Ford’s to Present a Pearl Cleage Premiere   

What comes to mind when you think of Atlanta: Capital of the New South, the Big Peach, the Black Mecca, Da A? Lacking personal experience of Georgia’s capital, you may come up with “Gone with the Wind” or, more likely, changing planes.  

The Jackson in the name of Atlanta’s international airport, Hartsfield-Jackson, long the world’s busiest, is three-term mayor Maynard Jackson. His name was added to that of his predecessor, William Hartsfield, who served six terms as mayor starting in 1938, upon Jackson’s death in 2003 (ironically, from a heart attack after collapsing at Reagan National).  

Maynard Holbrook Jackson Jr. was one of three African Americans to be elected mayor of major U.S. cities in 1973, along with Tom Bradley in Los Angeles and Coleman Young in Detroit, but he was the first to be elected in the South.   

To mark the 50th anniversary of “the election that changed the game,” Ford’s Theatre will present the world premiere of Pearl Cleage’s “Something Moving: A Meditation on Maynard,” directed by Seema Sueko, from Sept. 22 to Oct. 15.  

Tom Story (Citizen 6) at the meet-and-greet for the world-premiere production at Ford’s Theatre of “Something Moving: A Meditation on Maynard.” Background: Shubhangi Kuchibhotla (Citizen 8), Billie Krishawn (The Witness) and Derek Garza (Citizen 9). Photo by Carolina Dulcey. Courtesy Ford’s Theatre.

Born in Dallas in 1938, Jackson went to high school in Atlanta, graduated from the city’s Morehouse College at 18 and earned his law degree at North Carolina Central University Law School. Standing over six-feet tall and weighing close to 300 pounds, he was a commanding figure. What Jackson commanded, when he took office at age 35, was that Black Atlanta share fully in his initiatives for the city’s growth. “We must seize the other Atlanta,” he proclaimed, “the one across the tracks.”  

During his three four-year terms, from 1974 to 1982 and from 1990 to 1994 — with Andrew Young serving two terms in between — Jackson oversaw a major expansion of Hartsfield Airport and the construction of the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA), making sure that Black contractors and workers had a piece of the action. (A man who didn’t believe in waiting, he called himself “Action Jackson.”) One of his third-term accomplishments was securing the 1996 Summer Olympics for his city.  

Playwright Pearl Cleage (pronounced “cleg”), also a novelist, a poet and an activist, was present at the creation of the new, inclusive Atlanta, working as Jackson’s press secretary and speechwriter. Raised in Detroit, she moved to Atlanta, marrying Michael Lomax — later, after their divorce, an unsuccessful candidate for mayor and now head of the United Negro College Fund — and completing a B.A. in drama at Spelman College. “Blues for an Alabama Sky,” with “Flyin’ West” one of her most often produced plays, was performed in conjunction with the 1996 Olympics.  

“Something Moving” is a Ford’s Theatre Legacy Commission. Once on board, director Seema Sueko met with Cleage over Zoom. Then, last December, Sueko made her first visit (not counting changing planes) to Atlanta, where Cleage filled her in and showed her around. Early this year, Cleage joined the artistic team and cast via Zoom for a two-week First Look workshop.  

Paraphrasing Cleage, Sueko explains that the piece is not a biography in play form — and perhaps not a play at all in the conventional sense. “It’s really a poem that’s masquerading as a play,” she says. “A memory seated primarily in the heart.”  

Though Jackson is recalled through projected images, he isn’t a character in “Something Moving,” which is set in the present. The cast consists of nine “Citizens,” a “very decidedly diverse group of characters” — unlike Cleage’s typical cast, Sueko notes — and “The Witness,” played by Billie Krishawn, who conveys to the others the excitement of Jackson’s election and the transformation that followed.  

The emphasis, according to Sueko, is on “ordinary people who came together … and did this extraordinary thing, this magical thing.”  

“It’s so fitting for this to be at Ford’s,” says Sueko, who describes the sharing of Jackson’s legacy “side by side with Lincoln’s legacy” as a “profound invocation.”  

For Sueko, a student of solidarity economy, in which social profit is prioritized over financial profit, the play’s structure and the cast’s interaction — both onstage and off — have resonated with her personal commitment to building a just community. “It gives me hope,” she says. Hearing that, both Jackson and Cleage would nod in understanding and agreement, no doubt.  

Something Moving: A Meditation on Maynard  

Sept. 22 to Oct. 15  

Ford’s Theatre  

511 Tenth St. NW  

Washington, DC 20004  







Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *