1968. Ocean Hill-Brownsville: A One-Act Play

AnaMaria Correa
Graduate Center, The City University of New York

Introduction by the Author

This play was inspired by the dynamic personalities and events of Ocean Hill-Brownsville and, more importantly, the need to challenge the traditional way knowledge is presented. A need to show knowledge and mastery in a different way “outside” of the traditional academic paper. In this case, writing a paper about this event, was not as interesting or inspiring to the author as creating a play. So, what began as frustration with another class paper, turned into clarity and inspiration. 

Ensemble

Actor1/30s/Black, burly, strong, Rhody McCoy

Actor 2/Early 40s/Male, Black community board member/music teacher/judge/ensemble

Actor 3/18-20 year old/Male, Black activist/child/poetry teacher/ensemble

Actor 4/Early 30s/Black, Mother/ teacher/ensemble

Actor 5/70s-80s/Black Grandmother

Actor 6/Late 20s/White, Female/UFT teacher/parent/heavy Queens accent/ensemble

Actor 7/White 50s/Charlie

Actor 8/Late 30s/Female, White, UFT teacher/ensemble/cop

Actor 9/Late 20s/Male, White Parent/UFT teacher/ensemble/cop

Actor 10/Fred Nauman/Albert Shanker

Lights

Light trees will be set in the wings and downstage for scenes where shadow and effect are needed.

Costume

Actors will wear black clothing, some clothing pieces will differ in texture and style depending on the character.

Set

Possible risers or stairs that can serve as a stoop, stairs leading into the school and a platform for protest.

Props

Something like helmets and billy clubs that will serve dual purpose of weaponry and music instruments in a later scene. Small white index cards made of thick stock that will fall from the sky; white synthetic (like material of Hazmat suits) cut into placard size squares with Velcro on edges. These pieces will be a transformable prop manipulated throughout the play by the actors.

About the play

This play is created from the words of participants in the Ocean-Hill Brownsville events. Not all characters in the historical events are represented here. The actors play multiple parts and engage with the audience at times. The play is infused with Magical Realism. This is an ensemble piece developed as much by the dramatic action of the story as the actors in the play.

(When the audience enters the space, music from the summer of 1968 is playing. James Brown’s “I Have a Feeling,” “The Time Has Come Today” by The Chambers Brothers, “Think” by Aretha Franklin, “I’m Black and I am Proud” by James Brown and “Revolution” by the Beatles.)

Scene 1

(Stage is black. We hear Sam Cooke’s “Change is Coming,” on the psych, a fast montage of images related to time period and Ocean-Hill Brownsville are projected. Stage goes black. The following lines are heard in the dark.)

Actor 1

Black
adjective

Actor 2

Definition of BLACK
of the color black

Actor 3

very dark in color <his face was black with rage
having a very deep or low register <a bass with a black voice>
heavy, serious <the play was a black intrigue>

Actor 7

Middle English blak, from Old English blæc; akin to Old High German blah black, and probably to Latin flagrare to burn, Greek phlegein
First Known Use: before 12th century

Actor 4

having dark skin, hair, and eyes: swarthy <the black Irish>

Actor 2

often capitalized: of or relating to any of various population groups having dark pigmentation of the skin <black Americans>

Actor 1

of or relating to the African-American people or their culture <black pride> <black studies> typical or representative of the most readily perceived characteristics of black culture <trying to sound black> <tried to play blacker jazz>

Actor 3

dressed in black
dirty, soiled <hands black with grime>
characterized by the absence of light <a black night>
reflecting or transmitting little or no light <black water>

Actor 4

served without milk or cream <black coffee>

Actor 5

thoroughly sinister or evil : wicked <a black deed>
indicative of condemnation or discredit <got a black mark for being late>: connected with or invoking the supernatural and especially the devil

All

<black magic>

Actor 5

very sad, gloomy, or calamitous <black despair>
marked by the occurrence of disaster <black Friday>
characterized by hostility or angry discontent

Actor 6

chiefly British: subject to boycott by trade-union members; the use of black propaganda <black radio>

Actor 3

Characterized by grim, distorted, or grotesque satire <black humor>
relating to covert intelligence operations <black government programs>

Actor 1

Black

Actor 8

Antonym: white

All

Rhymes with BLACK back, Braque, clack, claque, crack, flack, flak, hack, jack, knack, lac, lack, lakh, mac, Mac, pack, plaque, quack, rack, sac, sack, smack, whack, slack, tack

