‘Can We Tell It Like It Really Happened?’: On Race and ‘The Scottsboro Boys’

Facing protests, Broadway production The Scottsboro Boys will close this Sunday. Tom Matlack argues that the show was misunderstood.

When I was 8, while my classmates were learning their multiplication tables, I was thrown into the back of a paddy wagon and dragged into court. My dad—a Quaker activist—and I had committed civil disobedience on a crisp fall day in Western Massachusetts.

As a little boy who just needed to go to the bathroom, I tried, futilely, to take a leak into a single, seatless toilet in front of a cell full of men. Those few hours behind bars scared me. I didn’t want to go back. While many others who had run-ins with the law at such a tender age went on to serve time, I never stepped foot in prison again as a young man.

But a quarter-century after my childhood arrest, I did go back to jail repeatedly, this time as a visitor. I went to South Bay House of Corrections in Boston, a maximum-security prison in Connecticut, and ultimately, Sing Sing. Sitting with a room full of lifers, deep in the bowels of that stone structure “up the river,” two things struck me: the inmates were nearly all black, and they looked so young. When they went around the room to introduce themselves, it brought tears to my eyes to hear that even the youngest-looking boys had been inside for more than a decade.

Nationally, unemployment among black men ages 16–24 stands at 35 percent. Sixty-five percent of black boys grow up in fatherless homes. Of the prison population of 2,424,279 inmates, 44 percent—more than a million—are black; there are 919,000 black men enrolled in college. If current trends continue, one in three black male babies born today will end up in prison.

We Americans ignore the obvious because it is far too uncomfortable to consider: Martin Luther King’s dream is still far from being realized.


Into this myth of racial progress enters The Scottsboro Boys, a Broadway production that debuted on October 31 at the Lyceum Theater. (Full disclosure: I helped finance the play, in honor of my parents who travelled to Mississippi in the Freedom Summer of 1964, and to honor the African-American inmates with whom I have spent time in ancient human cages like Sing Sing.)

The Scottsboro Boys, about the nine young men who were falsely accused and sentenced to death for raping two white women in 1931, provides a screen upon which our unresolved racism is uncomfortably projected. It sticks its finger into the still-open wound that is race in this country, forcing the audience to watch the boys dance and sing in a minstrel format as they struggle to find their true voice.

The show flips the traditional minstrel show on its head, using it to humanize, rather than caricaturize, the participants. In the opening moments of the play, Haywood Patterson, the eldest Scottsboro boy, asks, “Can we tell it like it really happened? … This time, can we tell the truth?” And by the final scene of the play, the blackface is gone. The minstrel show is over. And we see real men telling a real story of injustice and racism.

Watching The Scottsboro Boys, I was made painfully aware of my own racism. I judge people by their skin color, their religion, their sexual orientation. The fact is, we all do; it doesn’t make us bad people—it makes us human. But if we are ever going to get anywhere on the topic of race, we have to stop sugarcoating the discourse. We can’t let the election of a black president obscure the fact that we’re still locking up all the black men in this country.

“The first time we ever did a reading of the show was the day after Obama was elected, that Wednesday morning, sitting with a group of black men in a rehearsal studio, reading the script,” the show’s writer, David Thompson, told me recently. “And for a second there, it was as if there had been a seismic shift in the world. We thought: ‘Is this piece relevant anymore? Have we discovered that we’re on the other side of the conversation?’ … We realized very quickly that, no, what we’re having now is a very veiled discussion. We’re using new words to discuss racism. We’re screaming ‘You lie!’ on the floor of the Senate to a black president, because somehow that seems appropriate.

“That’s why the minstrel show combines that ability to have that strange laugh that you would have at the expense of others,” Thompson continued. “In South Park, when you’re watching something that’s just so politically incorrect, you still laugh, and then you think, ‘Well, did I really laugh at that?’ Because it demands that you question something.”


