jan. 1937. NAACP Papers, Box C-299. Manuscript Reading Room. Library of Congress.
--. Letter to Langston Hughes. 8 Jan. 1955. Cullen-Jackman Memorial Collection. Box 19 Folder 20. Atlanta University Center. Robert W. Woodruff Library, Atlanta, Georgia.
--. Letter to Harold Jackman. 2 Dec. 1952. Box 19 Folder 20. Cullen-Jackman Memorial Collection, Atlanta University Center, Robert W. Woodruff Library, Atlanta, Georgia.
--. Safe, Blue-Eyed Black Boy, and A Sunday Morning in the South (Black church version). Perkins and Stephens 103-20.
--. Selected Works of Georgia Douglas Johnson.
Krasner, David. A Beautiful Pageant: African American Theatre, Drama, and Performance in the Harlem Renaissance, 1910-1927. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002.
Lewis, Barbara. "Public Death: A Study of Lynching Drama in its Years of Genesis, 1858-1919." Diss. Graduate Center of The City University of New York, 2000.
Lewis, David Levering. Conference Keynote Speech delivered at the "Lynching and Racial Violence in America: Histories and Legacies" international conference. Emory University, 3 Oct. 2002.
Long, Richard A. "Interactions between Writers and Music during the Harlem Renaissance." Black Music and the Harlem Renaissance: A Collection of Essays. Ed. Samuel Floyd, Knoxville: U of Tennessee P, 1993. 129-38.
Malliet, Wendell. Letter to Georgia Douglas Johnson. 23 Aug. 1943. Georgia Douglas Johnson Papers. Box 162-1, Folder 20. Manuscript Division, Moorland Spingarn Research Center, Howard University.
McHenry, Elizabeth. Forgotten Readers: Recovering the Lost History of African American Literary Societies. Durham: Duke UP, 2002.
Murphy, Brenda. American Realism and American Drama, 1880-1940. New York: Cambridge UP, 1987.
Nelson, Stephanie. "Choric Communication: The Case of a Togolese Women's Musical Organization." Text and Performance Quarterly 20.3 (2000): 268-89.
O'Brien, C. C. "Cosmopolitanism in Georgia Douglas Johnson's Anti-Lynching Literature." African American Review 38 (2004): 571-87.
Ovington, Mary White. The Awakening. 1923. Freeport, NY: Books for Libraries P, 1972.
Perkins, Kathy A., and Judith L. Stephens. Strange Fruit: Plays on Lynching by American Women. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1998.
Stephens, Judith L. "Anti-Lynch Plays by African American Women: Race, Gender, and Social Protest in American Drama." African American Review 26 (1992): 329-40.
-- "'And Yet They Paused' and 'A Bill To Be Passed': Newly Recovered Lynching Dramas by Georgia Douglas Johnson." African American Review 33 (1999): 519-22.
--. "Lynching, American Theatre, and The Preservation of a Tradition." Journal of American Drama and Theatre 9.1 (1997): 54-65.
--. "Politics and Aesthetics, Race and Gender: Georgia Douglas Johnson's Lynching Dramas as Black Feminist Cultural Performance." Text and Performance Quarterly 3 (July 2000): 251-67.
--. "Racial Violence and Representation: Performance Strategies In Lynching Dramas of the 1920s." African American Review 33 (1999): 655-67.
Sullivan, Megan. "Folk Plays, Home Girls, and Back Talk: Georgia Douglas Johnson and Women of the Harlem Renaissance." CLA Journal 38.4 (1995): 404-19.
Tate, Claudia. "Introduction." Selected Works of Georgia Douglas Johnson. New York: G. K. Hall & Co., 1997.
"The Contest Spotlight." Opportunity 5.7 (July 1927): 204-05, 312.
Wells-Barnett, Ida B. On Lynchings: Southern Horrors, A Red Record, and Mob Rule in New Orleans. New York: Arno P, 1969.