Actor 9

a black pigment or dye;
the achromatic color of least lightness characteristically perceived to belong to objects that neither reflect nor transmit light
something that is black: as

Actor 10

black clothing <looks good in black>
a black animal (as a horse)
person belonging to any of various population groups having dark pigmentation of the skin
African-American

Actor 9

the pieces of a dark color in a board game for two players (as chess)
the condition of making a profit —usually used with the <operating in the black> — compare red

All

total or nearly total absence of light <the black of night>

Actor 3

Antonyms: blaze, brightness, brilliance, day, daylight, glare, glow, light, lightness; Near Antonyms: moonlight, starlight, sunlight; effulgence, radiance, radiancy, shine, sunshine; incandescence, luminance, luminescence, luminosity, luminousness

Actor 6

It is 1968. Negro is the word for Black people.

Actor 1

We are the last ethnic minority to use communal strength.

(Lights out.)

Scene 2

(Grandmother enters from stage left as if she is going somewhere but stops to gossip with the audience.)

Grandmother

1968. Brownsville. Our neighborhood is Black, but our teachers are all white, and not all right, if you get my meaning. I have lived a long time, and I have lived through things. My grandparents were slaves and I was brought up in the South. Them Sutheners don’t want to know ‘bout no Black person next to ‘em or even equal to ‘em. Come up North, to Brooklyn, white flight, our schools are a mess. Our kids ain’t getting no equal education and the teachers, gawd bless em, but they ain’t representing history the way it is supposed to be. We are separate and unequal.

(Grandmother exits, keeps walking across the stage.)

Scene 3

(A gavel sounds. Mother steps forward into the square of light.)

Voice of Actor 9/Ensemble

(We hear shuffling of paper) Only those who have submitted their names in advance can speak. You’re out of order.

(Grumblings of ensemble. Gavel sounds.)

All

Let her speak, we pay the taxes! Let her speak.

Actor 4/Mother

The voice of the people is with me. I don’t want my child to grow up in the same ghetto as I did. We are staying here. No one has listened to what we have to say.

(The crowd is upset.)

Actor 9/Parent

Mr. Mayor, my views on the subject of decentralization, I think are similar to yours. That it has to be. The central Board of Education has certainly not been responsive to the initial cries of Negroes and other deprived groups in the city. They are asking for the same degree of control over the quality of their schools. The same control which people in the suburbs have and which middle class people, my people, have in our city.

Actor 10/Nauman/Shanker

Of course it goes without saying that I agree very profoundly with what you’ve said. You and I together have supported, without overwhelming success, a meaningful decentralization program because we have run into a storm from the very middle class that you were just talking about.

Actor 4/Mother

One of my sons was above the national average in mathematics. He came to the schools here in Brooklyn, within one year he was flunking math. In Alabama, when I went to school, I was welcomed. The principal was glad to see a parent there, and I could discuss any problem with my children there. Here in Brooklyn? I couldn’t get to see the principal. Someone wanted to know why I came, what I wanted to see him for, and said that he was not available. So I waited for him. In about half an hour, the principal came. I talked with him and told him my problem. We went and talked with the teacher. The teacher said my son was doing fine. I said “He’s not bringing home assignments, and he’s flunked math. He came here from Alabama ahead of the national average and now you’re telling me he’s fine? Something’s wrong.” I could see then that the system was destroying my own child. There were almost no black principals. No role models. Tremendous discipline problems. Most of the teachers came into the district then left to go home outside the district. In the South, teachers lived among the people. The principals, too. You got to know them. And we thought that the best thing that we could do for our young people would be to call for the community control of the schools, and seek through that means to better the education of our children. That’s how the cry for community control got under way.

play reading

From the May 19, 2014 premiere reading of the play at the Graduate Center – Courtesy of Jeremy Benson

Scene 4

(On the psych a black and white cityscape depicting the transformation of New York City in the late 1940s to 1960s shows: streets, buildings, Robert Moses’ blueprints and Negro removal program, Brooklyn, Queens, Levittown, Long Island, Civil Rights marches, and music of the time plays. The ensemble enters the space into the images being reflected. They create a silhouette on the film. Through movement they create the energy of cosmopolitan New York City in this time. The movement evolves from a cosmopolitan midtown to the racial issues and strife in the neighborhoods. The ensemble is moving and creating sound underneath like a rumble, ominous, somber, transitions into a hmmmm…. a far distant spiritual humming, like gospel song from far away. The actors join the song and they move. The sound of spirituals plays louder and more prominently. Chanting and stomping from the strike emerges. Images of black and white newspaper clippings and photographs fill the back wall of the stage. The actors create lines of cops, barricade lines, lines of protest, lines that divide. Another spiritual begins to play and the montage of images is being shown, recreated, through movement, the history leading up to the strike, the condition of education for black children through tableaux, the feeling of the time period for this community, then, the actors split into two groups and the white papers are passed in dreamlike slow motion, to the white teachers. This would be developed together with ensemble and choreographed.)

