PlayGuide - "Nina Simone: Four Women"

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APRIL 16 – MAY 12, 2024 | QUADRACCI POWERHOUSE | 414-224-9490
Directed by
By Christina Ham
Malkia Stampley Presented
Ellen & Joe Checota
2 Nina Simone: Four Women – PlayGuide Mark Clements ARTISTIC DIRECTOR Chad Bauman EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR PLAYGUIDE WRITTEN BY Lindsey Hoel-Neds CONTENT WRITER PLAYGUIDE EDITED BY Lisa Fulton CHIEF MARKETING OFFICER APRIL 16 – MAY 12, 2024 | QUADRACCI POWERHOUSE Associate Producers Rania & Pat Dempsey Executive Producers Susan & Thomas Quadracci • Judy Van Till Corporate Sponsor About the Play............................................................................3 Characters.................................................................................4 Nina Simone Bio.........................................................................5 Historical Context: The 16th Street Baptist Church bombing.......7 People Mentioned in the Play/Historical Allusions........................8 Slang and Terminology in the Play....................................9 Historical Context: Segregation and the Civil Rights Movement..................................................10 Historical Context: Gender in the Civil Rights Movement............12 Continuing the Fight: Doing the Good Work in Milwaukee...........13 Table of Contents By Christina Ham Directed by Malkia Stampley Presented by Ellen & Joe Checota

About The Play About The Play

Excerpts from the script of Nina Simone: Four Women:

September 16, 1963

A semblance of the ruins of 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, and its collision with the upper middle-class confines of Nina’s home in Mt. Vernon, NY. It’s the abstract meets the concrete.


September 16, 1963. Birmingham, Alabama. The blood, sweat, and tears of its former slaves have enriched the red clay soil of this land. This city was founded near one of the world’s richest deposits of minerals and iron and steel production. The clouds peel back their covers for the sun to roll out of bed to start its long and wretched day. The humidity that’s been boiling most of the summer is down to a simmer. All except for the embers of the city’s most famous church stirring in the atmosphere.

Brides of loss and daughters of hope quilt the terrain of this industrial center with dishwater hands, sun baked skin that hangs like freshly washed linen on a clothesline, and memories that run deep in the enriched soil. These matriarchs of Emancipation carry their songs of praise and protest deep within their spirits. These voices of angels unite in a chorus to cast out the demon of segregation. Fire hoses baptize and the rebirth leads to a beautiful rainbow of Colored, Negro, Black, and African-American women made in their own image with a voice that resonates in a bold chord in A major.

One of their daughters, seemingly a world away, percolates with a roiling rage. An ill wind hovering over the urban soil that she calls home. Amongst the tranquil tree-lined streets, manicured lawns, and Tudor style homes in Mount Vernon, NY, a seed of revolution is being planted. A stone’s throw from the Bronx but definitely a passport to a whole other world where even “Good Trouble” is something for the other boroughs. This community is the fruits of the Great Migration of African-Americans to the region. The sweat stains have evaporated, the tears—now, just salt on the cheeks. But the blood, still boils. Inside this unassuming bedroom community, a fire of rage burns inside the home of Nina Simone. Stitched into the fiber of her being is the struggle of being. She plucks it out on every key of her piano. It is the only thing in the house that remains safe. 3
The cast of Nina Simone: Four Women at KC Rep. Photo credit: Don Ipock.

Characters Characters

Excerpted from Nina Simone: Four Women script. Descriptions from playwright Christina Ham

NINA SIMONE (30) (Alexis J. Roston)

A.K.A. “Peaches”. Timeless. A woman of dark skin and temperament that cloaks wounds both present and historical. Bach and the Blues infuse her life. She is a tornado...of vulnerability. Complexity is her complexion and resistance and rebellion her anthem. She should boast the agility of improvisation on the keys and the polyvocality of a herald. She should be able to hear a song only once and be able to not only perform it, but to lift the song to another level of being. She lives hard and loves the same. She has a high school education, but possesses well-rounded music training both self-taught and by private music teachers. Whatever her mood swings they should never be so pronounced to upstage her accomplishments. She should possess the attributes of a modern-day prophet.

