It is the 1930s in the South, and his daughter had tried to pass herself off as white, which spurred the attack.
On Tuesday, sixth-graders watching the play, the sequel to Taylor’s “Roll Of Thunder, Hear My Cry,” unfold were visibly shaken, shouting out: “No, no” as the young white man threatened to lynch the older black man.
The climactic scene played out right in front of the students on the apron of the intimate stage at the Metropolis Performing Arts Centre in Arlington Heights, and it made an impact on the students from Grove Junior High School in Elk Grove Village.
“It was pretty strong,” said Collin Rogers, 12, of Elk Grove. “They were really discriminated against, but I don’t see that happening around here.”
Grove Junior High Assistant Principal Emily Woemmel, said she did not find the realism of the scene unsettling.
“I’m glad they didn’t hold back,” Woemmel said. “It’s good for the kids to see, and realize that in some parts of the country, things haven’t changed.”
Sixth-grader Ambrielle Hubbard, 12, of Elk Grove Village shot up her hand immediately after the performance.
She was the last student to get in a question during a Q&A session with the cast from Apple Tree Theatre.
“Did you perform all of the book,” she wanted to know, or, in other words, why did they leave so much out.
Cast members explained they could not include all of the characters and had to trim the plot into a one-hour version that would keep the attention of students.
Like other students in the audience, Hubbard said she identified with the lead character of Cassie, the central character whose family faces discrimination and bigotry in their small Mississippi town in the 1930s.
“She’s the one that tries to make sense of everything, to understand what they’re talking about,” Hubbard says. “I like her attitude, how she stands up for things, and doesn’t back down.”
As the play progresses, Hubbard and her classmates watch as Cassie and her family emerge as survivors, finding self-respect and strength in one another, while taking pride in their heritage.
Cast members struggled to keep up with the number of hands that shot up with questions. One query particularly intrigued them: What inspired you to be in this play?
Cecil Burroughs, who plays the role of the father who struggles to keep his family together despite the hard times of the Depression and the rising racial tensions, responded.
“That’s a very good question,” he said. “I found this play to be very powerful and very touching, and definitely a story I wanted to be part of and wanted to tell.”
Grove Junior High School officials said this was their first field trip to a Metropolis play, but it likely would not be their last.
“We were looking for a cultural experience, and a story that would fit into our curriculum,” Woemmel said. “We didn’t think of the tie-in with Black History Month, but that makes it even better.”
They weren’t alone. Metropolis officials said Grove Junior High was one of 21 schools — 2,200 students — booked to see the show during it’s two-week run in town, coming locally from Mount Prospect, Hoffman Estates, Streamwood, Lake Zurich, Long Grove, Round Lake Heights, Roselle, Wood Dale, Elgin and Cary.