The Crossroads Project will present a staged reading of the new play The DePriest Incident by Charles White, winner of the 2021 Diverse Voices Playwriting Initiative. Directed by Demitri Corbin, this staged reading will take place virtually on Thursday, March 25, via Zoom. The evening will consist of a pre-show talk at 6:15 p.m., the staged reading performance at 7 p.m., and a post-show talkback where audience members can interact with the playwright. All events are free and open to the public. Register for the events using the link below:

The Winning Play

Oscar Stanton De Priest, member of the United States House of Representatives.
Oscar DePriest. Public Domain.
Jessie DePriest, wife of U.S. Representative Oscar DePriest. Public Domain.
Jessie DePriest. Public Domain.

Set in 1929, The DePriest Incident dramatizes an underexplored event in African American political history. Oscar DePriest, an outspoken civil rights advocate, has just been elected to represent Illinois in the U.S. House of Representatives—the first Black person to do so in the 20th century. He takes a hard line against racism, pushing for anti-lynching legislation and criticizing politicians who submit to Southern pressure. Oscar’s mind is also set on his wife, Jessie, attending the White House tea party hosted by First Lady Lou Hoover, a courtesy afforded to all Congressional wives. Oscar and his ally, Julia West Hamilton, plan to use Jessie’s White House appearance to send a message about racial equality and drive attendance at an upcoming NAACP fundraiser.  However, it is unclear if Jessie will receive an invitation—or if Jessie even wants to go, knowing that she will be ignored and belittled by some of the white women. Through powerful characters and a gripping story, The DePriest Incident stages an important debate about the most effective political strategy for social change.

The DePriest Incident was selected from a pool of 100 plays from writers all across the country.

Charles White, winner of the 2021 Diverse Voices Playwrighting Initiative
Charles White, winner of the 2021 Diverse Voices Playwrighting Initiative

The Playwright

Playwright Charles White is a founding member of Harlem Playwrights 21, a not-for-profit playwriting workshop. His play, Succession, was a finalist in the 2018 ScreenCraft Play Competition. Another play, Unentitled, reached the semifinals of the same contest the following year, and The DePriest Incident was a semifinalist in the 2019 Blue Ink Playwriting Award Competition. White has studied under Michael D. Dinwiddie, P.J. Gibson, Laurence Holder, Cassandra Medley, and Richard Wesley at the New Federal Theatre Playwriting Workshop, and is a graduate of Princeton University and NYU Law School.

White described the inspiration for The DePriest Incident in his playwright’s statement:

“In the course of researching another project, I stumbled on a largely forgotten event in American history which really surprised me. In 1929, Illinois Republican Oscar DePriest became the first Negro elected to Congress in the 20th century. First Lady Louise Hoover was planning a tea party at the White House for all Congressional wives, and Southern Democrats were absolutely irate at the possibility that Oscar’s wife, Jessie, might be invited to the tea party and break the sacred social barrier between whites and Negroes.

“All this drama over a tea party actually struck me as silly from my 21st century perch, but it also plainly illustrated the state of race relations in America at the time—and perhaps even now. I immediately knew I had to write about the incident.”

The Crossroads Project

The Crossroads Project is an advocacy committee comprising faculty, staff, and students that promotes diversity and inclusion in the School of Theatre and Dance. In the past, Crossroads has invited established playwrights to ISU to participate in MainStage productions of their work. Recently, Crossroads presented Ga-AD! by Ugandan playwright and director Adong Lucy Judith in 2018 and Delhi-based author Manjula Padmanabhan’s Harvest in 2017.

The Diverse Voices Playwriting Initiative was created to complement these programs by supporting playwrights of color as they develop new work. In addition to providing opportunities for artists from historically underserved groups, the initiative also creates an environment in which students and community members can interact directly with professional theatre artists. The inaugural staged reading took place Fall 2020 with Even Flowers Bloom In Hell, Sometimes by Franky D. Gonzalez.

“A university setting is ideal for development of The DePriest Incident,” stated White. “It’s an untold piece of racial history as well as a lesson in politics which can enlighten students. But ultimately, it’s a story about human behavior under the pressure exerted by the political realities of the time. I am a storyteller, not an academic. Developing the play in an academic setting can flesh out aspects of the story which I may well have missed. I welcome the collaboration.”

Explore WGLT’s article: Crossroads Project’s New Play Selection Tells Timely Story Of Race, Inclusion