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Dr. Du Bois and Miss Ovington

January 17 - February 16, 2014

Written by Clare Coss       Directed by Gabrielle L. Kurlander
Starring Timothy Simonson as W.E.B Du Bois and Kathleen Chalfant as Mary White Ovington

Dr. Du Bois and Miss Ovington captures the two esteemed founders of the NAACP in a moment of crisis in 1915-- when Du Bois submits his letter of resignation.  Du Bois, educator, human rights activist, African-American visionary leader, and Ovington, a white Unitarian, granddaughter of abolitionists and outspoken justice advocate, spar, flirt, clash, reveal secrets, and compete to save their vital work.  



Review by Anita Gates in The New York Times

Review by Susan Hall in Berkshire Fine Arts

Review by Mari Lyn Henry in Theatre Pizzazz! 

Review by Ebele Oseye in Black Star News

A Dramaturgical Note from Castillo's Artistic Director Dan Friedman

Master Builders

Dr. Du Bois and Miss Ovington is a political love story that takes place in 1915, a time of ever expanding violence against the Black community, on the eve of World War I. President Wilson had introduced segregation to Washington, D.C., while the conservative American Federation of Labor and the radical Industrial Workers of the World struggled over the nature of the emerging labor movement, and the Socialist Party grew rapidly. In that context, we meet our two progressive leaders.

Dr. W.E.B. Du Bois is one of the most important African American leaders and intellectuals of the 20th Century. His books, notably The Souls of Black Folk, Black Reconstruction, and Color and Democracy, helped the world to understand the causes as well as the experience of the oppression of Black people in America. However, Du Bois was more than an influential intellectual. He was a talented organizer and activist dedicated to what was best for Black and other oppressed people.

As depicted in the play, Du Bois’ relationship to the NAACP, which he helped to found, was always conflicted. In 1934 he resigned from the organization due to the long simmering conflict with Walter White , a conflict exacerbated by a funding crisis brought on by the Great Depression. He later rejoined, but in 1948, due to his continuing to move further to the left—by mutual agreement with the other organization’s leaders—he resigned for the second and final time. In the 1950s he became a leader of the Peace Information Center (PIC), an organization dedicated to peace and to the banning of nuclear weapons. The U.S. Justice Department, claiming PIC to be an agent of the Soviet Union, demanded that it register as such. When Du Bois and the other PIC leaders would not comply, they were indicted. Although Du Bois was to be acquitted, the State Department withheld his passport for the next eight years. When he was finally able to travel again, he visited China and Africa for the first time. In 1961, at the age of 93, he joined the Communist Party and moved to Ghana, where he died two years later, just one day before Martin Luther King’s famous March on Washington. 

Less known, Mary White Ovington—socialist, feminist, pacifist, suffragist—fought for the rights of the African American community all her life. Granddaughter of Connecticut abolitionists, and daughter of a well-to-do Brooklyn Unitarian family, Ovington was galvanized to activism after hearing Frederick Douglass speak in 1890. She attended the Harvard Annex for two years, forced to leave when the economic depression of 1893 impacted on her father’s business. Back in NYC she founded the Greenpoint Settlement in Brooklyn for immigrant families and co-founded the Lincoln Settlement in Brooklyn with African-American friend and physician Velma Morton Jones. As Program Director of the Social Reform Club she invited Booker T. Washington to speak about conditions for African-Americans in the North. His words: “The Negro is completely outside the work and vision of the reformers,” led her to become the first white woman to dedicate her life to anti-racist work in the 20th century. She spearheaded the organizing effort that resulted in the founding of the NAACP in 1909. From that time until her retirement from the association in 1947, she served in whatever capacity was needed: Director, Secretary, Treasurer, fundraiser, publicity agent. The NAACP Board honored her as “Mother of the New Emancipation.” 

Her many writings include Half A Man: The Status of the Negro in New York; Black and White Sat Down Together (Feminist Press); “The White Brute”, a short story distributed at Birth of a Nation screenings across the country; and The Walls Came Tumbling Down, her autobiographical history of the NAACP. Mary White Ovington died in 1951 at the age of 86. 

The struggle against racial oppression and inequality has come a long way over the last 100 years. However, as we know all too well, we still have a long, long way to go. The challenge of Blacks and whites working together on equal footing and questions of the relationship between the personal and political explored in Clare Coss’ beautifully wrought play are still very much with us. In Dr. Du Bois and Miss Ovington we come to know intimately two political activists—a Black man and a white woman, who would go on to help shape the 20th Century and who are deeply attracted to each other. In the course of the play, they make the decision to work together to build something new. That’s how they find a way to channel and express their love. Castillo and the New Federal Theatre are proud to help tell their story.