Summary: In 1885, twenty years after the legal end of slavery in the United States, Abraham McCranie has stayed near the place where his family members were once owned in North Carolina. Two references are made alluding to the fact that he is the mulatto son of Colonel McClain (who once owned slaves) and a now deceased former slave. Therefore, Colonel McCranie feels some sort of responsibility to Abraham. He ensures that Abraham has a place to live and later, a job teaching in a schoolhouse. This does not, however, prevent McCranie from savagely beating his secret son when Abraham threatens to kill his other (non-secret) son Lonnie. The seven scenes of the play follow Abraham's life from 1885-1906...an existence of considerable tumult and struggle.
From the beginning of the play, Abraham attempts to educate himself and is often teased for spending all of his time with books. Near the end of the play, he gives a speech about building a new school and is harassed by some white men. Enraged, he proceeds to kill Lonnie (his half-brother) and knows that this will be his end. Moments later, a mob of white men arrive at his cabin to kill him in front of his wife, son and mother-in-law.
Thoughts: Many of the plays I have encountered in this project have raised troubling questions in relation to performance today, often because of specific treatments of race and gender. As I have probably mentioned before, adding the tag "n-word" to the blog was an unwelcome surprise of the project. However, many of those plays (All the Way Home, The Green Pastures) have highly redeemable characteristics; either because of the strength of their story or, in the case of The Green Pastures, the fact that the production employed large casts of black actors and was the first all-black cast on Broadway (and even God was portrayed as a black man).
This play, on the other hand, contains multiple usages of the n-word, a savage whipping and two brutal murders. The troubling take-away message seemed to be that, no matter how hard the white man tries to help the black man by providing opportunities for him, the black man is trouble....even savage. While outwardly racist statements come from the white characters in the play, they are perhaps more disturbingly uttered by the black characters themselves. Abraham's mother-in-law says to him, "Time you's learning day white is white and black is black, and Gohd made de white to always be bedder'n de black. It was so intended from the beginning" (Coe 416). On the third page of the play, three characters have an equally troubling exchange about Abe's mulatto heritage:
Lije: Abe is bad mixed up all down inside.
Bud: White and black make bad mixtry.
Lije: Do dat. (Thumping on his chest) Nigger down heah. (Thumping his head) White mens up heah. Heart say do one thing, head say 'nudder. Bad, bad.
Puny: De white blood in him coming up to the top. Dat make him want-a climb up and be sump'n. Nigger gwine hol' him down dough. Part of him take adder de Colonel, part adder his muh, 'vision and misery inside (Coe 387).