(The white actors are in silhouette. They become part of the ensemble. The black actors Rhody, split up to speak directly to the audience. Grandmother is on the side observing the action and commenting.)

Actor 2/Community Board Member

We are defending our community. By the end of 1966, the idea of community had evolved into many definitions for different races, classes and cultures defined against each other.

Actor 3/Black Activist

Blacks and rich whites against the white middle class, Manhattan against the outer boroughs, the Catholics and Jews got together.

Actor 4/Mother

There are those who have said that our children are unable to relate to the values of society. These are the “9 to 3 then go home” culture teachers. We see now that it is the teacher who cannot relate to our values. I don’t want to be told my daughter can’t learn because she comes from a fatherless home or because she had corn flakes for breakfast instead of eggs. This practice of tracking, I know about it, these teachers use an arsenal of half-truths, prejudices and rationalizations against black children, who are being systematically humiliated, categorized and classified and relegated to groups of slow learners.

Actor 1/Rhody

I’m tired of teachers who say, “I’ve got two or three pupils here who are tops. Look what I have done.” What I see when I look is that there’s twenty-four more who ain’t doing nothing. When you show me fifteen or seventeen that you’ve done something with, then I’m happy.

Actor 2/Community Board Member

America has asked blacks to fight for opportunity as individuals. What we have needed most is the opportunity for the whole group. Blacks need not to apologize for the existence of this form of group power, for we have been oppressed as a group, not as individuals. We will not find our way out of that oppression until both we and America accept the need for Negro Americans, as well as for Jews, Italians, Poles and white Anglo-Saxon Protestants, among others, to have and wield group power.

Actor 4/Black Teacher

Black children, by and large, do not learn because they are not being taught, because those who are charged with the responsibility of teaching them do not believe they can learn and do not act toward them in ways which help them to learn. Community control is a chance to reverse the downward spiral in ghetto education and increase our representation in the system – we are only about 8% of the teaching staff in this system.

Actor 1/Rhody

Bottom line? Loss of control over us means loss of control over something that has been systematically built to keep us out. They have a lot to fear from community control. This local school board has the unrelenting duty to interpret the will of the people, the people of this neighborhood and community. There are people here who feel themselves unseen, groping in the dark. The city takes no notice of them. To be wholly overlooked and to know it is intolerable.

Actor 5/Grandmother

We’re just folks and what do we know about schools? Hmmphf. (We hear her, the way that in a family conversation, comments are made from folks who aren’t “listening.”)

(Actors exit.)

Scene 5

(Lights up on Grandmother who always addresses the audience.)

Actor 5/Grandmother

Fred Nauman knew something was gawn happen. He just didn’t know what it would be. It would, however, involve him; he had no doubt of that. See, Nauman was a science teacher at Junior High School 271 in the Ocean Hill-Brownsville (she checks to make sure audience is with her) Brooklyn. New York. He was the thirty-eight year old German Jewish son of World War II veterans. He was chapter chairman for the union representing New York City’s fifty thousand public school teachers, the UFT, and in that role, he was locked in a year-long battle with us, the Ocean-Hill Brownsville school board and the Black people of this community, over what he could and could not do. It’s 1968 and an experiment is underway in our school district. Our local board was elected, as part of an experiment in community control. We got the sole right to determine curriculum, control expenditures, hire and fire personnel. You know, you gotta go through it to get to it and no one was happy about this. Community control meant Black people were in control and this struggle for education, well it’s as old as when we were brought over. We’ve never caught up. Rhody was smart, proud, elegant, he was a black man with a reputation for quiet independence and an unwillingness to play by the rules that continue to keep us down. This was much more than his lack of high exam scores and graduate credits. He made them folks nervous. A force to be reckoned with. For all the protests and white people protestin’ with Dr. King, white folks don’t believe a black child can learn as well as a white one.

Actor 3/Child

Mr. McCoy told me once that he is here in Ocean-Hill Brownsville, doing this job, because he saw it as a way to do something about the mess our education was in. We ain’t learning. Our scores are low, our drop out rates high. There’s 55 kids in my class!

