Just 1 Question: Project Success and Brown v. Board of Education

Just 1 Question: Project Success and Brown v. Board of Education

For the last few weeks, they have been practicing their lines, creating sets, gathering props, even preparing a menu for their Feb. 27 dinner-theater production of "Now Let Me Fly."

Through their preparation, students in Project Success of Vermilion County's after-school program at Danville's North Ridge Middle School have gained a better understanding of the landmark Supreme Court case Brown v. the Board of Education of Topeka, which declared the "separate but equal" philosphy behind school segregation unconstitutional and paved the way for integration — and some of the people behind the case.

The students "were kind of hesitant at first," site coordinator Mary Catherine Roberson said, adding that Marcia Cebulska's play — in which NAACP lawyer Thurgood Marshall's mentor takes him on a journey looking in on the everyday folks involved in the fight against segregation — doesn't shy away from the ugliness of racism. "Once they began to understand what it was about and how it pertained to them today, they got more interested and excited."

Staff writer Noelle McGee stopped by the after-school program to ask: What do you admire about the character you portray?


"I play Marshall, who became the first African-American on the Supreme Court. In this play, he's the lawyer that won the case. His mentor takes him to the past, and he gets to see what students went through. Black schools had one room and not enough books for everyone. They didn't get the science equipment white kids got. I admire my character because he fought for what was right and didn't give up. It shows you can do anything you put your mind to."


"My character is Barbara Johns, a 16-year-old black girl. She doesn't like the way her school is compared to the white schools, and she addresses the school board. She says a page of the Constitution is missing from her social studies book. She wants a chance at 'Romeo and Juliet,' but she's told she's not fit to read it.

"She goes to school in a 'tar paper shack.' When her bus gets to school, the bus driver gets out because he's also the history teacher. I like that she stands up for her rights and isn't afraid. When they tell her they will close her school, she tells them, 'Public education is a right. You stop me from being educated, you stop me from being an informed citizen.'"


"I play Eleanor's father and a white man with a gas can (among others). I don't admire them. They're mean, and they're racist. Eleanor is a white girl who goes into a black barbershop because she likes (blues music). Her father, when he finds her there, he tells her to go to the car. He tells them, 'White people built this country, and we're going to take it back if we have to do it block by block.' It's offensive. You don't judge people by their color. We're all equal."


"I play Charles Houston, Marshall's law school professor and mentor. He comes back as a ghost. He tries to get him to stop flapping his wings — acting like he knows it all. He wants him to focus on the case and the people and the consequences. I admire him because he stays with (Marshall) and never gives up. He inspires him to be the first black judge (on the Supreme Court)."


"I'm in charge of the sets and drawing every background scene — a burned-down church, the office of the Legal Defense Fund of the NAACP, a school auditorium. It will take (the audience) to some of the places people fought (segregation). I admire Marshall and all the people who wanted equality. Every kid deserves to have the same education as another."

Have a question you'd like education reporter NOELLE McGEE to ask of students, teachers or administrators? Our inbox is open for submissions — send an email to nmcgee@news-gazette.com.

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