Oliver Thomas Leads Actors in Stage Play about “Missing” Black History

By David Jackson
For The New Orleans Tribune

Imagine 100 years of critical history missing from the Black experience in America. Reconstruction, Jim Crow, the Tuskegee experiment, the Harlem Renaissance have all vanished from the pages of American textbooks. According to Tulane adjunct professor Dr. Flint D. Mitchell, this is not a hypothetical situation.

His stage play, “The Other Black History” led by Oliver Thomas, seeks to remedy this issue when it debuts live at the Ashe’ Powerhouse Theater 7 p.m. tonight (Wednesday, June 19). Performances are also slated for 7 p.m. Friday through Sunday June 21- 22. Tickets to the event are $15 online and $20 at the door.

“Comprehensive Black history is not being taught,” said Mitchell. “If you were born after the Civil Rights movement you wouldn’t know about it. After studying high school curriculum, we found out that it was really a revisionist history that was being taught.”

Thomas, who had a recurring role in HBO’s series “Treme,” believed so much in the project he decided to lend his talents to the play.

“Dr. Mitchell is probably one of the foremost authorities on this subject,” said Thomas. “He is the perfect person to deal with some of the inaccuracies found in our texts. That was motivation enough for me to participate.”

The play is a take on the 1980s-pop culture movie The Breakfast Club. Thomas plays a formerly incarcerated, yet exonerated schoolteacher as a detention monitor. During the two days of detention, he teaches four students about racial justice, and, most importantly, courage in the face of adversity.

Thomas believes the role is important because it reflects the life of today’s teachers.

“I think the character is in line with Black teachers who have a sense of consciousness and are frustrated when information isn’t in the history books,” says Thomas. “I think it represents them all. Mr. Oliver’s character is every teacher that has ever been conscious.”  

Mitchell originally wrote the play as part of a fellowship for the WK Kellogg Foundation Community Network. Although he initially thought he should stay in his main professional focus of health education, Mitchell decided to do something more “impactful.”

“Obviously this was a capstone project for the fellowship. But I wanted something that can be replicated on a low budget,” says Mitchell. “I thought, ‘Let me challenge myself.’ I want to do something that will create civic engagement and racial healing.”

Mitchell hopes the play will be used by other student theater productions to spread these ideas throughout the country.

Mitchell, who designs and implements multicultural competency training with a focus on social justice and racial equity, also believes there is a correlation between low voter turnout in the Black community and missing history in public school textbooks.

“Why is it that black people don’t vote?” says Mitchell. “My theory is that if they didn’t know what their ancestors went through to vote, they would not put a high priority on it. The reality is the only way that we are all equal is when we vote.”

The play is also unique because it features a “Q & A” session at the end. Audience members get a chance to speak directly to the showrunners, actors, and directors.

Mitchell said the feedback session allows him to gain valuable insight into the minds of the audience.

“Some people loved it,” he says. “Some people say it’s a bit academic. I don’t mind that feedback. I want it to be better. There are some people who are Black history majors who said they learned information that they didn’t know. There are a lot of adults who learn a lot by the end of the play.”

The play is directed by John Grimsley and features several young actors that have regional and national acting experience.

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