A group in New York calling itself the Freedom Party—a bastardization of the Freedom Democratic Party, for which my parents risked their lives to help blacks get the right to vote in 1964—launched a much-publicized protest against The Scottsboro Boys, picketing the theater and calling upon patrons to boycott. The protests certainly contributed to its demise—it will close on Sunday, December 12.

None of the protestors had seen the play. The group’s leader, Charles Barron, a one-time gubernatorial candidate, organized the protests to raise his own personal profile, while attacking artists who are asking tough questions about racial injustice—the same racial injustice that the Freedom Party claims to be fighting.

My question to the protestors is the one I ask you: When are you going to stop the minstrel show that is race in America, wipe away the blackface, and start telling the truth, no matter how uncomfortable that might be? It will always be easier to lie when the system reinforces myth.

While the play was being protested outside, the Theater Development Fund bought out two performances for high-school students, most of them black and who had never seen a live theater production. The kids were leaning forward in their seats, cell phones off, fully engaged in the story. “They were laughing, they were screaming, they were gasping, they were laughing louder than I’d ever heard anybody laugh,” Thompson recalled. “And they were more live than I’ve ever heard an audience, especially toward the end.”

Afterward, there was a Q&A with the actors. One kid in the balcony shouted, “If you were in a situation where you had the ability to get out of … to get parole … if you just lied, would you do it?” Somebody else asked, “What was it like to put on blackface for the first time? And what’s it feel like to take it off?” Another kid asked, “Now that you’ve been in the show, what is your opinion about the death penalty?”

The kids got the play at the deepest level, even when the adults outside did not. They were prepared to ask the tough questions we all too often shy away from. Part of our collective immigrant heritage—whether Irish, Italian, Chinese, Mexican, or Africans brought here as slaves—is to leave our children a better world than the one we endured. Are we really prepared to leave them, black and white children both, a legacy that perpetuates a fundamental fiction about race in America?


Read Tom Matlack’s full conversation with The Scottsboro Boys writer David Thompson.

♦ ♦ ♦

Tom Matlack, together with James Houghton and Larry Bean, published an anthology of stories about defining moments in men’s lives — The Good Men Project: Real Stories from the Front Lines of Modern Manhood. It was how the The Good Men Project first began. Want to buy the book? Click here. Want to learn more? Here you go.

About Tom Matlack

Thomas Matlack is a venture capitalist.


  1. “As long as you think that you are white, there is no hope for you.” James Baldwin

    I think there is a notion that history happens to Americans and black history happens to black people. John Brown destroyed the notion that people cannot take up the struggles of others as their own in this country. Instead of saying that white people can never understand black experience, why don’t we acknowledge our shared history in the creation of acceptance of the fiction of some difference in people due to skin color.

    I say to people, “I don’t think of you as white until you act that way.” Whiteness is about privilege and oppression and as the narrative of the play points out, the characters are trying to fight their way out of racialized constructions in order to have access to their own authentic voices.

    Is it uncomfortable? Sure, I think art should be troublesome. But please, let’s not get into this nonsense where people are not allowed to investigate our shared tragedies because they don’t pass a paper bag test. Does Patrick Jackson need to be a hobbit to direct LORD OF THE RINGS?

  2. Janet Pailet says:

    As one of the producers of this show, I need to address a misconception that seems to be fueling this fire. The producing team is not all white. There are several African American producers who have stuck their necks out to help get this show on Broadway because they believe in its message and in the need to have this conversation. The response from their own community has been very painful to them, particularly from those of the Freedom Party who are uninformed as they refuse to see the show-despite numerous attempts on the behalf of the producers to invite them in. Their own producing future, and that of shows written about and by African Americans, has been jeopardized by these protests. It is one thing to take risks, it is another to have to stand in front of a theater every week, and be told that you are a racist by individuals who don’t even have the courage to engage in a meaningful conversation with audience members AFTER the show is over, because they pack their bags and walk away when the curtain goes up.

    engage the audience AFTER the show is over.

