A groundbreaking court decision that overturned the practice of segregation will be explored Tuesday night at Mount Airy Museum of Regional History.
Actor and playwright Mike Wiley, who heads a production company in Durham, will present the program “Brown v. Board of Education — Over Fifty Years Later.” The event that is free and open to the public is scheduled from 7 to 8:30 p.m. on the museum’s third floor.
Wiley’s performance in Mount Airy Tuesday, as part of local Black History Month observances, marks the third-straight year he has explored subjects here which defined the civil-rights struggle in America. Last year, Wiley focused on Jackie Robinson, the first African-American to play Major League baseball, and in 2011 his program was dedicated to Rosa Parks and the Montgomery, Ala., bus boycott.
Matt Edwards, the museum’s executive director, said Wiley has proven to be a hit with local audiences due to his ability to bring serious subjects to life while also being entertaining.
“Mike is a one-man show in all stretches of the imagination,” Edwards said Thursday of the multi-talented performer.
“And in order to engage the audience, he literally engages the audience,” the museum official added of a key performance technique of Wiley’s. “There’s lots of public interaction to the point where people from the audience will be part of the narrative.”
This involves audience members being called up on an impromptu basis to play characters during Wiley’s presentations.
He also uses various props to full advantage, including a baseball glove and uniform for the February 2012 program on Jackie Robinson, and a bus seat the year before to tell the story of Rosa Parks.
“It’s amazing what a performer can do with a few well-placed props and a good script, and Mike is a testament to that,” Edwards said.
Mike Wiley’s presentation on Brown v. Board of Education will focus on the turbulent 1950s when the civil-rights era was in full swing.
In 1952, the U.S. Supreme Court heard multiple school-segregation cases, including Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas. Two years later, the high court ruled unanimously that segregation was unconstitutional, overthrowing Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), which established the “separate but equal” precedent for everything from schools to water fountains.
Tuesday’s play will recount the effects of the decision on the families who participated in the original court case, the impact of the ruling on school systems at the time and the challenges still being faced today.
The museum official said a good turnout is anticipated Tuesday night, based on experience. “We probably had close to 100 folks at the event last year,” Edwards said. “We expect to have a good crowd and, as always, we expect Mike to put on a good show.”
Wiley has become a highly sought-after performer because of his unique theatrical prowess, Edwards said. “Mike has built a big following not only in North Carolina, but regionally.”
The museum is lucky to be hosting one of his shows, Edwards said.
“It’s not an inexpensive program,” he added, explaining that it is made possible by a “subgrant” from the Grassroots program of the North Carolina Arts Council. It is an outreach effort that allows rural communities around the state to experience artistic and cultural activities.
“If it were not for this grant program, we would not be able to bring Mike in,” Edwards said of the grassroots project that also encompasses students. “He’ll be visiting a couple of schools” while here, the museum spokesman mentioned.
“It’s a pretty big deal,” Edwards said. “We’re really excited to have Mike back.”
Although admission to Tuesday night’s program is free, donations will be accepted.
Reach Tom Joyce at 719-1924 or email@example.com.