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Arts and Entertainment

Tribute to Freedom Riders
‘The Parchman Hour’ dramatizes rights struggle
Published Wednesday, November 21, 2012 7:27 am
by Michaela L. Duckett

Acclaimed actor and playwright Mike Wiley has spent the last decade of his life working to fulfill his mission of bringing educational theatre to young audiences.

A scene from “The Parchman Hour,” which tells the story of the 1961 Freedom Riders.

He will be presenting one of his latest works, “The Parchman Hour,” at 8 p.m. on Dec. 1 at the Davis Theatre in Concord.

“The Parchman Hour” tells the story of the Freedom Riders of 1961, an interracial group of civil rights activists who rode interstate buses into the segregated South. The play is named after Parchman Farm, a penitentiary in Mississippi where a group of riders were arrested and imprisoned.

“It’s one of those old penitentiaries with a farm that you see on TV where they are wearing stripes and the guards are on horses,” says Wiley. “It was and still is one of the hardest penitentiaries in the country.”

While serving time, the Riders would keep their spirits up by singing freedom songs and entertain themselves by creating a fictional radio program, which is the basis for the play.

“Each cell had to contribute a short act,” recalls Freedom Rider Mimi Real, who served time in Parchman. She says the short acts typically consisted of singing a song, telling a joke or reading from the Bible – the only book the Riders were allowed to read while in prison.

“In between acts we had commercials for the products we lived with everyday, like the prison soap, the black-and-white striped skirts, or the awful food,” says Real. “We did this every evening, as I recall. It gave us something to do during the day, thinking up our cell’s act for the evening.”

Using the race rhetoric and soulful freedom songs of the 1960s, “The Parchaman Hour” encompasses the variety show theme, oral history and conversations from the Freedom Riders’ most iconic characters including Martin Luther King Jr., Robert Kennedy and Stokely Carmichael.

For tickets visit www.CabarrusArtsCouncil.org or call (704) 920-2753.


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