Springtime has arrived in South Carolina (year 1906) and 10 year-old Mirandy is preparing for her town’s big cakewalk. After a bitter loss to her rival, Orlinda, the year before, Mirandy is determined to do whatever it takes to win the coveted first place prize. When Mirandy learns about the legend of Brother Wind, she decides to capture the playful spirit to serve as her dancing partner in the cakewalk — and celebrate what it truly means to be free.
The Play we are performing is an adaption by
Michael J. Bobbitt and John L. Cornelius
Patricia C. McKissack (1944-2017) has quite a charm (check out the video below) that feels to me like sittin' on the porch with family trading stories. Though she lived in Missoura', the Tennessee ran through her bones and a passion for African American literature and Southern folklore. She's quoted saying she wrote
because there’s a clear need for books written about the minority experience in America
NEW TO FREEDOM
Our play takes place in 1906 - only 43 years after the Emancipation Proclamation (1863) that granted freedom for enslaved people
Did you know...
Previously enslaved people heard about it TWO YEARS LATER (June 19th, 1865). Can you imagine being free for 2 years and not knowing?
We celebrate this day in what is now known as Juneteenth.
In Mirandy and Brother Wind there is a voice of celebration and freedom as well as a struggle to maintain self-ownership that echoes the heart of Juneteenth celebration in Black communities.
How to talk about Slavery with youth
Mirandy and Brother Wind is likely to bring up challenging conversations about the complex history around slavery. Here are a few resources
NIAGARA MOVEMENT (1905-1909)
The Niagara Movement was a civil rights group organized by W.E.B. Du Bois and William Monroe Trotter in 1905. The ideas behind the Niagara Movement were largely in opposition to Booker T. Washington’s philosophy of Accommodationism.
The Niagara Movement met annually until 1908 and was considered the precursor to the NAACP (1909) and many of its members, such as W.E.B. Du Bois, were among the new organization’s founders.
The Souls of Black Folk, was published on April 27, 1903. In it, Du Bois spoke against the gradualism of Booker T. Washington, calling for agitation on behalf of African-American rights. W.E.B Du Bois speaks eloquently on the meaning of freedom 40 years after slavery (similar to Mirandy) Below an excerpt:
"Away back in the days of bondage they thought to see in one divine event the end of all doubt and disappointment; few men ever worshipped Freedom with half such unquestioning faith as did the American Negro for two centuries. To him, so far as he thought and dreamed, slavery was indeed the sum of all villainies, the cause of all sorrow, the root of all prejudice; Emancipation was the key to a promised land of sweeter beauty than ever stretched before the eyes of wearied Israelites. In song and exhortation swelled one refrain—Liberty; in his tears and curses the God he implored had Freedom in his right hand. At last it came,—suddenly, fearfully, like a dream. With one wild carnival of blood and passion came the message in his own plaintive cadences:
“Shout, O children! Shout, you’re free! For God has bought your liberty!”
Years have passed away since then,—ten, twenty, forty; forty years of national life, forty years of renewal and development, and yet the swarthy spectre sits in its accustomed seat at the Nation’s feast. In vain do we cry to this our vastest social problem:—
“Take any shape but that, and my firm nerves Shall never tremble!”
The Nation has not yet found peace from its sins; the freedman has not yet found in freedom his promised land. Whatever of good may have come in these years of change, the shadow of a deep disappointment rests upon the Negro people,—a disappointment all the more bitter because the unattained ideal was unbounded save by the simple ignorance of a lowly people. The first decade was merely a prolongation of the vain search for freedom, the boon that seemed ever barely to elude their grasp,—like a tantalizing will-o’-the-wisp, maddening and misleading the headless host. The holocaust of war, the terrors of the Ku-Klux Klan, the lies of carpet-baggers, the disorganization of industry, and the contradictory advice of friends and foes, left the bewildered serf with no new watchword beyond the old cry for freedom."