White, Walter. Letter to Georgia Douglas Johnson. 18 Jan. 1937. NAACP Papers. Box C-299. Manuscript Reading Room, Library of Congress.
Wilkerson, Margaret B. "Music as Metaphor: New Plays of Black Women." Making a Spectacle: Feminist Essays on Contemporary Women's Theatre. Ed. Lynda Hart. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 1989. 61-75.
Writers League Against Lynching. Western Union Telegram. 15 Jan. 1935. NAACP Papers. Box C208, Folder WLAG. Manuscript Reading Room, Library of Congress.
Zangrando, Robert. The NAACP Crusade Against Lynching 1909-1950. Philadelphia: Temple UP, 1980.
(1.) In "Cosmopolitanism in Georgia Douglas Johnson's Anti-Lynching Literature," O'Brien turns to a set of scholars of African American literature and historiography different from that I engage in the present essay on Johnson's lynching plays. (See O'Brien.) O'Brien draws from multiple academic disciplines--from black feminist criticism by Angela Davis and Claudia Tate to sociohistorical analyses by Wilson J. Moses and A. Leon Higginbotham. Alternatively, I turn to a range of scholars of African American theatre, drama, and music in addition to the work of literary scholars such as Claudia Tate, Gloria T. Hull, Trudier Harris, and Henry Louis Gates, Jr. Notably, O'Brien and I offer readers of African American Review divergent perspectives on Johnson's lynching plays based on disparate yet complementary research methodologies and critical backgrounds. I enthusiastically welcome O'Brien to the ranks of scholars (past and present) who are working to bring Johnson the wider recognition she deserves. I also encourage the work of African American theatre scholars who have previously published on Johnson's lynching plays; these include Winona Fletcher, James V. Hatch, Marta Effinger-Crichlow, Kathy Perkins, David Krasner, and Judith Stephens.
(2.) During her lifetime, Johnson published four volumes of verse: The Heart of a Woman and Other Poems (1918), Bronze: A Book of Verse (1922), An Autumn Love Cycle (1928), and Share My World: A Book of Poems (1962); many of her poems appeared in magazines, newspapers, and anthologies. In contrast, only four of the 28 plays listed in her "Catalogue of Writings" were published in her lifetime: Blue Blood won honorable mention the 1926 Opportunity one-act play contest and was published in Frank Shay's Fifty More Contemporary One Act Plays (1928); and Plumes, awarded first prize in the following year's contest, was published in Opportunity (1927) and in Alain Locke's Plays of Negro Life (1927). The two historical dramas Frederick Douglass and William and Ellen Craft appeared in Willis Richardson and May Miller's Negro History in Thirteen Plays (1935). Significantly, none of Johnson's lynching dramas were published in her lifetime.
(3.) Volumes such as Selected Works of Georgia Douglas Johnson, including Claudia Tate's valuable introduction and Hull's Color Sex and Poetry consider Johnson's work in all genres but focus predominantly on her poetry. Drama collections such as Perkins's Black Female Playwrights and Brown-Guillory's Wines in the Wilderness are valuable for positioning Johnson alongside her sister playwrights and bringing attention to the variety of themes and issues that Black women brought to the stage, but the breadth of each volume permitted the inclusion of only a few of Johnson's plays. Some of the more recent publications that discuss specific aspects of Johnson's lynching dramas are Krasner's A Beautiful Pageant and Harris's "Before the Strength, the Pain" in Marsh-Lockett's Black Women Playwrights. Sullivan's 1995 article "Folk Plays, Home Girls and Back Talk" provides a feminist or "female centered" analysis of Johnson's Plumes and A Sunday Morning in the South. McHenry's Forgotten Readers examines the formation of the "Saturday Nighters" and the literary discussions they held in Johnson's Washington DC home during the 1920s and '30s (Duke UP, 2002).
