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Reflections of a Prodigal Daughter



By Lisa B. Thompson | @DrLisaBThompson | with thanks to NewBlackMan (in Exile)




Monday, September 10, 2018.


My new play Monroe is dedicated to my maternal great uncle, Aubrey C. Holmes, the gentlest man that I have ever known. He grew up the son of a preacher in Ouachita Parish, Louisiana, the site of the fifth highest number of lynchings in the US from 1877 to 1950. It breaks my heart to know that my maternal relatives came of age in a city steeped in violence against men and women who looked like them. Just like my grandmother, mother, and father, my Uncle Aubrey moved to the San Francisco Bay Area during the Great Migration. I still wonder how he remained so kind and caring despite coming from a place mired in such horror.


Growing up in California in the 1970s did not shelter me from racial violence. When I was a child, I discovered my father’s copy of Ralph Ginzberg’s 100 Years of Lynchings. I felt both aghast and fascinated by the numerous accounts of those killed “at the hands of persons unknown.” I also recall overhearing stories about “trouble” back home during Sunday morning breakfasts of grits, eggs, bacon, biscuits and fresh squeezed orange juice while the San Francisco fog rolled in.


As a new professor, I poured over the lynching photos in James Allen’s Without Sanctuary but my mind did not linger on the vicious white mobs that brutalized black people. Instead, I imagined the family and friends of the victims who were also terrorized by these heinous crimes. How did they survive, love and dream in the aftermath of such agony?



I find it remarkable that my parents and I never spoke directly about lynching. I just stored what I overheard, read, and saw deep inside me. Those images are intertwined with my curiosity about my family choosing California as their destination when they fled the south for a better life. I’m the cousin, niece, grandchild, and daughter of those who abandoned the south for the west coast. Now, as part of what is considered the reverse Great Migration, I’m raising my son in the south. I wonder what stories he’s storing inside his soul as a black boy growing up in Texas and what he will eventually do with them?


During rehearsal, I carried a list of all the lynching victims in Monroe with me. I needed their names near. I pray that this play honors their lives and their memory. I hope thatMonroe inspires us to more bravely encounter what Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison describes as “unspeakable things unspoken.” Here’s to speaking the unspeakable, listening to history, and imagining a better future.



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Lisa B. Thompson is a playwright and a professor of African & African Diaspora Studies at UT Austin. She is the author of Beyond the Black Lady: Sexuality and the African American Middle Class and the playsSingle Black Female, Underground, and The Mamalogues. The world premiere of her new play Monroe runs September 7-30, 2018 at the Austin Playhouse.


Reflections of a Prodigal Daughter

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