A tale of co-operation between whites and blacks set just before the Civil War was the focus of “The Old Man’s Mission,” a play written by a Central Michigan University instructor.
Many are aware of historical figures such as Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr., who fought for their freedom against institutionalized slavery. However, the story of black and white people coming together to fight against this injustice is rarely told.
That was up until Sunday afternoon, when Plachta Auditorium hosted “The Old Man’s Mission,” a play sponsored by the English department and the College of Humanities and Social and Behavioral Sciences.
The performance was written and directed by CMU English Language and Literature Instructor Diana Luehm. Luehm felt inspired by the unity between the races, which encouraged her to write the play.
“I thought the newest version was more racially sensitive and historically accurate than the draft I produced four years ago,” Luehm said. “This play brings diversity and friendship among the races. A lot of movies and stories that are about black history talk about the terrible aspects, and this shows harmony between the two races.”
The performance is set in Virginia and follows the raid on Harpers Ferry in 1859, when black and white men joined together to liberate slaves. There were 21 raiders of mixed ethnicities, plus their leader, John Brown. While living in the attic of a farmhouse, the abolitionists planned a second revolution to free slaves.
“Some say that John Brown and his raiders failed miserably, others that they were the reason slavery does not exist today,” Luehm said. “The raid achieved its goal: the first battle to bring about the abolition of slavery in the land where equality was promised, but not a reality, for all. The Harpers Ferry Raid was the first giant step to make that happen.”
With a cast of six actors, “The Old Man’s Mission” celebrated Black History Month by presenting a story of alliance. Detroit senior Brittany Johnson took on the role of Clara Rogers.
“This play shows how true change can’t come without a collaboration of efforts of both racial groups,” Johnson said.
Coleman sophomore Katie Murphy was one of about 100 to watch the play and said she appreciated the tale of unity.
“You never hear about the Harper Ferry raid. It was interesting to learn about John Brown, an unspoken hero,” Murphy said. “It shows how there were whites that stood up for the cause to free the slaves. It was a great way to bring everything together and learn about it through a play near the end of Black History Month.”