Martin Luther King Jr.’s former jail cellmate and an actress who has portrayed Harriet Tubman more than 300 times are teaming up to tell the story of the “Long Road to Freedom” on Thursday at the Robert and Pearl Seymour Center.
Chuck Fager, 76, was a young white man from up North when he joined the voting rights campaign in Selma, Alabama alongside King in February of 1965. Fager marched with King on the famous Edmund Pettus Bridge from Selma to Montgomery where protesters were met with police retaliation. As a result, many protesters were arrested, including Fager, who ended up in a jail cell overnight with King.
Since the end of the movement, Fager has continued to spread his story of what he said was a very formative experience for a naive white boy.
“I try to be clear about how naive I was back then,” Fager said. “I made some mistakes.”
Fager said he believes it’s very important to him to preserve and pass on the past, which is why he said he is looking forward to working with Diane Faison, who has been performing as Harriet Tubman since 1988.
“I had heard about Diane Faison doing performances as Harriet Tubman, and I got a chance to see one over at High Point and I was very impressed and struck up an acquaintance with her,” Fager said.
Diane Faison has performed as Harriet Tubman in a variety of places for about 30 years and performed at the Seymour Center last year.
Cydnee Sims, programs and operations director for the Seymour Center, said all the participants are excited about the performance and working with Faison.
“It’s just riveting,” Sims said. “I mean just to see her, you would think she is Harriet Tubman even though she's not.”
In order to stay in character, Faison said she calls on the spirit of Tubman to allow her to be a vessel for her voice.
This is the first time Faison and Fager will be performing together. She said she is excited for Fager to add another perspective to the performance.
“I want people to know the powerful work that Dr. King did and its impact today,” Faison said.
The performance will include two acts. The first act will be Faison completely in character as Harriet Tubman and the second act will include firsthand accounts about King and the Selma marches by Fager. The ending, Fager said, is not exactly how he planned.
“You know, for a long time when I told that story, it had a happy ending,” Faiger said.
The movement both King and Fager attended led to Congress passing the Voter Rights Act of 1965, which kept states from preventing people of color from voting.
In 2013 with Shelby v. Holder, the Supreme Court deemed the VRA of 1965 unconstitutional. This led to an onslaught of new voter ID laws across the country, including in North Carolina.
“In the course of that, they took away the happy ending to my story,” Fager said. “Because we’re now back struggling for voting rights again. So what was a good story about something long ago turns out to be a story that has a contemporary sequel.”
Fager said he wants students to come out and see the show to learn their history as well as receive a call to action.
“Young people, it’s your turn,” Fager said.
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