Actor 1/Rhody

A whole year I have been fighting, negotiating, wrangling, dealing with bureaucratic hoops and delays to exercise my role. We hired our own principals, no. They fought curriculum change. They try to control our finances and now we can’t choose our own personnel. Community control meant control over what? They think I won’t or maybe can’t? Well the letters will do it. We are going to run our communities, not this white union, the central board or anyone else. I am responsible for this district and I am responsible for the day-to-day operations of eight schools. I am 42, a graduate of Howard University. I spent my entire career in this system as a teacher and principal. The UFT almost prevented my hiring as Unit Administrator…“lacking formal requirements of the position!” White UFT teachers don’t want to teach in our schools. They transferred out to better white schools. They don’t believe in our abilities. My job here is to make sure we, our children, are given the chance. The ending of oppression and the beginning of a new day has become a new day only after people have resorted to violent means. This experiment represents the last threads of the community’s faith in the school system’s purposes and abilities.

Actor 3/Child

With so many new black teachers at my school you learn a lot more. You identified more. You learned that teachers were human beings, not some abstract something. They stay after school. At three o’clock, they don’t run downstairs and punch out. They gave you more time. I mean, you felt more accepted. You weren’t an outsider in your own school.

(All actors exit.)

(Lights fade but remain lit on her in the next scene.)

Scene 6

(Rhody and Nauman/Shanker are on stage lit separately. Addressing the audience. Grandmother sitting left, watching the action.)

Actor 1/Rhody McCoy

What we have in New York right now is a dual public school system. A white system presided over by a cohort of experienced teachers, where students read at or above the national average, with National Merit and Westinghouse Science scholarships. In the Black system, our students are crowded in classrooms, receiving instruction from teachers who were learning on the job, read two years behind the city’s white students, and dropped out of school at a rate double that of the whole city.

Actor 10/Nauman/Shanker

Community control? Accusing me of racism? This isn’t about race, it is about labor rights. These demands are outrageous. I am a union man! The UFT had struggled since 1960 to give teachers a voice. Now, a local school board, composed of non-professionals – was trying to take away what the union had won?

Grandmother

There go white people trying to rewrite history, mm, mm, mm.

Actor 10/Nauman/Shanker

I am a liberal, a civil rights supporter, why don’t they understand? They aren’t going to try to do something to the Chapter Chairman? What would they do, fire me? A tenured teacher? The last time they did that was in 1898. They just won’t listen. These people just want to provoke and confront. They don’t follow rules and won’t listen to reason.

Actors 1, 2, 3, 4/Ensemble

(Light change. Actors enter from upstage in a line. A shift in light from the trees.): The governing Board of the Ocean-Hill Brownsville Demonstration School District has voted to end your employment in the schools in this District. This action was taken on the recommendation of the Personnel Committee. This termination of employment is to take effect immediately. If you wish to question this action, the Governing Board will receive you on Friday, May 10, 1968 at 6:00 pm, at Intermediate School 55, 2021 Bergen Street, Brooklyn, New York.

Actor 1/Rhody McCoy

(to Nauman): You will report Friday morning to Personnel, 110 Livingston Street, Brooklyn, for reassignment. Sincerely, Rev. C. Herbert Oliver, Chairman Ocean Hill Brownsville Governing Board, Rhody A. McCoy, Unit Administrator.

Actor 7/Charlie:

(Charlie is in the audience and enters the stage from the house.) Look, this was long coming our way. In the Thirties and Forties this city was the center of industry. For someone who worked with their hands, a high school diploma was the most you needed to secure a good job, if you were white. The working class became the suit and tie culture of the Fifties, except that while this group was working and growing, Black people in this city did not have access or education to attain these opportunities. Their education was segregated, the neighborhoods were undesirable, the schools were failing and Blacks fell into a social, political, cultural isolation. This is how we end up here in 1968, everyone mad as hell and understandably, fed up. Blacks finally standing up for what they need. These were desperate measures for years of disenfranchisement. I can’t blame them. In the summer of ’68 two forces that did not want to be at odds with one another, had to be at odds. And there was really no obvious reconciliation possible.

(Charlie exits on stage.)

Scene 7

(Scene is a beauty salon. Everyone is engaging in the activities of a salon of the time. Tableaux vivant as they say their lines. The blacks in their salon and the whites in their salon.)

