CBU hosts ‘The Green Book’ as part of African Her­itage Month events

Cape Breton Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY NANCY KING nk­ing@cb­post.com

Read­ing of play at CBU marks African Her­itage Month.

When a black cou­ple in 1950s Nova Sco­tia sets out on a cross­con­ti­nent road trip to visit fam­ily via the famed Route 66, they en­coun­tered chal­lenges that il­lus­trate the racial di­vide of the not-so-dis­tant past.

That’s the premise of “The Green Book,” a play based on the road guide of the same name — also called “The Ne­gro Trav­el­ers’ Green Book” or “The Trav­el­ers’ Green Book” — which play­wright Juanita Peters brought to the Cape Breton Univer­sity cam­pus Wed­nes­day for a dra­matic read­ing and work­shop.

Peters was invited to bring the play to CBU to mark African Her­itage Month.

The book was pub­lished by a black postal worker named Vic­tor Green from 1936 to 1964 and pro­vided black tourists with the in­for­ma­tion they needed in order to do things that most white trav­ellers prob­a­bly took for granted — where could they go to safely buy food and sup­plies, find a mo­tel room or even use the wash­room, with­out be­ing dis­crim­i­nated against be­cause of the colour of their skin.

“He (Green) dis­cov­ered that just be­cause he had a nice new car didn’t mean that ev­ery­one had to sell you gas,” Peters said in an in­ter­view. “It was a safety tool and it ac­tu­ally grew from a doc­u­ment that was in the U.S. to Canada, in Mexico, it be­came a very pop­u­lar and valu­able tool.”

Peters said that there were many pre­cau­tions that black trav­ellers had to take, not­ing that the fe­male lead Emma went as far as to pack a cham­ber pot in the car as they em­barked on their road trip.

“You did a lot of things, you packed all kinds of tools in case you had to sleep in your car overnight,” she said. “We’ve taken a fic­tional African Nova Sco­tian cou­ple who are trav­el­ling through the U.S. and we learn about the value of not only ‘The Green Book,’ but we talk about race-re­lated trauma and how it has af­fected one of the main char­ac­ters in the play.”

It’s hoped that au­di­ences will un­der­stand the toll it takes on peo­ple when they en­counter racism, both in the mo­ment and in the longer term. In the play, Emma’s hus­band Carl suf­fers from post-trau­matic stress dis­or­der due to his past ex­pe­ri­ences.

“This is tak­ing place at a cer­tain time in life, but the thing is, where they were in Nova Sco­tia, they didn’t see it to the ex­tent that it was hap­pen­ing in the (U.S.), they weren’t aware of lynch­ings, they weren’t aware of some down­towns where you had to be out by a cer­tain time or else you couldn’t be in that town at all, you didn’t want to be caught,” said Ju­lia Williams, who plays Emma.

Williams noted there are also some present-day par­al­lels with some of the cur­rent un­rest in the U.S. un­der Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump and even with this week’s mosque shoot­ing in Que­bec City.

“It seems like peo­ple seem to feel that they have a pass nowa­days to be racist and to openly ex­press it and what we have to let peo­ple know is that you can’t be racist, we are all the same peo­ple, we all bleed the same red blood,” Williams said.

“I be­lieve in the world that we live in to­day, it’s time that we all help one an­other, as we see what’s go­ing on in the (U.S.) and all over the world, we need to come to­gether,” added Jonathan Smith, who plays Carl.

The play was first pre­viewed in Halifax in Novem­ber. Be­cause the play is in work­shop mode, it’s still in de­vel­op­ment, with Peters tak­ing into ac­count feed­back from au­di­ences as she con­tin­ues to re­write and re­fine it. The plan is to take it back out in two years as a fully de­vel­oped play.

The pre­sen­ta­tion at CBU was livestreamed to sev­eral other univer­sity cam­puses.


The cast of “The Green Book” — Lee-Anne Poole, from left, Gil­bert Downey, Ju­lia Williams and Jonathan Smith — per­form at Cape Breton Univer­sity’s Cen­tre for Sound Com­mu­ni­ties on Wed­nes­day.


Ju­lia Williams and Jonathan Smith por­tray Emma and Carl in “The Green Book,” a cou­ple from Wey­mouth, N.S., who set out on a cross-con­ti­nent road trip to Los An­ge­les in the 1950s.


Play­wright/di­rec­tor Juanita Peters was invited to bring her play “The Green Book” to Cape Breton Univer­sity Wed­nes­day to mark African Her­itage Month. The play is based on a road guide pub­lished from 1936 to 1964 that helped black trav­ellers safely find busi­nesses and ser­vices.

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