SARAH (40s) (Gabrielle Lott-Rogers)

A.K.A. “Auntie”. Also of dark skin. Her hands are rough. Molded from years of working in the white folks’ home since she was yea high. Groomed to put others before herself. This type of welding has created the invisible woman that she has become. Her smile is inviting, never letting on that trouble lives on her horizon. Her dark skin has determined how she will be treated by the outside world. Her life has been defined by black and its volatile relationship to white. She has a remedial education at best as she comes from a large family where everyone had to work and carry their weight. She possesses the tender shoulder you can cry on and a honeysuckled voice of pain. She doesn’t sing the blues, but has lived it.

SEPHRONIA (30s-40s) (Toni Martin)

Her skin is yellow. She is of a softer disposition because that is what her hair type and skin color warrant. She’s never been dark enough to cause offense, but she’s just light enough to offend herself at times. She’s the painful reminder that she is a child of violence. She’s not light enough to be white nor dark enough to be black leading to an inescapable purgatory. She’s joined the civil rights movement hoping this will make her black enough and create an acceptance. Her mother doesn’t understand her and her father’s disowned her. Her mother holds her accountable for why she wasn’t able to find a man of her own. She’s opened her heart to many men who’ve made her empty promises. She is a D minor key, the saddest of them all.

SWEET THING (Late 20s) (Brittany Mack)

Her skin is tan. She’s enticing whether she wants to be or whether she’s paid to be. She’s been tossed to and fro by life and the blows that it's delivered by the men that have come and gone from her life. She’s lived on the streets for quite some time and been in and out of trouble most of her life. She’s a pistol, but has still never gotten what she really wants— love. She is the kind of woman that will steal your man when you’re not looking. Her looks have been the bane of her existence since she was a little girl.

SAM WAYMON (20s) (Matthew Harris)

Nina’s younger brother. Plays piano, Hammond B-3 Organ, and tambourine. Stays out of her way.

4 Nina Simone: Four Women – PlayGuide

Nina Simone Bio Nina Simone Bio

“I didn’t get interested in music. It was a gift from God.”
- Nina Simone

Nina Simone was born Eunice Waymon on February 21, 1933 in Tryon, North Carolina. Eunice’s mother, Kate, was a Methodist preacher, and both her and Eunice’s father, John, were pillars of the Black community in their small town. Eunice showed an early aptitude for music, playing an entire hymn on the organ at just twoand-a-half years old. By the time she was five, she was the official pianist for the church. When she was six, Eunice and two of her sisters formed a musical group called the Waymon Sisters Group. That year also saw Eunice begin formal piano lessons with Muriel Mazzonovich, affectionately known as Miz Mazzy. Eunice would study with her for years and those studies would lead to her dream of being a classical pianist. Eunice performed well-attended recitals at local churches and libraries.

As a teenager, Eunice set her sights on furthering her music education. She continued to study with Miz Mazzy, perform recitals, and grow in her musical prowess. The summer after she graduated high school in 1950, Eunice attended a summer program at the Juilliard School in New York City in preparation for an audition for the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. Her family moved to Philadelphia in support of Eunice’s upcoming studies and move. Although Eunice had been preparing for years, she was rejected for admissions. Eunice was convinced that her rejection was based on racial prejudice, an injustice which profoundly impacted her, but Curtis Institute has long denied her allegations.

Eunice started working as an accompanist and music tutor, but ventured out to perform in clubs and other venues as she continued her study of classical piano. Because she was afraid her parents

would disapprove of her playing in bars, she adopted the stage name Nina Simone, a name she would forever be known for. After several years of playing club and bar gigs, Simone signed her first record deal in 1958 and released her debut album Little Girl Blue in February of 1959. Nina still dreamed of becoming a classical pianist and used the proceeds from her album to fund her continuing pursuit of that goal. The album was well-received and Simone’s version of “I Loves You Porgy” from the musical Porgy and Bess was a Top 20 hit in 1959. The albums And Her Friends, The Amazing Nina Simone, and Nina Simone at Town Hall quickly followed.