    • Yeah, no... says:

      If you are going to do something this racially inflammatory… its probably a good idea to engage a conversation with the community before making such a play. And to give the community a fair chance to see the production. As it is… Broadway plays are mostly for white people. And it’s a minstrel show… so altogether you can see how this whole thing got misinterpreted…

  3. I was in NY on business recently, and made it a priority to see “Scottsboro Boys.” Seated in the row behind me were a group of 50-to-60ish ladies who chatted to each other about how they’d *loved* “Jersey Boys” and “Wicked,” but didn’t know anything about the show they were about to see (although one heard that it had been written by “the people who did ‘Chicago’). I kept an ear open for their comments as “Scottsboro” unfolded, but they were too engrossed for any further chit-chat. Finally, one whispered excitedly, “I never expected anything like this! This is one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen!” The audience was totally with the actors and the story – and for once, the standing ovation given the cast was heartfelt. In terms of emotional impact, the only thing I can compare it to was “Grey Gardens” with Christine Ebersole.

    For what it’s worth, I found the use of the minstrel form and conventions to be intelligent, pointed and totally apt within the context of the show and story.

    This show deserves to be seen – to be heard – and to be discussed…especially in a 21st century America where willful ignorance continues to spread across the land.

    Kudos to all those who had the courage to participate in this production, whether creatively or financially. The box-office failure of “Scottsboro Boys” sends a disturbing message about the audience for Broadway theatre in our time.

  4. Tom Matlack says:

    I was at the show tonight and for the life of me I just can’t imagine how it can be interpretted as racist. So much is a straight telling of the historical facts. When Patterson talks about his mother being raped on account of the lie he told as a boy on his front porch (which is why he is determined to tell the truth even if he has to pay with his life) the actor was crying and the mixed audience right along with him. I met the cast afterwards who hugged me for having written the article and spoke to numerous black audience members who were enormously moves by the play. This is no doubt a tough story. Perhaps too tough for an audience already beaten down by economic hardship. But I remain convinced it is an important one to tell in order to be able to begin to talk about race in America.

  5. Well I guess the solution is go and see your show, Jeff.

    I think the show did exactly what it was supposed to do—get people to talk about this horrible situation.

    Bravo to the musical! I’m getting all of the Black men in my life to see it before it leaves on the 12th. I’m heartbroken that it’s leaving. We need this discourse right now. Even in 2010.

  6. As a composer and lyricist of an upcoming new musical treatment of the Scottsboro Boys and being related (however distant) to Samuel Leibowitz (my grandfather’s cousin), I have lived with this historical tragedy most of my life. I started writing the music and lyrics over fifteen years ago. The treatment of the Scottsboro Boys in terms of style, technique and finding a historical connection to present the “boys” using the method of the minstrel show to convey the story through its witty banter and gospel style, places the emphasis and focus on the style of presentation and in my opinion draws the audience away from the historical content. It becomes entertainment for entertainment’s sake. It may be offensive, clever, even a stroke of genius…but the Scottsboro Boys are NOT a minstrel show to be treated or mocked. This is not a show called “The Minstrel Show “with a little Scottsboro boys thrown in This is part of American history and reflects the heart and soul of the times. Although some of the music, lyrics and energy (thanks to an amazing cast) the show has wings, however the conceptional misdirection which includes HOW the show is presented may be offensive to some, confusing to others, and upsetting….The subject matter is offensive enough and there needs not be an offensive device of the minstrel show attached to frame this part of history. Still, as a historical project, a musical endeavor…there is value in that it opens the doors of communication. Kander and Ebb, brilliant in their careers, should win a Tony for this show, closing or not. I feel (and who the hell am I) that the direction of the music, lyrics and concept should have reflected and paid homage to the original Scottsboro Boys, whose lives were forever changed by a simple train ride. I hope someday to present and dedicate my production faithful to the miscarriage of justice without the gift wrapping in the current production. The Scottsboro Boys and minstrel show are a part of history, but the story needs a new perspective. An honest perspective devoid of creating an art form for presentation for entertainment value. I feel that the creators of the show have somehow missed the train.