Actor 2/Community Board Member

Brownsville has no middle class…there are no doctors here, no lawyers; Negroes own less than one percent of the businesses. Children of ghettos are trapped in a dance of death, their dancing partners are the holders of the city’s mortgages, the owners of its utilities and the rulers of its commerce. It is the late Sixties and 70% of New York’s largest corporations have no significant black employment at any level. Our people are poor and attempt to eke out a living through a combination of welfare payments and temp jobs.

Actor 5/Grandmother

Yes, Jesus. We got crime, drug addiction, outta wedlock birth rates and the poor condition of our schools, you don’t even want to know…mm mm mm.

Actor 9/Parent

By most standards, we are good people, endowed with many of the great American virtues. We are hardworking and thrifty. We are honest and devoted to our families. A lot of us have worked our way out of real poverty and in the process haven’t had much time to worry about other people’s problems or think about the Negro and why we have been successful and the Negro hasn’t.

Actor 6/Parent

I hear people talk about why integration has to start with our kids? I honestly think this, I don’t say this, that it has to start somewhere. Some of my friends believe it isn’t color holding them back, it is the kind of people they are. They don’t work hard, I hear, the Negroes don’t work hard, help their children in school, care about their families or keep their homes clean. Honestly, if we were all the same color things would be easier.

Actor 8/UFT Teacher

It is a well known fact that overwhelming majority of the teachers in New York City are of the Jewish faith and I think the anti-Semitic factor is quite substantial at this point and has moved from a covert element to an overt element in this whole dispute.

Actor 9/Cop

The chaos black children live in…no stability whatsoever, no family, no home, no one to talk with them…You can’t talk with them about the future, say about jobs, because they won’t know what you’re talking about. I hate these kids. They’re impossible. How did they get this way?

(Lights fade as voices of White actors overlapping)

Actor 6/UFT Teacher

Can’t believe it! These blacks aren’t grateful.

Actor 9/Parent

How far they have come, they are lucky they have schools up here in the North!

Actor 9/UFT Teacher

We were united once. Now, this is racism at its worst. A witch hunt. They should know better.

Actor 8/UFT Teacher

Our Union will save us. Firing us for a systemic problem is not our problem. Firing us without due process is unconstitutional.

(Lights remain only on Grandmother.)

Actor 5/Grandmother

Lawd, these white folks didn’t know what was coming. At this time, these middle-class whites believed themselves to understand our experience, or worse, that we agreed on things. They believed that we was all the same in this city of many colors and people, a city of opportunity, if you worked hard. But the reality for our people was different and these white people in their view believe they know what is best for us. Well they don’t and 1968, today, was the day the City done woke up. What a mess….

play reading

From the May 19, 2014 premiere reading of the play at the Graduate Center, CUNY

Scene 8

(Nine actors enter to an empty stage. The lighting and silhouettes create an effect where all actors look the same. Helmets and clubs are pre-set stage right, left and upstage for easy access in the transition into the next scene.)

Actor 1/Rhody

(Enters stage left. Addresses nine actors.) The governing board of the Ocean-Hill Brownsville Demonstration School District has voted to end your employment in the schools of this District. This termination of employment is to take effect immediately.”

Actor 6/UFT Teacher

Can’t believe it! These blacks aren’t grateful.

Actor 9/Parent

How far they have come, they are lucky they have schools up here in the North!

Actor 9/UFT Teacher

We were united once. Now, this is racism at its worst. A witch hunt. They should know better.

Actor 8/UFT Teacher

Our Union will save us. Firing us for a systemic problem is not our problem. Firing us without due process is unconstitutional.

(Nine white placards fall from sky, the actors pick them up and put them on and they begin to move in strike circle. The cards read:

“FREEDOM TO TEACH FOR ALL TEACHERS.” “END RACISM IN OUR SCHOOLS.” “CIVIL RIGHTS FOR ALL TEACHERS.” “STOP TEACHING RACE HATRED TO CHILDREN.” “CONTRACTS MUST BE HONORED.” “DUE PROCESS FOR TEACHERS.”

(Nauman/Shanker on stage right.)

Actor 10/Nauman/Shanker

Why didn’t you transfer these teachers? Why did you do this so publicly?

Actor 1/Rhody

(no answer)

Actor 10/Nauman/Shanker

Why didn’t you just press formal charges?

Actor 1/Rhody

However you want to see this move, these teachers will never work in Ocean-Hill Brownsville again. Have a good day.