(4.) Georgia Douglas Johnson, letter to Alain Locke, Mar. 1925, Alain Locke Papers, Box 164-40, Folder 35, Manuscript Division, Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, Howard University, Washington, DC.
(5.) Readers for the FTP gave mixed reviews to Johnson's plays, but none of them were selected by the organization for production or publication. For an examination of FTP readers' responses to Johnson's plays, see Fletcher and also Krasner. Copies of reader responses to the plays that Johnson submitted to the Federal Theatre Project plays are available in the FTP Collection, (Safe is in Box 301, Sunday Morning in the South in Box 321, and Blue-Eyed Black Boy in Box 151), Music Division, Library of Congress.
(6.) Richard Lowe, Director of Public Relations, Wendell Malliet and Company, letter to Georgia Douglas Johnson, 29 July 1943; and Wendell Malliet, letter to Georgia Douglas Johnson, 23 Aug. 1943, Georgia Douglas Johnson Papers, Box 162-1, Folder 40, Manuscript Division, Moorland Spingarn Research Center, Howard University. Georgia Douglas Johnson, letter to Harold Jackman, 2 Dec. 1952, Cullen-Jackman Memorial Collection, Box 19, Folder 20, Atlanta University Center, Robert W. Woodruff Library, Atlanta, Georgia.
(7.) Georgia Douglas Johnson, letter to Langston Hughes, 8 Jan. 1955, Cullen-Jackman Memorial Collection, Box 19, Folder 20, Atlanta University Center, Robert W. Woodruff Library, Atlanta, Georgia.
(8.) Lynching as a means of racial intimidation did not come to an end in 1950, (cf. the murders of Emmet Till, 1955; Mack Charles Parker, 1959; Michael Donald, 1981, and James Byrd, 1998), but by that time incidents like those portrayed in Johnson's plays had significantly declined and Black activist and civil rights organizations turned their energies to other matters. According to W. Fitzhugh Brundage, in 1953 Tuskegee Institute announced that lynching "seems no longer to be a valid index" of race relations in the United States, but the language of the announcement itself speaks to the major role of lynching in maintaining racial boundaries up until the mid-twentieth century (Brundage, 275).
(9.) See Harris, Exorcising Blackness 195. Lewis's keynote speech was delivered at Emory University in October 2002.
(10.) In Act Five, Scene One of Brown's autobiographical drama, the character of a white abolitionist working in the South is warned about an approaching mob of angry slave owners: "But you had better hide away; they are coming and they'll lynch you, that they will" (Hatch and Shine, 1996, 55). Stephens and Perkins acknowledge this statement as the first reference to lynching in American/African American drama but locate the formation of the genre in the early twentieth century when playwrights, such as Angelina Weld Grimke, began to write dramas focusing on lynching. In her doctoral dissertation, "Public Death: Lynching Drama in the Years of Its Genesis, 1858-1919," Barbara Lewis argues for a different perspective of the genre and locates its origins in Brown's play, since its portrayal of the pursuit of an escaped slave involves the same elements as a lynch mob pursing the intended victim.
(11.) Lynch P*in, a multimedia ensemble theatre piece addressing the history and impact of lynching in America, was conceived, written, and directed by Yvonne Singh. The world premiere of Lynch P*in occurred at the 2002 National Black Arts Festival. This author saw the performance presented at the Canon Chapel, Emory University, as part of the international conference, "Lynching and Racial Violence in America: Histories and Legacies" on 5 Oct. 2002. The Emmett Projectwas conceived and directed by Chloe Johnston in collaboration with performers John Byrnes, Steven F. McClain, Lisa May Simpson, and Linara Washington. It was produced at the Neo-Futurarium, Chicago, 20 Mar.-26 Apr. 2003. William Parker's The Awakening debuted at the Valley Playhouse in Sacramento, CA on 2 Oct. 2003.
