‘Resilience’ play delves into hidden history of African Americans in the Hoosier state

With a single word, “Resilience,” Liz Mitchell and Gladys DeVane have described two centuries of life among African Americans in Indiana.

In a single weekend, they hope to shine some light on history that has been largely hidden.

These two longtime Bloomington residents will present their new play Oct. 14, 15 and 16 at the Ivy Tech John Waldron Arts Center.

Resilience promotional card“I’ve always been passionate about African American history,” Mitchell said.

She’s a collector of facts, a gatherer of stories. When she travels the state and crosses the country, these are her souvenirs.

Over time, Mitchell discussed her discoveries with DeVane, an actress, storyteller and retired professor from the IU Kelley School of Business. “I told her what I’ve seen — different things I found out that I didn’t know,” Mitchell said.

DeVane felt these little-known stories about Indiana should be written into a play, so last year they did just that.

But for “Resilience: Indiana’s Untold Story,” the journey to the stage was not an easy one. Their proposal to the Indiana Arts Commission won praises yet wasn’t awarded a bicentennial grant.

Without funding, the project seemed doomed. But through the encouragement of friends, the unwavering support of community members and a juke-joint fundraiser last summer, they scraped together enough money to present episodes from our state’s black history through their play.

“We’re giving little snippets,” Mitchell said. “All of our stories are based on the truth.”

In the hands of director Danielle Bruce, the cast draws together young and old, white and black, and members of the community alongside high school and IU students. “It’s coming together beautifully,” Mitchell said.

“It’s a little bit about everybody,” she said. “No oppressed group made it out of oppression alone. We didn’t do it by ourselves. It took all of us.”

By attending “Resilience,” Mitchell wants people to witness the drama of these untold stories for themselves. Because of this, she’s a bit reluctant to share a lot of detail on the play in advance.

She did acknowledge that the early life of Carrie Parker Taylor, IU’s first female African American student, will appear in one of the snippets. Carrie’s son Parker Taylor, now 100, is expected to attend a performance, along with several other family members.

Carrie Parker

Carrie Parker Taylor is shown with her children in 1937. Her son Parker, top left, is now 100. Photo courtesy of IU Archives and the Taylor family.

“I grew up the first part of my life in segregation,” Mitchell said. With the advent of court-ordered busing in Indiana, she remembered angry parents outside her school classroom with sticks and baseball bats.

Even now, Mitchell is stung by the memory of that kind of hatred.

“I’ve got more questions than I have answers,” she said. “I want to know why.”

Mitchell believes it’s important to share history honestly, including both the painful and triumphant episodes.

“I don’t believe it tearing down all the old monuments to Confederate leaders,” she said. “Let them be a lesson to our past mistakes; Let that be a lesson to not repeat them.”

The mission of teaching extends to the printed program for “Resilience.” The playwrights hope it will become a keepsake that encourages people to explore more about the African American aspects of our history.

“Who knew this play would be so timely? It fits perfectly with what is going on right now,” she said.

“Resilience” will be presented at 8 p.m. Oct. 14 and 15 and 2 p.m. Oct. 16 at the Ivy Tech John Waldron Arts Center, 122 S. Walnut St. in Bloomington. Tickets are $20; $15 for seniors, students and military; $12 ages 12 and under. Tickets can be purchased in advance at the Buskirk-Chumley Theatre box office 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays and noon to 5 p.m. weekends, by phone at 812-323-3020 or online at bctboxoffice.com.

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