(Lights go dark, black actors exit. All white actors walk together from upstage with placards. They move in unison…this movement is to be developed with the actors. Montage of images are displayed.The images and movement happen simultaneously. The actors conclude in a thematic tableaux connected to the scene.)

Scene 9

(The remaining actors enter in the dark and pick up the props pre-set in the perimeter. Through movement, the ensemble demonstrate the world of the strike and the protest outside the school. The psych is used to create silhouette of the scene. They depict the line of cops, the people protesting, the placards being used, the white teachers going into to JHS 271, met by the line of black teachers and community protesters. Through light changes, speakers are seen. All this is choreographed with the ensemble.)

Actor 1/Rhody

We will accept no other principals except those chosen by us and will not permit them to be.

Actor 2/Community Board Member

Subject to any new examination.

Actor 3/Black Activist

We will boycott if our demands are not met.

All Black ensemble

Boycott. We openly declare war.

Actor 7/Charlie

3,000 cops. 35 on horses, 3 communication vans, sharpshooters around the perimeter of the building to protect the white UFT teachers that were coming back to the school. In the middle of the day they come toward the school, in a flying wedge with the UFT in the middle.

Actor 4/Mother

Recognized or not, this community will begin to act.

Actor 1/Rhody

These teachers will be fired this week. No hearing.

Actor 3/ Black Activist

We declare our independence and will act as we desire.

(The whole ensemble make a line and exaggerating gossip and retelling of this event called the “fire incident.” How teachers abandoned the students, exaggerating the event to epic proportions. Information becomes increasingly distorted and exaggerated. Charlie is among them trying to clarify the events, but this has become bigger than any one person.)

Actor 8/UFT Teacher

I heard a kid threw a chair through a window.

Actor 9/White Parent

Everyone is absent.

Actor 6/UFT Teacher

The schools have had these fires.

Actor 8, 9, 6/UFT Teachers

We’re in a break room, playing cards.

Black Teacher

Outside the school, there was a wall of blue.

Actor 8, 9, 6

Outside the school, there was a wall of blue.

Actor 8/UFT Teacher

We teachers are in separated common areas.

Actor 8/Cop

The school’s divided by color.

Actors 8, 9, 6/UFT Teachers

We were promised classes but no one is there.

Actor 4/Teacher

Everyone was evacuated into the street at 2pm. At 3pm, we were still there, but I saw ten teachers just leave their students standing outside the school. They just went home.

Actor 3/Poetry Teacher

Our principal told the students that if teachers don’t do the job, we will stand up for the students and those teachers will be dismissed.

Actor 10/Nauman/Shanker

We will teach in this school that firing us is wrong. I want those teachers in the classroom. Press formal charges against these teachers. Due process.

(The actors recreate the protest at the school entrance. The white actors are trying to enter the school. The formation changes with a repetition of the first line of teachers arriving and protesters blocking them. All this repeated four times resulting in a final slow, exaggerated motion. Charlie, Nauman/Shanker and Rhody, the whole ensemble, are inside this melee. All freeze in tableaux.)

(Lights go dark, except for the light on Charlie in the middle of the group. During the next scene, the psych turns into hues of primary colors to depict the scene vignettes.)

Scene 10

Actor 7/Charlie

I am a Math teacher at this school. I am here for this community. It is the reason I went into teaching. The way schools were working, things just weren’t right. I can understand why there was so much rage and anger. Why this became about Black and hite. Even with Black teachers being trained to teach, their access to these jobs would take years, it was even worse for anyone who wanted to be a school leader. Things were not equal and no one, until now, was interested in this community until community control. I went into a classroom where kids couldn’t fill out their emergency cards, there was a 6th grade classroom that had 3rd grade textbooks. When we took over this school, there was chaos, but there was magic. On our first day, in the auditorium, there was on stage a line of teachers, dressed in dashikis and Afrocentric clothing. The principal assured the students that they needed skills that these teachers were going to teach them. That they needed to listen and that they would be advocated for. This was something no one had seen before. If teachers were not doing a good job, they would be taken care of. This, idea was something the students had never heard before. Someone standing up for them. In this school, Kids called us by our first name, there were teacher evaluations by the students, fear of teachers was gone. Yes, there was chaos, but there was magic.

Scene 11

(Charlie narrates these scenes as the ensemble transforms into these vignettes.)

(Psych deep yellow. The whole ensemble become a cypher of music and sound like an orchestra warming up. Music teacher sits in circle with students peacefully listening to the creativity and exploration by the students. The props used in this scene are same ones used later in strike and violence scene. The students slowly ease into an orchestrated Jazz music piece and everyone is grooving.)

