Arts & Culture

UI Play examines mothers' fight for education rights

The Pentacrest on the campus of the University of Iowa including the Old Capitol Building (center), Macbride Hall (top left), Jessup Hall (bottom left), Schaeffer Hall (top right), and MacLean Hall (bottom right) in an aerial photograph. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette/file photo)
The Pentacrest on the campus of the University of Iowa including the Old Capitol Building (center), Macbride Hall (top left), Jessup Hall (bottom left), Schaeffer Hall (top right), and MacLean Hall (bottom right) in an aerial photograph. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette/file photo)

Two Iowa mothers — In 1874, Charlotta Smith, a former slave, and Mary Jane Dove, the wife of a respected minister — were determined in to end the unconstitutional exclusion of black children from Keokuk’s public schools.

They took to the courts to challenge the southeast Iowa town’s school segregation practice.

Their successful efforts, which brought them to the Iowa Supreme Court, are depicted in “Cross-Examined,” a play written by University of Iowa MFA student and playwright Margot Connolly. The work is largely based on historical research by Leslie A. Schwalm, UI professor of History and Gender, Women’s and Sexuality Studies.

Free, staged readings are coming to Cedar Rapids at 7 p.m. Thursday (2/15) in Mount Mercy University’s McAuley Theatre, 1330 Elmhurst Dr. NE; and at 6:30 p.m. Feb. 22 at the African American Museum of Iowa, 55 12th Ave. SE. Both Black History Month presentations, sponsored by Arts Share at the UI Office of Outreach & Engagement, are open to the public.

“Cross-Examined” personalizes the national struggle to expand the meaning of freedom after the Civil War by dramatizing Smith’s and Dove’s experiences. Northern states were slow to extend full political and civil rights to black citizens, even after reconstruction-era constitutional amendments and federal legislation guaranteed such rights.

Director Tempestt Farrar, a UI MFA student, will perform in the productions, along with other UI Arts Share students.

“The play covers an interesting time in Iowa history,” Connolly said. “I hope it sparks interest in audiences to further explore the subject of Iowa post-Emancipation.”

For this project, Arts Share teamed up with the UI History Department to “bring history alive” by turning research into a theatrical performance piece. Arts Share artists have been performing the work at schools and communities throughout the state.

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Next, Arts Share will work with Jim Giblin’s “Seminar in Oral Histories” class during the 2018 spring semester. UI graduate students will collect stories from local Sudanese immigrants about their personal experiences, and Tameka Conley, a poet, playwright and MFA student at the UI, will develop the stories into a staged reading.

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