Simone then moved to New York City to further her career, and made big changes in her personal life in her new city. She became a popular live performer, but a hospitalization and polio infection derailed her busy schedule in mid-1961. In late 1961, Simone married Andrew Stroud, her second husband (her first marriage lasted only a year in 1958), who left his job as a police detective to manage Nina’s career. In 1962, Simone also took on the role of mother, giving birth to her daughter Lisa in September.

As the early 1960s wore on, Nina continued to be a popular performer and she recorded multiple albums, with ten releases between 1960 and 1965. But, the most significant pieces of Nina’s story relative to the play, her activism and role in the Civil Rights Movement, came roaring to life in the early 1960s. Shortly after her hospitalization in 1961, she participated in a telethon to support the work of CORE’s Freedom Riders. Her frequent performances in Greenwich Village connected her to important Black luminaries, artists, and activists such as James Baldwin, Lorraine Hansberry, and Langston Hughes. Simone also participated in an American Society of African Culture conference in Nigeria in 1961. These experiences fueled Nina’s fire for justice and activism. 5
Background: Nina Simone's childhood home in Tryon, NC. Photo credit: WLOS Staff. Nina Simone and James Baldwin, early 1960s. Photo credit: New York Public Library. Nina Simone performing. Photo credit: David Redferrn, Getty Images.

During the mid-to-late 1960s, Simone’s role as a voice of the movement was solidified as she wrote songs and gave performances that supported civil rights and justice, and spoke to the Black experience. The song she is writing in Nina Simone: Four Women became one of her most important songs: “Mississsippi Goddam,” written in response to the murder of activist Medgar Evers and the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham. Simone put her frustrations about the slow progress of equality and justice into the song, saying of her state-of-mind after hearing of the bombing: “At first I tried to make myself a gun. I gathered some materials. I was going to take one of them out, and I didn’t care who it was. Then Andy, my husband at the time, said to me, ‘Nina, you can’t kill anyone. You are a musician. Do what you do.’ When I sat down the whole song happened. I never stopped writing until the thing was finished.” Several years later, Simone performed the poignant song at a concert just three days after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Simone continued to be a powerful voice throughout the 1960s, with pieces reflecting the struggle and the joy being some of her most notable musical legacies. “Four Women” (upon which the characters in the play are based) spoke to the resilience, strength, and pain of Black women while “To Be Young, Gifted, and Black” became an anthem encouraging Black children to see the beauty and power they possessed. Simone became known as “The High Priestess of Soul” for her resonant, powerful, spiritual, and remarkable voice and music.

“You can't help it. An artist's duty, as far as I'm concerned, is to reflect the times.”
- Nina Simone

As the public focus on the civil rights movement waned in the 1970s, Simone’s popularity as a musician also declined. She and her husband divorced and Nina left the United States for abroad. She often cited the lack of progress related to racial justice as her reason for leaving the U.S. Simone eventually settled in France, continuing to release albums and touring, but with less recognition or frequency as the years wore on.

Simone has been cited as a powerful influence on the music and careers of artists such as Aretha Franklin, Elton John, and Jay-Z, but her legacy lives on. She was named as one of Rolling Stone’s Greatest Singers of All-Time, was inducted

into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2018, and in 2003 the Curtis Institute of Music awarded her an Honorary Doctorate. Nina Simone passed from breast cancer just two days later, on April 21, 2003, at her home in France.

Want to Learn More?

I Put a Spell on You: The Autobiography of Nina Simone by Nina Simone

How It Feels to Be Free by Ruth Feldstein

Nina Simone by Richard Elliott

What Happened, Miss Simone? (documentary film)

“And I Want You To Walk Down Freedom’s Road”: Rethinking Resistance in the Music of Nina Simone, 1958-1963 Masters Thesis by Sarah Tomlinson, available online

Did You Know?

The song “Four Women” was controversial when it was first released and was banned on several radio stations due to people believing it stereotyped and insulted Black women. The ban created more upset than the song itself and the restrictions were lifted.

6 Nina Simone: Four Women – PlayGuide
Nina Simone in 1968. Photo credit: Ian Showell/Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images Nina Simone in concert in Paris, 1991. Photo credit: Bertrand Guay, Associated French Press. Background: A memorial to Nina Simone. Photo credit: Zenos Frudakis.