(Psych deep blue. The ensemble turns into an unfocused class with disinterest evident in their bodies and fooling around. Suddenly the words of Langston Hughes’ poem “The Ballad of the Landlord” stops the students and they listen intently, read by poetry teacher, by the end they are reciting the poem with him.)

Actor 3/Poetry Teacher

Landlord, landlord,
My roof has sprung a leak.
Don’t you ‘member I told you about it
Way last week?

Actor 3/Poetry Teacher

Landlord, landlord,
These steps is broken down.
When you come up yourself

All

It’s a wonder you don’t fall down.

Actor 4

Ten Bucks you say I owe you?

Actor 2

Ten Bucks you say is due?

Actor 3/Poetry Teacher

Well, that’s Ten Bucks more’n I’l pay you
Till you fix this house up new.

Actor 8

What? You gonna get eviction orders?

Actor 9

You gonna cut off my heat?

Actor 6

You gonna take my furniture and

All

Throw it in the street?

Actor 3/Poetry Teacher

Um-huh! You talking high and mighty.
Talk on-till you get through.
You ain’t gonna be able to say a word
If I land my fist on you.

All

Police! Police!
Come and get this man!
He’s trying to ruin the government
And overturn the land!

Actor 9

Copper’s whistle!

Actor 2

Patrol bell!

Actor 4

Arrest.

Actor 6

Precinct station.

Actor 9

Iron cell.

Actor 5/Grandmother

Headlines in press: MAN THREATENS LANDLORD
TENANT HELD NO BAIL JUDGE GIVES NEGRO 90 DAYS IN COUNTY JAIL

(The lights change toward the end of the poem, to a white screen, Charlie walks into the screen, like when a teacher is standing in front of a film, the images are on Charlie. The students are frozen in tableaux of a class.)

Actor 7/Charlie

Want to see a magic trick? (The ensemble come closer and become his Math class.) I like to start class this way. The way I teach Math is together with the class. We are all figuring it out, together on a journey of discovery. I used everyday elements that were familiar to the students. (Ideally, with shadow on the screen, the ensemble will explore some Mathematical concept that is easy to represent, but like magic in its simplicity and effectiveness.)

(Lights change showing only Charlie)

Actor 7/Charlie

271 was magic indeed. Another class I visited was Mr. Campbell’s. I’d say he was the cultural heart of the school. The students had been taught history from the conqueror’s perspective. Slavery happened. The Civil War was a mess. Everyone was ok with everything. Campbell taught African American History, but he’d start with identifying where other groups came from and then he’d ask the class where they came from. “Where was Negro Land?” and the students didn’t know and then he’d tell them that this was the “theft of history,” that they needed to learn this history of their people.

Scene 12

(Lights go dark. A montage of pictures of children learning in 271 with a voice over are seen and heard.)

Actor 4/Mother

These Black teachers made a difference and what they were teaching the students was connected to their life. They were part of my environment. I mean, they were Black. You identify with them and they can identify with you. It’s as simple as that. There’s no big mystery, you know.

Actor 3/Child

The police, the UFT teachers, the media – they taught us that we weren’t worth anything. What the black teachers did was to broaden us, our perspective of looking at things. We were no longer members of the small community called Ocean Hill-Brownsville. We were exposed to W.E.B. Du Bois, his writings, Langston Hughes, Malcolm X, Marcus Garvey, H. Rap Brown, Mao Tse-Tung, the Red Book. I mean, we became international, and it was a good thing, because black people are the third world. The Third World is much larger than European history. They brought us back to ancient African history, I mean ancient world history, which didn’t any longer start at Rome. It started with the Benin society, its melting of ore and silver and gold and things like that. We became much larger than just the community, and still today, when I look at things, I look at it from an international perspective. And that was what those teachers taught us.

Scene 13

(Lights change and illuminate the actors from downstage as four White actors enter stage, on the diagonal, with their white papers, faced by a line of four Black actors.)

Actor 7/Charlie

3,000 cops. 35 on horses, 3 communication vans, sharpshooters around the perimeter of the building to protect the White UFT teachers that were coming back to the school. In the middle of the day they come toward the school, in a flying wedge with the UFT in the middle. It was announced that if the teachers got no classes there’d be another strike. This one lasted two weeks. In addition to these teachers, UFT sent 59 official observers to observe all of us teaching and to provoke us.

