“Black history is American history. We don’t need a month; it should be celebrated all the time” stated Adanma Onyedike Barton, director of Berea’s version of the play The Last Black Man in the Whole Entire World. This play is rarely performed due to its particular focus on African American stereotypes. This year Berea College held a variety of activities and programs in celebration of Black History Month such as an Intercultural/Interracial Community Dialogue Dinner which is designed to bring members of the campus community together to discuss race and other experiences relating to diversity.
The turnout for the play was implausible. Students from various different races, cultures and ethnicities attended the exceptional performance of a very talented cast. Jae Simpson, a freshman theatre major from Greenville, South Carolina played the character of Ham who represents the origin of African Americans and through his genealogy, of what seems to be nonsense, pieces together history that was lost. Jae eagerly stated, “This piece connects to my life like a piece of poetry– every time you see it, every time you read it, it’s something new,# something different, something fresh.”
Playwright, screenwriter and poet Suzan-Lori Parks developed a number of characters that portray the many common stereotypes people hold against African Americans. The characters are biblical, historical, literary figures and satiric exaggerations of African American stereotypes. Names such as Yes and Green Black Eyed Peas Cornbread and Black Man with Watermelon send powerful messages about a forgotten history. This non-linear masterpiece symbolizes Black history and Black culture and reflects the musicality of language.
Jalicia Sturdivant, a junior biology major from Birmingham, Alabama said, “I really enjoyed this play because I could relate. I’ve been a victim of stereotypes especially as a Black woman. This play was very successful in educating the audience on important African American historical facts and origins.” The Death of the Last Black Man in the Whole Entire World spoke specifically to the audience of Berea’s African Americans. Barton encourages them to remember their past and search for the real truth. Berea College continues to showcase theatre performances that inspire students and promote unity through learning, labor and service.