Historical Context:

The 16th Street Baptist Church Bombing The 16th Street Baptist Church Bombing

“Alabama’s gotten me so upset // Tennessee made me lose my rest // And everybody knows about Mississippi Goddam.”
- Nina Simone, “Mississippi Goddam”

Nina Simone: Four Women lives in a liminal space between Nina’s imagination; her home in Mt. Vernon, New York; and the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. The play takes place on September 16, 1963, the day after the infamous racially-motivated bombing at the historic church. With a congregation spanning back to the 1880s, the 16th Street Baptist Church’s building was built in 1911, and served as a central space for faith, fellowship, and activism in Birmingham. Like many other Black churches in Birmingham, 16th Street was a gathering place for the community; luminaries such as W.E.B. DuBois, Mary McLeod Bethune, and Paul Robeson were amongst those who spoke at the church in its earlier years. Due to its central location and importance in the Black community, the church served as a location for large rallies and meetings during the Civil Rights Movement.

Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth put out an invitation to civil rights leaders to come and help desegregate Birmingham, a city with a reputation as the most segregated city in the nation. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) turned their attention to the city, bringing the movement to Birmingham’s doorstep. This campaign was dubbed “Project C” and would consist of protests and demonstrations. While not all in church leadership or the congregation wanted to get involved, 16th Street joined the crusade and became a starting point for many of the marches.

During May of 1963, what later was known as “The Children’s Crusade” began, which saw young people marching to talk to the new mayor of Birmingham. Both adults and youth alike were met with police brutality and jailed.The marches were broadcast on national television and a spotlight shone on the struggle in Birmingham.

After months of unrest, the violence that plagued the city turned to one of its most well-known houses of worship. As parishioners prepared for the morning service on September 15, 1963, and a special Youth Sunday program, bombs rocked the building and the congregation gathered inside. The explosion killed four young girls attending Sunday School: 14-year-olds Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson, and 11-year-old Cynthia Wesley. Addie's sister Sarah survived, but lost her right eye, along with more than 20 other congregants who were injured. Later that evening, in other parts of town, a Black youth, Virgil Ware, was shot by a white teenager, and another, Johnny Robinson, was killed by police. Unrest followed the tragedy of these six young lives lost.

After the bombing, the violence, brutality, and injustice of the lives of Black citizens in Birmingham became not just national, but international news. An outpouring of condolences and funds for the families, the church, and the cause came from all over the world.

The FBI launched an immediate investigation into the bombing, which led them to four members of a prolifically violent arm of the local Klu Klux Klan. The investigation ended in 1968 with no indictments. Then, in 1971, the Alabama Attorney General reopened the case, requesting the evidence from the FBI that they had kept secret, and was able to gain the trust of additional witnesses. In 1977, one of the four suspects was convicted of murder, but charges were not brought against the others until decades later. In 2001 and 2002, the surviving two murderers were convicted with one having died in 1994, never being brought to justice for his crimes. 7
Background: First responders and parishioners examine the damage from the bombing. Photo credit: Associated Press.

Historical Allusions & People Mentioned in the Play Historical Allusions & People Mentioned in the Play

“There’s no excuse for the young people not knowing who the heroes and heroines are or were.”
- Nina Simone

Emmett Till:

Till was a 14-year-old boy who was abducted, tortured, and lynched in Mississipi in 1955 after an accusation of offending a white woman.

Medgar Evers:

The NAACP field secretary in Mississippi who was assassinated by a white supremacist in his own home in 1963.


A singer, often known as “The Voice of the Civil Rights Movement” who had a huge influence on the folk music revival of the 50s and 60s.

Dr. King - Project C(onfrontation):

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. arrived in Birmingham, Alabama in early 1963 to begin a series of nonviolent actions highlighting the state of segregation in the South. The actions were spearheaded by King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth encouraged King and the SCLC to come to Birmingham because of the city’s status as one of the most racially-divided cities in the country.

St. Luke’s CME Church:

St. Luke’s was Simone’s childhood church where her mother was a preacher and she served as pianist from a young age.