Actor 4/Black teacher

We hear the announcement that the school would be closed. We all decide to march through the community. We got attacked by police. When school opened again, Rhody had a good idea that we’d create phantom classes. The superintendent ordered real classes for the UFT teachers ordering Rhody to make the assignments happen.

Actor 3/Music Teacher

Rhody said he took orders from the governing board. Then the superintendent appoints a new principal and closes school. We keep the school open.

Actor 7/Charlie

The UFT “9,” we find out, are playing cards upstairs, so we confront them. The “acting” principal, appointed by the superintendent, retires that day. The superintendent closes the school so we decide to arrive early, so the children are not confronted by a closed school. We get there real early. There are two barricades and the cops, as usual, don’t know what is going on.

Actor 2/Poetry teacher

At the picket line, Armond, arrives. Armond is a character. He’d like to get into teacher’s heads with a sustained stare he liked to do. So, he decides to do this now to one of the cops. The cop tells him to stop, but Armond continues. Suddenly the cop starts moving toward Armond.

Actor 7/Charlie

I step forward and tell the cop not to touch the kid. The cop comes toward me to do something. I get arrested. Nauman/Shanker were infuriated by this act so they shut down the school for one more week. The ugliest of them all. They shut down the whole district. The City was getting crazier, but this was the only time all parents, teachers and students were working together with activists to make school stay open.

(The amplification of helmets, crowd protest and billy clubs begins and stops. Grandmother is watching on the side, worried about this confrontation. Nauman/Shanker enters and no one is moving, so he and the white teachers leave. This scene is repeated in slow motion three times.)

Actors 6, 8, 9, 10

We will teach in this school and all will know that firing us is wrong.

Actor 10/Nauman/Shanker

I want those teachers in the classroom. Press formal charges against these teachers. Due process.

Actor 1/Rhody

Formal charges are not necessary. We have the right to choose our teachers. You and your teachers are insubordinate. You will never teach here again.

Actor 10/Nauman/Shanker

In a public hearing you can voice your reasons for firing these teachers. Your reasons will justify your position and you will have the control you want. We will get you a Black judge.

(Actors are in tableaux, exit in light change.)

Scene 14

(Sound of a gavel. Lights come up on Grandmother.)

Actor 5/Grandmother

See here, Rhody fired these teachers, but most of these teachers had satisfactory records. He done accepted going to a hearing, but this was a mistake. I know, due process, but still. In dealing with the white man and this bureaucracy, you gotta have facts and use their rules ‘gainst them. On paper and on the word of principals in the neighborhood, no one could say these teachers weren’t competent. The proceedings were, I hate to say it, a mess. From what I hear, most of the testimony was hearsay and inaccurate. I heard that a teacher couldn’t control his class cuz the kids threw a chair across the room. (She can’t help but laugh but with pity) The chairs were bolted to the floor! The judge, who ain’t gonna see color, was definitely not impressed. He took the case “under advisement” promising a decision before the new school year!

Scene 15

(The ensemble enters the stage again into another strike scene of people walking out of the school. Images of this strike are seen, sounds, music, and chants. Silhouettes of actors are on the screen. It is supposed to be a mess.)

(The sound of a gavel is heard.)

Actor 2/Judge

On the legality of letters issued to Fred Nauman and the teachers implicated in the dismissal. These teachers are entitled to return to their jobs. The charges of incompetence are unfounded and the charges related to criticism of community control are protected under the constitution’s free speech. Lastly, the 14th Amendment’s admonition against taking property without due process of law, required hearings, when here, the right to continued employment was at issue.

(Stage goes dark. Actors exit. Words come up on screen.)

“54 thousand of New York’s fifty-seven thousand public school teachers walked out on Monday, September 9, 1968.”
“There were two more strikes which paralyzed the city.”
The Ocean-Hill Brownsville experiment ultimately was ended through a reorganization of districts and the passage of the Decentralization Law of 1969.

Actor 5/Grandmother

(Lights up on her on the stoop.) Lawd Jesus, the third strike was the worst of all. Nauman/Shanker demanded the removal of Rhody McCoy and the local board, terminating this experiment. This brought the whole house down. This whole strike divided this city. The Jews hated the Blacks. The Catholics who hated the Jews all got together ‘cuz they was all white. This city was really black and white now

(Lights fade slowly on Grandmother.)

(Music plays: The Rascals “People Gotta be Free” mixed into “Fight the Power” by Public Enemy in 1989.)

The end.