(12.) For a discussion of the genre's history and implications for the study of American theatre, see Stephens, "Lynching, American Theatre, and The Preservation of a Tradition". For an examination of lynching dramas as a site of struggle against dominant racial and gender ideologies of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, see Stephens, "Anti-Lynch Plays by African American Women".
(13.) See Zangrando.
(14.) Walter White, letter to Georgia Douglas Johnson, 18 Jan. 1937, NAACP Papers, Box C-299, "Anti Lynching Bill Play" Folder, Manuscript Reading Room, Library of Congress. Washington, DC. All correspondence between Johnson and the NAACP is contained in this file.
(15.) Georgia Douglas Johnson, letter to Walter White, 19 Jan. 1937.
(16.) See Ovington. The ending of her play portrays the successful interracial efforts of a Northern community to recruit members for the NAACP and to prevent a southern sheriff from capturing Caesar Smith and returning him to Georgia, where he had escaped a lynch mob.
(17.) According to Murphy, one of the hallmarks of "realism" (as developed by early 20th century American dramatists) was portraying a serious social problem that was left unresolved at the play's end (xii).
(18.) Walter White, letter to Georgia Douglas Johnson, 18 Jan. 1937.
(19.) Juanita Jackson, NAACP, letter to Georgia Douglas Johnson, 12 Jan. 1938.
(20.) See Stephens, "'And Yet They Paused' and 'A Bill To Be Passed.'"
(21.) Western Union Telegram from Charles Houston to NAACP New York Offices, 3 Feb. 1938, NAACP Papers, Box E-1, Folder 1938, Manuscript Reading Room, Library of Congress.
(22.) Writers League Against Lynching, Western Union Telegram, 15 Jan. 1935, NAACP Papers, Box C-208, Folder WLAG, Manuscript Reading Room, Library of Congress.
(23.) Johnson's "Catalogue of Writings" is in the Georgia Douglas Johnson Papers, Box 162-2, Folder 17, Moorland Spingarn Research Center, Howard University. An additional copy of the "Catalogue," marked "Gift of the Author" and dated 1965 (one year before Johnson's death), is at the Library of Congress. Johnson refers to her "plays on lynching" in a letter to Walter White, 15 Jan. 1937, NAACP Papers. According to Johnson's "Catalogue," she wrote 28 plays, mostly one-acts, that she arranged into four categories: "Radio Plays," "Primitive Life Plays," "Plays of Average Negro Life," and "Lynching Plays." Three additional plays Starting Point, Holiday, and Paupaulekejo (Johnson spells it "Popoplikaho") are listed on pp. 8-9 under "Stories of Average Negro Life." (See O'Brien for her original and fascinating interpretation of Paupaulekejo as an "anti-lynching play.") Unfortunately, almost all (more than half) of the plays Johnson listed by title in her catalogue are lost, but her brief plot summaries provide a general understanding of each play's dramatic action. Although the catalogue contains a list of 11 entries under the category "Lynching Plays" (10-11), I am suggesting that a mistake occurred in assembling the catalogue and that plays numbered 7 through 11 are actually intended for inclusion under the category "Plays of Average Negro Life." Judging from Johnson's own summaries, none of the five plays numbered 7 through 11 deal with lynching, but instead all offer more diverse and lighter fare. The five plays deal with heterosexual romance, interracial friendships, or post-war America. One play, "Miss Bliss," is clearly intended to be a humorous story of mistaken racial identity: "Miss Bliss--(Being Colored) young white man when about to propose to beautiful girl acquaints his father with the fact, who tells him he has colored blood. Thereupon, he regretfully tells the girl's mother the state of affairs, when she, in turn, tells him a like story. Both are amused and pleased. Wedding planned" ("Catalogue" 10).