As African American communities further claimed there self-ownership, value, and freedom, there was plenty of push back requiring the growth and rise of civil rights groups and advocates
While there was much celebration, success, and growth, with each step forward for Black groups - backlash from White groups was right there. Jim Crow, Oppression Groups, and violence.
Our play is based in Spring of 1906, but come Fall of 1906 there were 2 major Riots: The Brownsville, Texas Soldiers Riot (Aug. 1906) and The Atlanta Race Riots (Sep. 1906)
The Brownsville, Texas Soldiers Riot
August 13 in Brownsville, Texas, approximately a dozen black troops riot against segregation and in the process kill a local citizen. When the identity of the killer cannot be determined, President Theodore Roosevelt discharges three companies of black
The Atlanta Race Riot (9.22-24)
Close to home, and neighboring our setting, the Atlanta Race Riot was a crucial influencing point for Civil Rights. Check out the video below for more detail.
In these riots 10 Black lives and 2 White Lives were lost.
Patricia McKissack was inspired to write Mirandy's story after seeing a photo of Mrs. McKissack’s grandparents after they had won a cakewalk dance contest as teenagers! Listen to this podcast to learn the rich history of Cakewalks:
The cakewalk was a pre-Civil War dance originally performed by enslave Black peoples on plantation grounds to entertain the owners of the land. The dance was first known as the "prize walk"; the prize was an elaborately decorated cake. Hence, "prize walk" is the original source for the phrases "takes the cake" and "cakewalk."
Here's how the dance worked:
Couples would stand in a square formation with men on the inside perimeter and then dance around the ballroom "as if in mimicry of the white man's attitudes and manners," according to Richard Kislan. The steps included "a high-leg prance with a backward tilt of the head, shoulders and upper torso.”
By the 1870s, a cakewalk was a popular feature of minstrel shows. The Oxford English Dictionary notes that usage of the word "cakewalk" really began to take off during this decade. It was also when the word began being used as a way to describe an accomplishment that was easy or simple to obtain. This is not because winning a cakewalk competition was easy (it wasn't). Rather, it was because the dance steps were fluid and graceful.
As cakewalk dances became more popular, they gave rise to their own form of music, leading to what's now known as ragtime - performed by Blacks and Whites alike!
This will link you to a 'living' glossary that explores terms, themes, or any active curiosities being explored!
- (2) Wash on the Line
- (4) 1906
- (4) (6) Pickin’ Cotton
- (5) Old Man Winter
- (6) Hen House
- (6) Tadpoles
- (6) Sassafras root for sun tea
- (7) Cakewalks
- (10) High Steppin
- (13) Conjure Woman
- (13) Hoodoo
- (17) (32) Shackles
- (19) Jim Crow
- (23) Quilts
- (23) Peppermill
- (23) South Cackilacky
- (26) Hoo Doo Ritual Dance
- (27) Hambone / Juba
- G'ma Beasley Monologue (17)
- Griot Storytelling culture
- Ownership:Empowerment, Land & Labor
- Lets Talk SHARECROPPING:
- African American Spirituality and Superstition
- Conjure Tradition and African American Resistance:
- Dance in Black History
- Let’s Talk Cake!
Pinterest with purpose!
Find some fun, inspiration, and information in the world of Mirandy and Brother Wind.
Deeper Dives- Here's Some Content to...
A little bit of Cake Walk Dancin!
Experience some Hambone (aka Juba) and the stories behind the song lyrics!
Lets take a deeper Dive into Sharecropping:
Sharecropping extended long beyond slavery and really amplified the rural communities and their complex relationship with newly freed Black peoples, land, and self.
Of course Mirandy and Brother Wind (or at least give her a Read (or watch!)
Did you know that Synchronicity Theatre has a partnership with Little Shop of Stories in Decatur, GA?
Buy a copy of Mirandy and Brother Wind at concessions stand theatre and be sure to stop by Little Shop of Stories to pick up more of Patricia C. McKissack’s wonderful books
SPEND SOME TIME WITH GRANDMAMA BEASLEY IN YOUR SCRIPT! (17)
We believe the heart of the play lies in Grandmama Beasley's monologue. What do you think?