After an unrelenting grassroots campaign, it was announced on Tuesday that “The Scottsboro Boys,” the “racist minstrel show with blackface,” is closing next week. Cheers from the Republic of Brooklyn to the Boogie Down Bronx broke through the gray mist and rain.
Called a “Cultural Felony” by Kwando M. Kinshasa, PhD, the educator from the African American Studies Department at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, CUNY, he detailed his distaste of “the lynching occurring on Broadway at the Lyceum Theatre, and it is a bloody and gruesome affair.”
“‘The Scottsboro Boys’ will play its final performance on Broadway on Sunday, December 12,” said public relations spokesman Jim Byk in a statement.
The news was like manna from heaven for activists who had battled to “shut down” the minstrel musical with its buffoonish coonery and insensitive portrayal of one of the most horrendous episodes of judicial chicanery in the last century.
Protests outside the Lyceum Theatre began soon after the play opened October 7.
“The Freedom Party was the first to come out on this issue,” declared City Councilman Charles Barron. “We came out every weekend to let the theatergoers know that this was a racist play, with a minstrel show and blackface and we weren’t having it. We weren’t going to stop until this assault on our culture and history was taken off Broadway. Now we’ve got the victory.”
“Recent news that the Scottsboro Boys play on Broadway is closing was met with a sense of modest satisfaction by the Freedom Party,” said Omowale Clay, member of the Party. “Yes, we are glad that we accomplished our mission to determine the way OUR history is recorded and portrayed. However, the struggle continues…These attacks on our culture, dignity and right to be self-determining cannot and will not go unanswered. Our people, our culture and our future mandates we must win.”
Confronted by banners and chants, the majority white audience at “The Scottsboro Boys” responded with a range of emotions from shock to indifference, but the net result is a reported loss of 5 million dollars and a depleted audience.
Assigned to see the play, this reporter, plus AmNews writers Linda Armstrong and Cyril Josh Barker, was astounded by the outrageous depictions on stage. Each subsequent article spoke to the incredible insensitivity and disgusting belittling of the characters and their story.
Speaking to the writer of the play, David Thompson, and actor Coleman Domingo, as this reporter did, only reinforced the opinion of what appeared to be a grave disconnect with the issues that protestors, many Black theater leaders and commentators were raising. The production company having Whoopi Goldberg reiterate how wonderful she thought the play was, and having her give her entire “The View” audience free tickets to see the show on Monday, carried little weight, since she was the same individual who had her then-boyfriend Ted Danson wear black face to a roast at the Friars Club years ago.
Producers Barry and Fran Weissler and Jacki Barlia Flori said in a statement, “We’ve never believed more strongly and passionately in a show as we did with ‘The Scottsboro Boys.’ It’s a show we felt we had to produce and we’re proud and grateful to have brought this last great musical from Kander & Ebb to Broadway.”
It is a poignant story of racism, Black resilience and the tragedy of racial injustice.
A song and dance party it is not.
Freedom Party protestor Omowale Clay is also a member of the December 12th Movement, a Brooklyn-based civil and human rights organization, who were instrumental in putting together the demonstrators. The date when the play is closing is not lost on him. “We understand how powerful this is,” he said. “There will be another demonstration outside the Lyceum Theatre at 45th Street and Broadway on Sunday. We hope to see our community on Sunday at 2 p.m. at 44th Street and Sixth Avenue. We leave from there to march on the Lyceum Theatre to put the final nails in the coffin of a play that should have never been.”