The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, February 17, 2006


Storytellers bring Martin Luther King to life

Carlisle students traveled back to the color-segregated South of the 1950s and '60s last week in Corey Auditorium, as they watched the life and times of Martin Luther King, Jr. jump from the pages of history.

"We kept to ourselves and white people kept to themselves," actor Rochel Coleman told students, describing two separate worlds against a backdrop with a sign reading "Colored Entrance."

The performance highlighted the civil rights era as storytellers Valerie Tutson and Coleman interacted with students, showing them a different point of view. "Have you heard about the Ku Klux Klan?" Coleman asked students. "They were burning crosses," one student answered. "They were nuts," said another.

Coleman played King as a young boy, going to a friend's house to ask if he could come outside. His friend's mother, played by Tutson, greets him at the door and tells King her son cannot play. "You are colored," she explains, "and we are white."

Performance artist Valerie Tutson delights Carlisle seventh graders while teaching them about the civil rights movement. (Photo by Lois d'Annunzio)
Portraying Rosa Parks

Next, Tutson slipped into the character of Rosa Parks in 1955, as she hung clothes on a laundry line. She told the audience she was a member of the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and was riding the bus. There was a white man standing up on the bus, she said, and the bus driver asked four colored people who were seated to move to the back of the bus. Parks said she was the only colored person who did not move to the back. When she was arrested, she asked the policeman why he was arresting her. He replied, "The law's the law," giving no further explanation. She made a commitment then to change the Jim Crow laws that kept colored people separate on buses, at restaurants and in other public places, she told students.

Tutson and Coleman described a segregated lunch counter at a Woolworth's in Greensboro, North Carolina, where black customers were ignored because they sat at the white lunch counter. King tried to challenge the discrimination by filling the seats with other blacks. "Meet me at Woolworth's at 8 a.m.," Coleman invited students as he walked through the auditorium, shaking hands and playing King with personal charm. King was later arrested for organizing the protest and put in jail.

Tutson played King's wife, Coretta Scott King, as Senator John F. Kennedy called telling her he had heard about King's imprisonment. "Is there anything I can do to help?" he asked. Mrs. King asked if Kennedy could help her husband get out of jail and return to his young family. The next day he came home, she said.

"We Shall Overcome"

"We Shall Overcome," they sang as the scene changed again to 1965 and King's efforts to advance black voter registration in Selma, Alabama. "This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine," teachers and students sang and clapped with the spiritual, "let it shine, let it shine, let it shine."

Based in Rhode Island, Tutson has been performing internationally as a storyteller for more than 15 years. A theater arts graduate of Brown University, she shares stories from the Bible, sings songs of apartheid in South Africa, and teaches children about the civil rights movement in this country.

Rochel Coleman, a singer and actor, weaves civil rights tales with Tutson, drawing on participation of their young audiences.

The hour-long theater presentation for elementary and middle school students was part of the popular Cultural Enrichment Program sponsored by parents in the Carlisle School Association.

2006 The Carlisle Mosquito