Jim Crow:

Jim Crow was a colloquial name for the system of discriminatory laws and customs in the American South after the end of slavery that separated people by race and denied many rights to Black Americans and other People of Color.

Aretha Franklin:

American singer known as the “Queen of Soul.” Best known for hits such as “Respect,” “A Natural Woman,” and “I Say a Little Prayer.”

Mahalia Jackson: American gospel singer known as one of the most influential voices of the 20th century.

Malcolm X:

A prominent Muslim leader during the Civil Rights Movement. While he was controversial due to his fiery rhetoric and alleged preaching of racism and violence, he is also a celebrated figure for his commitment to racial justice. He was assassinated in 1965 after escalating conflict with the Nation of Islam.

Hannah (Biblical):

A biblical figure who is known for being unable to have children until she prays to God and promises her future child to God’s service. Hannah is then blessed with a child and then bears more children.

Rosa Parks:

Rosa Parks was an activist during the Civil Rights Movement and became the symbolic center of a boycott of buses in Montgomery, Alabama in 1955 after refusing to give up her seat to a white passenger.

Daisy Bates:

A publisher, activist, and NAACP leader in Arkansas who served as the guide and facilitator for “The Little Rock Nine” as they attempted to integrate Little Rock schools by enrolling at Central High School, a previously all-white institution.

Sojourners for Truth and Justice:

Sojourners for Truth and Justice was a group of Black Communist women who existed as an organization from 1951-1952, mobilizing "Black women against Jim Crow and U.S. Cold War domestic and foreign policy.”


Johann Sebastian Bach was a German Baroque composer and musician.

8 Nina Simone: Four Women – PlayGuide
Medgar Evers. Photo credit: Wikipedia. Odetta, 1961. Photo credit: Rosa Parks, 1955. Photo credit: Man drinks from a segregated water cooler, 1939. Photo credit:


Franz Liszt was a Hungarian Romantic composer, pianist, and conductor.


Johannes Brahms was a German pianist, composer, and conductor during the Romantic period.


Frédéric Chopin was a pianist and composer of the Romantic period.


Ludwig van Beethoven was a German composer and pianist whose works span the Classical period to the Romantic period.


Franz Schubert was an Austrian composer of the late Classical and early Romantic periods.

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor:

Coleridge-Taylor was an English composer and conductor of mixedrace heritage. He is best known for his three cantatas based on the epic poem The Song of Hiawatha by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

Harry Freeman:

Harry Lawrence Freeman was a music educator, operatic composer, and conductor who was referred to during his life as “the black Wagner.”

Le Mozart Noir:

Joseph Boulogne, Chevalier de SaintGeorge (aka Le Mozart Noir) was the child of a slave and a French colonialist on the island of Guadeloupe born in 1745. He went on to be the first Black man to lead some of France’s most important orchestras, composed numerous musical pieces, and was a virtuoso with violin and other instruments.

The Children’s Crusade:

In early May 1963, thousands of young people in Birmingham, Alabama took to the streets to march for civil rights. Hundreds of them were arrested and abused, but more showed up day after day, even with the Birmingham Police Department’s continued antagonism and violence. The children’s activism served as a catalyst for change and reignited passion in the movement.

President Kennedy:

President John F. Kennedy served as President of the United States from 1961 until he was assassinated in 1963. While Kennedy’s tenure was short, his influence has been longlasting.

Bob Dylan:

Dylan is considered an icon of American music, rising to prominence in the 1960s folk music revival.

Denise McNair, Carole Robertson, Cynthia Wesley, and Addie Mae

Collins: These four young girls were the victims of the 16th Street Church Bombing on September 15, 1963 in Birmingham, Alabama.

Terminology & Slang in the Play

“High yella”: This term is often used in a derogatory way to denote a light-skinned or mixed-race Black person who is considered “uppity” or “snobbish.” Early use of this term inserted “fallutin’” between the two words.

“One-drop rule”: An idea instituted in many places in the U.S. during the Reconstruction era after the end of slavery. The “rule” said that if even one distant relative or “one drop of (your metaphorical) blood” was Black, then you were Black and subject to any related segregation laws or customs.