Another of the apparently misplaced plays, "Heritage," involves a plot that encourages young people to value the inheritance of good character over great wealth. Obviously, these plays do not deal with lynching, and summaries of the other three, "Midnight and Dawn," "Camel Legs," and "Money Wagon," also do not connect to lynching. Since the list of dramas under the category "Plays of Average Negro Life" ends at the bottom of a page with the summary of play number 6, I am suggesting that the list should continue with plays numbered 7-11, mistakenly placed under the category "Lynching Plays." This decision is based on the fact that none of the five summaries refer to a lynching as do the first six plays (discussed in this essay) and that none of the final five seem appropriate for the category. Furthermore, in correspondence dated as late as 1938, Johnson referred specifically to her "five lynching plays," and an unbound page from an earlier version of her catalogue lists the five extant lynching plays on a single page. Since the catalogue existed in several preliminary versions, it is highly possible that the mistake occurred in compiling the final, stapled version, and instead of placing the summaries of plays numbered 7-11 after number 6 under "Plays of Average Negro Life," Johnson, or someone else, mistakenly placed them after number 6 under "Lynching Plays." Although some previous studies have credited Johnson with writing 11 lynching plays, I am suggesting she actually wrote five or, if the two different versions of A Sunday Morning in the South are counted separately (as Johnson does in her catalogue), six plays. I suggest that the six plays I am discussing in this essay are the complete body of work that Johnson contributed to the lynching drama genre. Even if the number of plays Johnson wrote on lynching is reduced from 11 to 6, Johnson remains the most prolific contributor to the genre.
(24.) Blue-Eyed Black Boy, Safe, and A Sunday Morning in the South (Black church version) are all published in Perkins and Stephens. The unpublished manuscript of Sunday Morning in the South (White church version) is contained in the papers of the Federal Theatre Project: Playscripts, Box 779, Music Division, Library of Congress. The unpublished manuscripts of And Yet They Paused and A Bill To Be Passed are contained in the NAACP Papers, Library of Congress, Box C-299, "Anti-Lynching Bill Play" Folder. And Yet They Paused and A Bill to be Passed are essentially the same play, but A Bill to be Passed has a different ending and an additional scene, "Kill That Bill," written, not by Johnson, but by Robert E. Williams, a member of the Cleveland, Ohio, chapter of the NAACP. All citations in this paper are from And Yet They Paused.
(25.) Johnson qtd. in Opportunity July 1927, 204.
(26.) Johnson's scores for "Amazing Grace" and "World Symphony" are from The Federal Theatre Project Collection. "A Sunday Morning In the South: First Version" (White church) and "A Sunday Morning in the South: Second Version" (Black church), Playscripts: Box 779. Music Division, Library of Congress.
(27.) Georgia Douglas Johnson, letter to Walter White, 2 June 1936.
(28.) For an analysis of Johnson's use of hymns and spirituals, see Stephens, "Politics and Aesthetics, Race and Gender."
(29.) Sullivan analyzes the dialogue in Johnson's plays as discourse that "reveals both the ways in which women challenge hegemonic definitions of culture and rely on the solidarity of female friendships." See Sullivan.
(30.) This view of Johnson contrasts with the following perspective offered by McHenry and based on analyses of Johnson's poetry: "... at a time when black artists were expected to take on more expressly political voices and subjects in their work, Johnson remained reluctant to substantively address the racial situation or her experiences as a black woman in her writing, preferring instead to rely on and recycle older formulas of genteel feminine expression" (McHenry 276).
Judith L. Stephens is Professor of Humanities and Theatre at Penn State University's Schuylkill Campus. She is author of scholarly articles on American and African-American theatre, co-editor (with Kathy Perkins) of Strange Fruit: Plays on Lynching by American Women (Indiana UP, 1998), and author of The Plays of Georgia Douglas Johnson: From the "New Negro" Renaissance to the Civil Rights Movement (U of Illinois P, Fall 2005). Professor Stephens thanks Julian Bond for his encouragement.
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|Author:||Stephens, Judith L.|
|Publication:||African American Review|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2005|
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