It was just 50 years ago that an extraordinary blend of courage, faith and community solidarity united Savannahians, both black and white, to oppose centuries of oppression and hatred.
A commemorative play, I Thought My Soul Would Rise and Fly! will be presented as part of the closing activities of the month-long 50th anniversary celebration of the Savannah civil rights movement. It will be presented Saturday, March 25 at 2 p.m. at the Savannah Civic Center’s Johnny Mercer Theatre. Admission is free.
Written by Ja A. Jahannes, the cast includes State Sen. Regina Thomas, County Commissioner Harris Odell Jr., Judge John E. Morse Jr. and community activist Diana Harvey Johnson.
“They play four characters who are shown planning their part in the events of the 1960s in Savannah,” Jahannes says. “I looked for people who knew the civil rights struggle.”
All four are a bit nervous about their new stage careers, Jahannes says. “I’m just hoping people will see them in their new light as actors,” he says. “Sen. Thomas has been coming in from the state legislature to rehearse."
The performance will follow a commemorative civil rights march that will end at the civic center. Jahannes’s play highlights civil rights events that occurred between 1960 and 1964.
“I tried to compress it to give a bird’s eye view,” he says. “I wanted to honor the movement’s heroes, but not be preachy.”
The Savannah Community Choir under the direction of E. Larry McDuffie will perform, as will The Gospel Travelers. The Sankofa Dance Theatre will interpret the music in dance.
The production will include video footage of civil rights leader W.W. Law and photos of Savannah’s civil rights movement taken by acclaimed photographer Frederick Baldwin. “He happened to be in Savannah at that time,” Jahannes says.
It was Savannah’s young people who were the most strident in their search for equality. “I learned a lot about Savannah putting this together,” Jahannes says.
“One of the things that stood out was the way the students integrated Tybee Beach. They went out into the water and when the police came and told them to leave, they moved farther out in the water. Some of these students couldn’t swim. They were literally putting their lives on the line.
“My objective is to show the youth of today how glorious the youth of the 60s were,” Jahannes says. “And I wanted to show our seniors that their part in these glorious acts is not forgotten. It was a labor of love.”