  7. 1. Anyone who thinks that THE SCOTTSBORO BOYS “extends” the minstrel tradition clearly doesn’t have a sense of how degrading real minstrelsy was. Being black doesn’t automatically make someone an expert on the history of racism. If your issue is that the “boys” are portrayed as unsophisticated and poorly educated, as they undoubtedly were, then what’s really bothering you is the uncomfortable truth about what being black in this country really means. You are offended because you identify with the characters, and you don’t like what you see. That’s not the fault of the show’s creative team, those are your own insecurities rising to the surface. So the show has succeeded after all.

    2. You can argue that it’s somehow inappropriate that old white people wrote this show, but I don’t see any black people, old or young, doing it, so how have Kander & Ebb – who also wrote a show about the rise of Nazism, by the way – stepped on anyone’s toes? They, at least, were actually alive during some portion of the actual Scottsboro trials!

    3. Charles Barron is a public official of limited ability and unlimited ego. Furthermore, he hosted Zimbabwean president Mugabe at a City Hall reception a few years back. If he’s some kind of representative of African-American pride, progress, and dignity, then count me out.

    (In case it matters, I am a woman with a black mother and a white father – so perhaps I’m only half qualified to comment.)

  8. I just saw this play tonight and all I can say is
    I wish people in the Broadway would stick up for
    this show.

    Whoopi said that its the best show that she’s seen
    in 10 years, so I’m going to need her to fight
    for this show.

    Why are people allowing this obviously misinformed
    group bully them out of Broadway.

    I’m an African American woman that thought the
    play was superbly done. The minstrel format makes it
    uncomfortable to stomach. That’s what racism does to
    those that don’t speak up but just sit back and look.

    I need the Broadway community to stand up and decide
    not to be bullied by this group!

  9. Tom Matlack says:

    Thanks to all who have been participating in this conversation. I want to make clear that all I REALLY know is that there is a problem. I have my person experience of being inside prison and talking to individual people. But I don’t claim to have the ultimate answer. I do feel that the criticism of SB is misfounded, but then it is Art and for those who have seen the play and find it offensive I am sorry. But I do hope that it sparks a conversation about what we should be doing to change what is an unacceptable situation in this country. On that I think everyone in this stream can agree.

    As a magazine we at The Good Men Project really want to engage in a thoughtful discussion about race. We need as many points of view as possible to make that happen. I want to offer our space to anyone who has commented or is just reading this to participate by writing a piece for publication. Frankly the more you disagree with what has already been written the more likely we would be to publish it, as we have repeatedly on other topics. You can email me directly at ThomasMatlack@gmail.com if you want to address the play, racism in general, or have a personal story to share about the intersection of manhood and race.

  10. I am living in NYC in 2010 where companies like SapientNitro and other advertising agencies do not hire many if any blacks at all. The advertising industry specifically and corporate America in general seems to have a problem finding qualified black talent but Bloomberg can find an unqualified white woman to head the NYC public school.

    I am not clear on what is happening hear but it seems like an assault on blacks in NYC and in America in general. It seems like an Obama backlash. This play would be insignificant standing on its own but in light of the atmosphere and all of these other developments I do not find it accidental.

    And by the way, Charles Barron is not a racist/didn’t raise fuss for ”his own personal profile”. Any black man that stands for the dignity of black people and challenges the racism perpetrated against blacks by whites is labeled as such. Charles has no power to not hire whites nor stop whites from living where they wish to. In some ways I can support the play because it employs blacks but , having seen the show, it degrades us with it’s minstrel show hooplaand should’ve been boycotted. Furthermore, I bet that other big companies (NYTimes) does not hire any blacks either so they can support this play with out considering the impact on this community.

    The Freedom Party has a right to protest Susan Stroman version of the “Scottsboro Boys play as much as Jewish -Americans have and do protest Spike Lee’s portrayal of Jewish- Americans Bar Owners in “Mo’ Betta Blues” .

  11. The protests were completely valid, if not called for. Look at the demographic make-up of the producers, choreographers, and everyone profiting from this show. They are all old, affluent, and white.
    This show isn’t using overt racism, but covert.