“Lighter than a paper bag”: The “brown paper bag” test was said to be used by the upper echelons of Black society in the earlier half of the 20th century to deny entry or privilege to darker-skinned people. Many social clubs, events, Greek organizations, and the like denied entry to those who were “darker than a paper bag.” Some accounts even say that upper-class parties would have a paper bag attached to the door by which potential attendees would be judged.

Jacks and Jills, Links, Boules: These are three upper-class, invitation-only social organizations for Black children, adult women, and men, respectively. 9
Joseph Boulogne, Chevalier de Saint-George (aka Le Mozart Noir). Image credit: The four girls killed during the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing. Clockwise from top left: Addie Mae Collins (aged 14), Cynthia Wesley (aged 14), Carole Robertson (aged 14) and Denise McNair (aged 11). Photo credit: Wikipedia.

Historical Context: Segregation

There are so many key moments in the American Civil Rights Movement that this timeline could stretch as long as the moral arc of justice, but for the sake of this guide, a few key highlights to remember:

July 26, 1948: President Truman signs an Executive Order ending segregation in the Armed Forces.

May 17, 1954: The Supreme Court rules in Brown v. Board of Education, a culmination of decades of efforts by the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, making school segregation illegal and overturning the “separate but equal” doctrine set forth in the 1889 Plessy v. Ferguson decision.

1961: Throughout 1961, activists participated in Freedom Rides throughout the American South to protest segregation. These bus rides were marked by extreme violence against the riders by white protestors, which led to the rides garnering international attention for their cause.

August 28, 1955: 14-year-old Emmitt Till is murdered in Mississippi for allegedly disrespecting a white woman.

November 14, 1960: Ruby Bridges, a Black six-yearold, is escorted by federal marshals for her first day, integrating her elementary school in New Orleans.

June 11, 1963: Alabama Governor George Wallace attempts to block two Black students from registering at the University of Alabama. President Kennedy sends National Guard troops to intervene.

April 11, 1968: President Johnson signs the Civil Rights Act of 1968 providing for equal housing opportunity.

April 4, 1968: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is assassinated.

August 6, 1965: The Voting Rights Act of 1965 is signed into law, outlawing literacy tests and allowing for federal observers of polling places and federal oversight of voter requirements.

December Parks refuses seat to a white Montgomery, serves as a symbolic year-long

August 28, 1963: Approximately 250,000 people participate in the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Martin Luther King, Jr. gives his “I Have a Dream” speech as the closing address.

March 7, marchers march against by and met police. After their right arrive

10 Nina Simone: Four Women – PlayGuide
Emmet Till. Photo credit: Associated Press. Ruby Bridges with an escort of federal marshals leaving her school, 1960. Photo credit: Associated Press. Martin Luther King, Jr. gives his “I Have a Dream” speech at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, 1963. Photo credit: Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X meet at the U.S. Capitol during the Senate debate of the Civil Rights Bill of 1964.

and the

Civil Rights Movement

“At this crucial time in our lives, when everything is so desperate, when every day is a matter of survival, I don’t think you can help but be involved.”
- Nina Simone

December 1, 1955: Rosa refuses to give up her white passenger on a Montgomery, Alabama bus, which symbolic catalyst for a year-long bus boycott.

February 1, 1960: Four college students refuse to leave a “whites only” Woolworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina sparking a series of similar sit-ins across the South.

January 10-11, 1957: A group of pastors and other activist leaders gather and form the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, a key organization in the fight for civil rights.

1965: Known as “Bloody Sunday,” marchers in the Selma to Montgomery against voter suppression are blocked met with brutal violence from local After legal interventions affirming right to march, activists continue and in Montgomery on March 25th.

September 4, 1957: Nine Black students are blocked from integrating Little Rock Central High School in Arkansas. Eventually, President Eisenhower must send federal troops to escort the students into school.

September 9, 1957: The Civil Rights Act of 1957 is signed to help protect voting rights. The act allows for prosecution of anyone who hinders another’s right to vote.

September 15, 1963: A bombing occurs at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, killing four young girls and injuring dozens of others.

June 21, 1964: James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner, three activists who were working to register Black voters in Mississippi, are abducted and murdered in collusion with law enforcement in Neshoba County, Mississippi.

