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‘Ruby’ tells story of school integration

South Boston News / February 20, 2020

Southern states did little to implement integration in their public schools following the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Brown v Board of Education until ordered by federal courts to do so. In February 1956, the New Orleans Parish School Board was ordered to integrate, beginning on the third Monday in November 1960.

Four brave young African-American girls from the Ninth Ward, Ruby Bridges, Leona Tate, Tessie Provost, and Gail Etienne, were escorted that day by federal marshals past crowds of jeering protestors to two previously all-white elementary schools.

Halifax County Little Theatre’s production of “Ruby: The Story of Ruby Bridges” focuses on the bravery of six-year-old Ruby Nell Bridges as she was the only one of the girls to attend William Frantz Elementary; however, Leona, Tessie, and Gail also faced harassment and threats from crowds of angry protestors as they integrated McDonough No. 19. Their characters will be brought to life on the Prizery stage by Traniya Connally as Leona, Abriana Jade Mitchell as Tessie, and Ashanti’anna Chisholm as Gail.

The federal marshals escorting young Ruby will be portrayed by Mark Thackston and Kirby Saunders while Kenny Fears and Caleb Flowers will protect the trio of young girls from the angry protestors.

Although she has danced on stage before, this will be Traniya’s first time in an acting role. She is eleven years old and attends South Boston Elementary where her favorite subject is math. Nine-year-old Abrianna is involved in lots of activities at Clays Mill Elementary, including the Girls Who Code club and EGP, and she participates in basketball, volleyball, and softball with the county recreation department, but this is also her first time acting.

Ashanti’anna attends Scottsburg Elementary where she enjoys all of her subjects. She is excited about being a part of this play and looks forward to trying out for others. All three of the girls have had fun meeting new friends at rehearsals and learning about the past. They also participate in the chorus and have enjoyed learning and practicing the songs.

Thackston has helped backstage and has been a “theatre dad” when his children, Carrington and Courtland, participated in productions, but he has not acted on stage since Father of the Bride in the 1990s. His wife, Erin, and children encouraged him to audition, and this play seemed to be a perfect fit because his role as a marshal protecting young Ruby reflects his job as a member of the National Guard Adjutant General’s Joint Staff. Thackston is also the chief lending officer for the Bank of Charlotte County.

Saunders’ first time on the stage was in The Sound of Music in the 90s as the military officer announcing that the Von Trapp family had escaped. He acted in a number of plays at Hargrave Military Academy and returned to the stage last year in HCLT’s Christmas Belles as Deputy Buntner. Saunders is the emergency services coordinator for Orange County, NC. He is enjoying his role as a federal marshal but finds it difficult to watch the hate and racism portrayed by the protestors in the play, knowing that it is acting but also realizing that it is an ugly part of our nation’s history.

The marshals escorting Leona, Tessie, and Gail to McDonough #19 are portrayed by Flowers and Fears, both veterans of the theatre, appearing on stage and working behind the scenes in a number of productions. Flowers works for a local business that sells custom-made cabinets and volunteers in a number of community activities while not performing on the Prizery stage. He has been doing summer theatre since he was 14 and has appeared in a number of productions, both here and in North Carolina, including Jungle Book, Seussical, and Annie Get Your Gun.

As a student at Halifax County High School, Fears has already studied the Civil Rights movement, but he has learned more about it by being in this play. He finds the hardest part of rehearsals is waiting for his time on stage but has enjoyed meeting new people and helping HCLT bring this play with its valuable message about hate to the stage.

Halifax County Little Theatre’s production of RUBY: The Story of Ruby Bridges opens at the Prizery on Friday, Feb. 21 at 7:30 p.m. and runs Feb. 22, 27, 28, and 29 at 7:30 p.m. and on Feb. 23 and March 1 at 3 p.m. Tickets are $15 for adults and $10 for students.

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