'Scottsboro Boys' fallout continues

Nayaba Arinde | 4/12/2011, 5:29 p.m.

"I remember going to a rally to free the Scottsboro Boys in 1933 in Harlem," Flora Polk, 84, told the AmNews. "It was my first demonstration and I was about 5 or 6 years old. I was with my parents on West 131 Street between 7th and 8th avenues. I remember it was packed. We all had to chant, 'The Scottsboro Boys must not die!' It was so long ago, but I remember it."

The fallout from the "Scottsboro Boys," the controversial minstrel show on Broadway, is not abating.

Polk said that she has not seen the show.

"I resent the 'Scottsboro Boys' show. I don't want to see it. I don't want to sit through it," she told the AmNews, noting that she disputed comments from a colleague that, "You have to see it to understand the concept, and these young men are employed, and that's wonderful."

"A director I know said that he wouldn't do the show himself, and that you would think to yourself: 'Do I really want to go on stage and make money out of someone else's misery?'"

Half an hour after Sunday's demonstration began outside the Lyceum Theater last week, a couple of cops arrived to put up barricades. Freedom Party supporters chanting, "We say no to racism," and "Shut it down," deftly avoided the maneuver and marched down 45th Street, crossed the street at Broadway, went on the other side and got to hollering again.

"I didn't know!" a white patron said to one of the protestors. "I can't believe they are trivializing this story," she said.

A few nervous theater-goers stopped to ask what the demonstration was about. Informed, some shook their heads, while others got engaged in a full conversation. Others turned away and walked swiftly into the theater.

On Tuesday night, when this reporter, on assignment, went to the show, again the audience appeared to be 99 percent white. Black folks smiled politely, not sure what was going to go down.

Welcomed to the Alabama minstrel show by the white "interlocutor" (the master of ceremonies in a minstrel show), the audience settled in for the ride.

The shoeshine shuffling began almost from the gate. Singing loudly and boisterously, the nine Scottsboro Boys introduced themselves before being unceremoniously accosted by two other actors portraying the white sheriff and guards and the prosecutor. They embraced caricatures and isms that built up a pretentious camaraderie amongst the audience, who were in effect laughing at Black men steppin' and fetchin' and at Blacks playing whites--but from a white perspective. The two women who falsely accused the nine of rape are played by two of the nine, and the bitter irony seems to be lost on the white audience, which feels comfortable laughing at skits about Black men being electrocuted, lynched and dancing up a storm in the process.

Speaking with the writer of the play, David Thompson, this reporter asked, "What made you think that doing a minstrel show was not offensive?" The reporter asked, rather than all the buffoonery, why can't a white guy play a white guy?