Should I sacrifice to live half American?
Letter written by 26-year-old reader James G. Thompson
It was just a letter. —Jimmy
So, was the Declaration of Independence.—Ira
The 60s served as a hotbed of unrefined rock music, free love and a scorching political climate which set the world’s thermometer on fire. While others were hypnotized by the vocal prowess of Jim Morrison the lead singer of the Doors, African Americans were busy securing their place in the world. They marched, they chanted and they worked nearly 24 hours a day to be recognized as a vital part of a society. What gets lost in the sauce is the origin of securing basic civil rights. That triumph came from a young black man, who, wrote a letter to his hometown newspaper the Pittsburgh Courier on January 31, 1942. The freedom rights movement began 20 years before the 60s made it a staple.
The show begins with a fervor speech from Thompson’s grandson Chris Thompson (Jamal Henderson) a recent graduate from UCLA wearing his school colors of blue and white with pride. His genuine smile speaks highly of his grandpa, Jimmy G. Thompson. At the Courier, managing editor Ira Lewis (Nicholas “Nic” Few gives a brilliant performance) is once again, arguing with his star reporter and love interest Marjorie “Madge” Evans, (Brie Eley) over a bake sale he wants her to cover but, she doesn’t have neither the interest nor the desire to write about how many tea cakes were sold at the church social. She is highly inspired by Jimmy Thompson’s letter and makes it her mission to find out more about the young man from Wichita, Kansas and talk with the author about what inspired him to write such an impassioned letter. Ira doesn’t feel there’s a story. He chalks it up to another disgruntled person pissed off about the war. Who isn’t? Courageously, Madge continues her journey leaving a perplexed Ira behind.
Arriving at the Thompson home, Madge meets Jimmy’s girlfriend Annie Culver (Terra Strong Lyons) and father Clem Thompson (Cary Thompson). Clem is visibly proud of his son for writing the letter that would become a nationwide slogan to the world. The purpose of the campaign was to emphasize the injustice toward black soldiers who were treated with brutality overseas. Thompson was able to shine a bright light on a problem that many would rather forget.
What began as simple letter became an anthem for African Americans and Jews, who were also persecuted, to stay and fight for their God-given right to live and be recognized as people who will fight until the end. No matter where it leads.
Playwright Carole Eglash-Kosoff said the “the Double V began with a casual reference from a friend and fan of forgotten events in history.” Eventually, things from the past will come into the present and hopefully change the future to accommodate those who risked everything to be somebody. Not that that hard to figure out, right?
Visiting Jimmy’s past, we see that he had it rough way before he wrote his legendary letter. He numerously tried to join the army but was denied. He has an unpleasant encounter with Charlie Simpson (poor Joe Coffey for playing the man in an unfavorable light but he did exceptional work) Jimmy’s boss at the Cessni factory where they make planes. Charlie makes it clear that he is above Jimmy. Mr. Charlie’s blue eyes grow bigger when he argues with Jimmy and dares the young man to through the first punch. If that isn’t enough, Special Agent William Taylor (John Apicella oozes sardonic malice) of the FBI, sent personally by J. Edgar Hoover, to investigate Jimmy and the Double V campaign that’s sweeping the country. Along with the ongoing story, there are news briefs emblazoned across the screen on what’s going on with the rest of the world. A 17-year-old black boy from Louisiana was found lynched. The Japanese bombed Australia and the Philippines. Things at home aren’t better.
Clem gets a rock with a letter attached saying “disturbing the natural order of things” is bad for their health. Two 13-year-old boys are lynched for allegedly raping a 13-year-old white girl. There are, however, some major improvements in this messed up system. The Tuskegee pilots fly to England to fight. Jimmy is finally accepted in the Army and Madge enlists in WAC. These minor improvements eventually will shape into something glorious that continues on and returns with a fierce bit when the 60s come around. The spokesmen for racial equality, — Dr. King, Malcolm X and Medgar Evers — died fighting for their people.
The Double V may have started as a precursor to the turbulent 60s but it’s legacy remains a mainstay.
The Double V plays Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. until Sunday, November 24th playing at the Matrix Theatre located at 7657 Melrose Avenue, in Los Angeles. For ticket information log on to wwww.OnStage411.com/doublev or by phone 323-960-7776.