    This show doesn’t reclaim the minstrel show for African Americans, but rather extends the minstrel tradition further. White people of privilege are putting African Americans of less power under their control and using them for their profit. Their show may not intentionally be racist, but it is.

    The protesters aren’t/weren’t missing the point, but are seeing much more than you–obliviously.
    Not only that but they’re taking a traumatic experience and reclaiming it, making it more palpable to a old, white, rich audience. Making them laugh and ahh at the remarkable talent and coordination. They never make the audience address what is at the real situation. I saw this at the Guthrie in Minneapolis, then reluctantly on broadway and was disgusted.

  12. I am writing as a low-middle class white woman and mother of three. I have had the honor of seeing this production at the Vineyard, the Guthrie and am thrilled to have gotten tickets to the final performance on Sunday. Full disclosure – I know someone in the cast, further disclosure – I found the money to pay for all of those tickets…

    The first time I saw the production, the audience was a rainbow. I sat there for the first thirty minutes or so thinking, “who am I, this white chick, to sit and have empathy for these characters; who am I to laugh at their cutting jokes?” I got over it. The grit of the show, the thought provoking push on how far we have or have not come in our treatment of others, the history in a raw form, forced me to just be a human being, led by the artful cast to react and respond to what (in my opinion) is a masterpiece.

    When I saw it at the Guthrie, I was a little disheartened to see an almost exclusively white audience. Especially in a city with so many different heritages. A little shine and polish for Broadway was showing on the production, but nothing took away from the heart of it.

    I wonder to all of you who have posted comments, how are we supposed to proceed? How can we continue to question and spark conversation? How can we work to move forward into a truly inclusive society when productions that force difficult topics to the forefront of popular conversation are stopped? Even if you disagree with the method, the community is out there talking. If there are limits on the “how,” and “who” those conversations may start, where is the hope?

    • As Chris Dimond said about the show on his blog, “Years down the road, pundits will shake their heads and say, ‘The show simply didn’t find its audience.’ I’ll argue differently. The audience simply didn’t find its show.” Hopefully a tour will help bring the show to its audience.

      Find the full article here: http://koomandimond.wordpress.com/2010/12/04/how-i-failed-the-scottsboro-boys/

      I have a hard time thinking of a more effective way of starting necessary conversation than good, provocative art.

  13. Lisa Hickey says:

    I heard it said once that: “it is almost impossible to have a public conversation about race without being accused of racism.”

    But what’s the better alternative? Is it not to try, because of fear of saying the wrong words or producing the wrong art form? Remain silent, because you’re worried someone will come back and argue with you?

    I would like to invite anyone who believes this column should have more depth to write something for us with more depth. We publish counter-arguments to our articles all the time.

    And for those of you who would like more of the backstory, more of the history, more of the argument, please read our interview with The Scottsboro Boys writer, David Thompson, here:

    Thanks all, for adding to the discussion.

  14. @Mike and Joe,

    I love that this article has impassioned you enough to respond. That alone justifies its existence. If it inspired you to carry this conversation into your interaction with someone else, it would be certifiably validated with returns. Granted, I don’t know what you do in your daily lives—what part is lived as educator and what part activist—but I feel that if this show inspires such conversation, then it has succeeded as art. It has ignited a flame where none was, and stoked those that were into something greater. And save for those protecting the status quo, who needs to be threatened by that?

    If that is the purpose of art, and the purpose of this article is to defend this particular exhibition, then I take no offense in Mr. Matlack demonstrating his cause in broad strokes of statistic and cliché. Mike, I feel you acknowledged this much. You also mentioned that the article aims to start conversation in a Post-Racist world. I don’t think it mentions anything about post-racism. Quite the contrary. And so, I can’t concede more than that we might be in a lull between civil rights battles. And if you look at the standing of homosexuals in America, you’ll know that even that isn’t true. In a post-racist world, I don’t think Joe would feel the need to point out the skin color of the writer of this article. I know there wouldn’t be slavery to this day in Ghana, and the causes behind the unfortunate trends cited above, when explored, would be the ruins of some dead school of thought, and not shining temples of continued bigotry. So, is this how the defense sugarcoats an issue?

