New Federal Theatre for over 50 years has established itself as a theatre company that seeks to tell important stories that help us to know our past and show the link between minorities. There is something amazing about hearing a play that is not only created to entertain, but to educate as well. That is the case with “Gong Lum’s Legacy”, this phenomenal drama written by Charles L. White shares a story that is true and based in 1925 Mississippi Delta, the Supreme Court “Lum v Rice” case. The facts of that case are bought to us in the midst of a romantic story created by White. The play is produced in association with The Peccadillo Theater Company. The Mississippi Delta is a place where Chinese businessmen had businesses in the local community and their customers were often Black. In 1925 Blacks and Chinese did not look to be together. Blacks stayed with Blacks and Chinese stayed with Chinese. Chinese customs dictate that Chinese men send back to China for a wife and marry someone they don’t know. However, that is not what happens in “Gong Lum’s Legacy”, the love between Joe, a Chinese man whose father owns the local grocery store and the Black school teacher Lucy is definitely something that goes against tradition. It is a decision that gets Joe ostracized from his community. In the midst of this couple finding love, marrying and dealing with what comes with that from the Chinese and Black communities, there, again, is real-life, historical Supreme Court case Lum v Rice where a Chinese man went to court to secure the right for his daughters to attend White schools in Mississippi, something that, like Black children, Chinese children were not allowed to do. Lum thought that his daughters would get a better education in the White schools. Joe’s father is upset to learn that Joe wants more of Lucy that lessons in English. He tells Joe that Colored girls are for fooling around with, not marrying. He keeps trying to set Joe up with Chinese girls that he doesn’t know.
What’s interesting about this story is that there’s such an irony. Chinese people were being discriminated against by White in Mississippi, just like the Blacks were, but yet they wanted to be accepted by the Whites—go to their schools, attend their churches. They were upset when Whites didn’t accept them. With all this happening they also judged Colored people as being their inferior and something that they would not associate with except as a customer. As Joe and Lucy talk about the issues of their people in Mississippi, they find out that they have a lot of similar problems. Joe also shares the hardships that Chinese people go through when they come to this country. There is no green carpet extended to them, they are imprisoned and can be there for months waiting to get past all the paperwork to be in this country. They experience discrimination and being badgered. Once they come and they start businesses, they are trying to have the American dream just like anyone else. They are trying to plant that foundation for their families to come and thrive in this country. We all really have a lot in common. It is touching how much Joe and Lucy love each other and despite severe threats, they manage to stay together.
The ensemble cast does a stunning job and includes Alinca Hamilton as Lucy; Anthony Goss who plays Melvin, Lucy’s brother; Eric Yang as Joe; Henry Yuk as Mr. Ting and DeShawn White as Loretta. The production also has perfectly timed direction by Elizabeth Van Dyke. This informative play will truly let people see how much we are connected. It also makes you realize that the discrimination against Blacks and Chinese in 1925 Mississippi Delta has really not gone away, especially with recent attacks on the Chinese community and of course, the constant and consistent atrocities done to Blacks.
“Gong Lum’s Legacy” will play at the Theatre at St. Clements, located at 423 W 46th Street through April 24.