February 21, 1965: el-Hajj Malik elShabazz, formerly Malcolm X, is assassinated.

July 2, 1964: President Johnson signs the Civil Rights Act of 1964, aimed at preventing employment discrimination and establishing the Equal Opportunity Commission. 11 Segregation
Background: The scene outside Emmett Till's funeral. Photo credit: PBS. Rosa Parks and others wait to board the bus at the end of the Montgomery bus boycott, 1956. Photo credit: Don Cravens, The Life Images Collection, Getty Images. Students participate in the Greensboro lunch counter sit-ins, 1960s. Photo credit: Bettman Archive, Getty Images. CORE march in memory of the four girls murdered in the bombing. Photo credit: Library of Congress. Alabama police attack Selma to Montgomery marchers on Bloody Sunday, 1965. Photo credit: Wikipedia.

Gender Civil Rights Movement and the Gender Civil Rights Movement and the

“We never talked about men or clothes. It was always Marx, Lenin and revolution – real ‘girls’ talk.’”

- Nina Simone on conversations with Lorraine Hansberry

In the United States of the 1950s and 1960s, repressive ideas of gender norms and “a woman’s role” were not relegated to white culture only. With the white, male power structure being the dominant cultural force at the time, the struggle for equality based on race often leaned into existing societal expectations. While we now look to ideas such as intersectionality when examining oppressive systems, the goals of the movement were more narrowed towards racial justice.

Women were essential to the success of the movement, but often faced sexism and devaluing of their contributions because of the patriarchal norms in place in organizations. While women were organizing and doing crucial work, men often got the credit and were the faces of the movement, holding leadership positions. Rosa Parks, often referred to as “The Mother of the Civil Rights Movement,” now an icon of the era, was not given a role commensurate with her importance in the bus boycott. Women such as Daisy Bates, Septima Poinsette Clark, Fannie Lou Hamer, Diane Nash, and Claudette Colvin did not find their places in the history books alongside those of their male counterparts like Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, John Lewis, Thurgood Marshall, or Stokely Carmichael. Even at the March of Washington, women leaders of the movement were not asked to speak and were made to march on an adjacent street instead of alongside their male compatriots.

The Library of Congress, in partnership with the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, created the Civil Rights History Project that includes interviews with over fifty women who were involved in the movement. Some reflections from the project about women in the movement:

“I often had to struggle around issues related to a woman being a project director. We had to fight for the resources, you know. We had to fight to get a good car because the guys would get first dibs on everything, and that wasn’t fair…it was a struggle to be taken seriously by the leadership, as well as by your male colleagues.“One of the things that we often don’t talk about, but there was sexual harassment that often happened toward the women. And so, that was one of the things that, you know, I took a stand on, that ‘This was not – we’re not going to get a consensus on this. There is not going to be sexual harassment of any of the women on this project or any of the women in this community. And you will be put out if you do it.’”

“I always did what I wanted to do. I had my own inner drive. And I found that when I came up with ideas and I was ready to work to see it through, and I think that happened with a lot of women in SNCC…in reality, the women, you know, were strong. In the struggle, the women were strong.”

“…When we look at Rosa Parks, people often think that she was – she did that because of her civil rights and wanting to sit down on the bus. But she also did that – it was a rebellion of maids, a rebellion of working class women, who were tired of boarding the buses in Montgomery, the public space, and being assaulted and called out-of-there names and abused by white bus drivers. And that’s why that Movement could hold so long. If it had just been merely a protest about riding the bus, it might have shattered. But it went to the very heart of black womanhood, and black women played a major role in sustaining that movement.”

“It is only in retrospect that I recognize the extraordinary price that our sisters paid for being as devoted to the struggle as they were . . . .they occupied a place outside the conventional social norms of the whole university student body. So did the men. But with men, I think, we can just say, ‘Kiss my black ass’ and go on about our business. It wasn’t so clear to me that a woman could do the same thing.”


Michael Thewell, Howard University Student and leader of the Nonviolent Action Group

12 Nina Simone: Four Women – PlayGuide
Historical Context:
Women at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, 1963. Photo credit: Library of Congress.

