Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Civil rights figures come to life at MC-Germantown

Performances continue through Friday

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Visitors to Montgomery College this week will get a chance to glimpse the courage, determination, pain and anger of the civil rights movement through a succession of performances depicting historic figures from the era.

The performances are part of the Germantown campus’ Chautauqua event, which began Tuesday with Gwendolyn Briley-Strand, of Fort Washington, as Rosa Parks, the woman seen by many historians as igniting the civil rights movement when her refusal to give her bus seat to a white passenger in Montgomery, Ala., spawned a boycott of the bus system.

Martin Luther King Jr.’s role in the movement is scheduled to be re-enacted tonight by Bill Grimmette of Gambrills. George Wallace Jr.’s hostility to King and his movement will be illustrated by Doug Mishler Thursday night. The performances conclude Friday with Charles Everett Pace’s one-man show of the life of Malcolm X.

All performances are free and open to the public. Each is scheduled to begin with musical performances at 7 p.m. underneath a tent at 20200 Observation Drive. If it rains, the event will be moved to Globe Hall in the campus’ High Technology and Science Center.

Mishler, a historian at the University of Nevada at Reno and Pace of Texarkana, Texas, said that their performances will challenge myths and assumptions that have settled over their characters with the passage of time.

Mishler said people with memories of the 1960s are likely to perceive Wallace, a governor of Alabama, as one of the great villains of American history for his dogged defense of laws and customs that oppressed blacks through arbitrary, sometimes violent, exercises of power.

Those attending his show will see a Wallace who, on many issues, worked to improve life for the poor in Alabama, Mishler said.

‘‘We’re going to mess up everybody’s view of how evil Wallace is. He is way negative toward the American civil rights movement. But he has some explanations and it makes some sense,” Mishler said.

Like Mishler, Pace said his show about Malcolm X attempts to show another polarizing figure from the 60s as more complicated than common depictions of him as a white-hating black militant. Malcolm X spent the early part of his life mired in drug abuse and criminality before becoming a Muslim minister and a leading figure in the Nation of Islam. He was assassinated in 1965.

Pace said many of those who see his portrayal of Malcolm X are likely to be surprised by ‘‘how American he and his ideas were and how reasonable he was versus how he was portrayed in the media.”

Chautauqua performances are defined by a single actor’s portrayal of a historic figure presented in three parts. The performance of the life and ideas of the character constitutes the first part of the show, followed by an opportunity for audience members to question the actor while he remains in character. The last part of the show is a question and answer period in which the actor reverts to his own personality.

‘‘It’s not a drab experience at all and it’s for whole family. I would say anybody above the age of 10 should come because I do the program from middle school on up,” said Pace, who has been performing as Malcolm X since 1975.