    It makes me wonder: What difference does it make that the creative team is white? These are educated black men choosing and performing these roles. Just as you question, Joe, if it’s the same old white missionary story, are you putting these fine actors in as ignorant a position as the first slaves stolen from Africa? How insulting and effectively hypocritical. People have taken equal offense to efforts such as these helmed by black directors (See Bamboozled). How about films which use caricaturization of blacks with less of a message (Nutty Professor)? Or with the same recurring message (Tyler Perry). To boot, there have been amazing persons of all colors at the aide of others throughout history. And aide needn’t mean handouts. If a group of (Non-Jewish) Germans wanted to write a story about the holocaust told from within the Ghettos, then so be it. As long as the net effect is positive. In other words, whether Steven Spielberg were Jewish or Hitler’s grandson, it doesn’t change the (artistic) success—not entertainment value—of Schindler’s List. Admittedly, I realize it would be accepted differently.

    I’ll be at the show on Sunday.

  15. Tom, you might want to check your sources before you start blaming the Freedom Party, who had little to do with the closing of your precious show. Some of the protesters did see your precious show and had issues with the framing device, get over it.


    After seeing it at the Vineyard and on Broadway, I would have to agree with Joe and Mike in that it dehumanizes on many levels and this creative team who thought they were being so clever, we get what you were going for, bad taste on many levels. Most of the pro-Scottsboro Boys show seem to be of the Caucasian, thus unaffected, race. The nerve of a producer pointing the finger. The show was dehumanizing using the minstrel show framing device and YES, those of us who saw it, we got it. There is something to be said, mainly about a cocky race of people, when you have a topic such as the Scottsboro Boys and treat it as they’ve been treated. Shafted then, and 80 years later.

  16. David Wise says:

    The montage itself didn’t seem offensive. You have to understand that black people are very sensitive when it comes performances done in blackface and minstrel-like settings (Tyler Perry movies and BET shows aside). If I were a producer, I would be careful in presenting such a production.
    That said, it may have been a fine play. It would have done well with black audiences if the blackface wasn’t used. Kudos for trying.

  17. I will certainly have to concede with joe on this one–this is absolute rubbish. This article has as much depth as this production does as they both lack any substantial critic of our social economic atmosphere.

    In the first, as a reader, I am certainly skeptical of this authors praise for this production. Considering the fact that he, by his own admittance, helped finances this production, he should not be the one clamoring to defend it. Financial markets have a habit of critiquing owners who tote the “wonders” of their companies; in this instance, we should expect no difference.

    In the second, the minstrel show is used in this play as a metaphorical parlay to signify the stripping away of, dare I say it, an obvious racial signifier to encourage post racial conversations. However, when a black person strips away their black face, they are still seen unfortunately as black people. Tom briefly paints and explores the image of black men incarcerated and mentions a few statistics yet does not explore the cause of these “trends”. I understand that this article is about the production and not about young black men imprisoned because of concentrated poverty and various other “infractions”; however, if he believed entirely in his production and the wonderful message crafted to be portrayed, a few more lined of “conversation” should have been included. The Scottsboro boys is about false imprisonment and a legal system stacked against minorities after all.

    At the end of the day, Tom is right, there needs to be additional conversations concerning race in this country. However, a conversation among “equals” is not a conversation at all. (I know several individuals who attended this production and they all noted the clear disparity in racial demographic–and this was before the protests). Laughter at another person’s expense does not beget enlightenment no matter how progressive you believe you are.

  18. this is absolute rubbish. can a play with white writers and directors and financiers (obviously) make the nuanced critique that you claim? can it deconstruct stereotypes and use previously oppressive mediums (ie minstrel shows) to humanize? or is this yet ANOTHER case of a white missionary believing that it is in THEIR hands to humanize a black man.

    this is so full of faulty logic that i cannot even begin to consider it. for one, why should we trust one of the financiers to take a critical stance on a work of art? is laughter always (or ever) the best way to promote change?

    and i’m sorry but claiming that black americans are part of the “immigrant heritage” of this country is a perfect illustration of your blinding ignorance and self-delusion.