Doing the Good Work in Milwaukee Doing the Good Work in Milwaukee

There are so many amazing organizations making our community stronger and fighting for social justice. The fight of artists and activists like Nina and the other people mentioned in this guide and the play continues here in Milwaukee every day. Just a few of the organizations doing the work in our community are listed below (with so many more that we weren’t able to fit!):

Milwaukee Social Justice Organizations

9 to 5 Working Women’s Association: African American Roundtable:

Art Start:

Benedict Center:

Citizen Action of Wisconsin:

Cream City Foundation:

Dream Team United WI: Franciscan Peacemakers: Groundwork Milwaukee:

Heal the Hood:

Hunger Task Force:

Kinship Community Food Center: Milwaukee Community Service Corps: MKE Freedom Fund:

My Way Out:

NAACP Milwaukee:

Neighborhood House of Milwaukee: Project RETURN:

Safe & Sound:

Suburbs for Equality:

The Love>Hate Project: The Wisconsin Community Action Network: United Way of Greater Milwaukee & Waukesha County:

Unity in Motion: Voces de la Frontera: Wisdom Action Network: 13
Background: Top: Milwaukee protest to demand open housing, 1968. Photo credit: Milwaukee Public Library. Bottom: Protests in Milwaukee, WI, 1968. Photo credit: Associated Press.

Milwaukee Repertory Theater is located in the Associated Bank Theater Center which is part of the Associated Bank River Center downtown at the corner of Wells and Water Streets. The building was formerly the home of the Electric Railway and Light Company.


The Ticket Office is visible on the left upon entering the Wells Street doors. The Quadracci Powerhouse is located on the Mezzanine and can be accessed via escalator or elevator.

Milwaukee Repertory Theater’s Patty and Jay Baker Theater Complex is located in the Milwaukee Center downtown at the corner of Wells and Water Streets. The building was formerly the home of the Electric Railway and Light Company.

The Ticket O ce is visible on the left upon entering the Wells Street doors. The Quadracci Powerhouse is located on the rst level.


Financial support enables The Rep to:

Advance the art of theater with productions that inspire individuals and create community dialogue.

✯ Advance the art of theater with productions that inspire individuals and create community dialogue;

✯ Provide a richer theater experience by hosting Rep-in-Depth, TalkBacks, and creating PlayGuides to better inform our audiences about our productions;

Provide a richer theater experience by hosting Rep-in-Depth, TalkBacks and creating PlayGuides to better inform our audiences about our productions.

Maintain our commitment to audiences with special needs through our Access Services that include American Sign Language interpreted productions, captioned theater, infrared listening systems and script synopses to ensure that theater at Milwaukee Rep is accessible to all.

✯ Educate over 21,000 students at 150+ schools in the greater Milwaukee area with Rep Immersion Day experiences, student matinees, workshops, tours and by making connections with their school curriculum through classroom programs such as Reading Residencies;

✯ Maintain our commitment to audiences with special needs through our Access Services that include American Sign Language interpreted productions, captioned theater, infrared listening systems and script synopses to ensure that theater at The Rep is accessible to all;

Educate over 20,000 students at 200+ schools in the greater Milwaukee area with Rep Immersion Day experiences, student matinees, workshops, tours and by making connections with their school curriculum through classroom programs such as Reading Residencies.

✯ Educate the next generation of theater professionals with our EPR Program which gives newly degreed artists a chance to hone their skills at The Rep as they begin to pursue their theatrical careers.

We value our supporters and partnerships and hope that you will help us to expand the ways Milwaukee Rep has a positive impact on theater and on our Milwaukee community.

Educate the next generation of theater professionals with our EPR Program which gives newly degreed artists a chance to hone their skills at Milwaukee Rep as they begin to pursue their theatrical careers. We value our supporters and partnerships and hope that you will help us to expand the ways Milwaukee Rep has a positive impact on theater and on our Milwaukee community.

Donations can be made on our website at or by phone at 414-290-5376.


The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation

The Richard & Ethel Herzfeld Foundation

The Shubert Foundation

TO: Donations can be made on our website at
or by phone at 4 1 4-290-5376
The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation The Richard & Ethel Herzfeld Foundation

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