Here, I’ll set the scene:

August 4, 1964. Deep South. Mississippi summer. Freedom Summer.

Get the picture so far?

In NC Black Repertory Company‘s recent production of Freedom Summer, playwright Cynthia Grace Robinson tells the tale of three murdered workers found in the depths of Jacksonville, Mississippi during the most pivotal points of civil rights history.

During the time of this story, African Americans suffered blatant restrictions from participating in voting. Excluded or limited by voting laws, they had limited (if any) access to contribute to political concerns of the time through elections. The Mississippi Summer Project, or Freedom Summer, surfaced in 1964 as a campaign to recruit as many African American voters as possible to combat this reality. The Council of Federated Organizations, composed of four significant organizations (SNCC, CORE, NAACP, and SCLC), formulated this project and catalyzed other initiatives such as Freedom Schools, Freedom Houses, and community centers in small towns.

NC Black Rep’s production of Freedom Summer, directed by Jackie Alexander, was a clear representation of the simplicity and tenacity needed for the time. The set, designed to emulate traditional households of the 60s, was easy on the eyes and fit for its pompous character, Nora. At the height of her accomplishments as a “newly established” woman, Nora’s sister, Carrie, makes an appearance to provide some perspective on the severity of their family’s livelihood back home in Mississippi.

Well written and cohesive, this piece was mere storytelling. No gimmicks; no fancy, flashy lights; no moving set; just two characters, a homey living room setting, and real characters weighing out the odds of their futures. For social and interpersonal acceptance, Nora finds herself using the advantage of her lighter complexion to neglect her melanated culture and adopt the persona of a modern day White woman. In her quest for freedom and a more extensive outlook on life through the lens of a White woman, she is overcome by the love of a man whom she is set to marry. For fear that her true identity may be compromised, she has refused to contact her birth parents for two years. When Carrie arrives, the ultimatum to accept her truth as a “Negro” woman or continue to live a lie shakes up Nora’s life. But Nora isn’t alone in holding deep, secret urges to pursue a better life.

Reluctant to explain her reason for visiting, Carrie attempts to catch up with Nora to make up for the years of distance between the two, but live news alerts reporting the “murder of three young boys” make it difficult to resist the urge of sharing her true plans. While Carrie becomes attentive to the broadcast, Nora has very little interest and would much rather sustain the fantasy life she created for herself as a White woman (the one in which she is not judged on her skin color and reaps the benefits of those who “assume the privilege” of societal acceptance as an ordinary civilian). Carrie petitions Nora to return home on the account that their father has passed away, out of sight, in an alleyway, near trash bags. In disbelief and disgust, Nora insists that Carrie gather her things and be on her way. Still, Carrie insists, including that they’d already had the burial service and would now need her assistance in taking care of their mother. After much refusal to accept this heartbreaking information, Nora finally asks Carrie why she must be the one to return home (a place from which she deliberately escaped) to care for their mother. “Why couldn’t you take care of Momma?” Nora exclaims. Taken aback and slightly stifled, Carrie affirms that her responsibility as their mother’s caretaker was no longer adequate due to her newest association as a member of the Freedom Summer project. Nora becomes struck with fear. Immediately, she is against any thought of returning, especially not through the coercion of Carrie wanting to be an activist. But, when Carrie mentions Nora’s old lover who was shot and killed, Nora silently reconsiders.

The play continues, concluding with a compassionate moment between the sisters as Nora’s convictions against Carrie’s choices subside, and she agrees to look after their mother in Carrie’s absence. Additionally, the tension rises as Nora proceeds in stride as the White woman she’d chosen to be in the commencement of her wedding.

The final moments of the play were filled with “oohs” and “aahs” from the audience as Nora ripped the return ticket given to her by Carrie, creating a powerful ending.