    • Joe, I think the author is pretty clear that black Americans were not willing immigrants. To answer your question, laughter is very often the best way (or sometimes the only way) to promote change. Most would agree that satire has always been at the forefront of progressive change.

      • Yeah, no... says:

        I don’t think this is really ‘satire’… minstrel shows were an outright mockery of black people. There should be a show about the history of minstrel shows… and a different show about the Scottsboro men. Combining the two… insensitive, at best.

  19. Guy Anthony says:

    I am not connected with the show or the case in any direct way, but I had the privilege to see a performance days after it opened on Broadway. For numerous reasons, it is one of the most compelling evenings I have ever spent in the theater. I am shocked by the closing notice – shocked that audiences aren’t rushing to see this remarkable production, performed by an amazing (and I rarely use that word because it has lost its meaning with overuse) company, masterfully guided by Susan Stroman and with a classic, brilliant Kander and Ebb score. I hope that regional theaters and their audiences embrace this experience. I even hope that there’s a film maker out there willing to take this one on. It is a truly wonderful piece of work, not only in its creativity, but also in its honesty.

  20. Ray Martin says:

    Tom, Your parents gave you a major gift when they had you participate at such a young age. My congratulations to them. And thank you for your writing which points out the stark statistics of being a young black man in America. As a country, we are wasting a precious human resource. The problems are complex, but doesn’t it make more sense to spend money on education for 10 years than on incarceration for 20 to life?

    I worked for a year in the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary, going once a week to tutor inmates in reading, writing, and arithmetic so that they could get a GED. The Atlanta Federal Pen was one of four maximum security prisons in the country, and it had a depressingly stale atmosphere. I. too, noticed that most of the inmates were black, and most of them woefully undereducated. I was astonished to meet 45 year-old men who did not even know the alphabet.

    Again, thank you for writing.

  21. Thank you for your comments. I, too am connected with the Scottsboro Boys, as my grandfather’s cousin was Samuel Leibowitz. Fifteen years ago, I wrote a musical based on the Scottsboro Boys and had been revising it and updating it for years. At the time, I did not realize that Kander and Ebb had the same idea in development.. This stopped my train so to speak. I put my heart and soul into writing this musical, and thought the Broadway production focused a bit too much on the minstrel show as an entertainment device as did too many of the songs. My concept was developed following more of the historical element and less than the style of Kander and Ebb’s Chicago or Cabaret. There are some really beautiful songs in the Broadway Production and I really hope it wins a Tony.
    I hope to develop my show in Los Angeles and present this important historical event without the minstrel aspects. I remain connected and focused on my treatment and hope the story deserves another perspective. Thank you for your analysis and helping launch the show.

    • Young, Gifted, and Black says:

      I actually was a patron of this play. I appreciated the effort, however, I felt the play chose the wrong format to tell this story. While a minstrel show is a clever in its design, historically it has been known to degrade and mock Black Americans. Thus, to include this format in the telling of this story, which needs to be told, confuses me. Could the producers be that out of touch? Included in the playbill was a history of the minstrel show but no real mention of the negative undertones it has on the black community.

      I don’t doubt that Mr. Matlock or the producers empathize with the stories of the Scottsboro Boys, and meant well. But as a Black woman, I was offended sitting in the audience. My heart was very heavy for the family members who had to experience the plight of the Scottsboro Boys only to see their story told in a fashion so demeaning to our community.

      To Jeff who posted the first comment, I would be more than willing to see your production! I appreciate your enthusiasm as you say you are related to the lawyer who fought on behalf of the Scottsboro Boys. Additionally, I believe that you are in tune with the culture since you were aware that this play focused too much on a minstrel show as opposed to the story in which it meant to convey.

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