When the Klansman and the Civil Rights Activist Could Be Friends

With ‘Best of Enemies,’ New Stage Theatre in Jackson, Miss., confronted its audience with an unexpectedly timely tale of racial reconciliation.

Rus Blackwell and Marci J. Duncan in “Best of Enemies” at New Stage. (Photo by Greg Campbell)

Reynolds, artistic director of New Stage Theatre in Jackson, Miss., wasn’t even thinking about the then-upcoming 2016 election season, and, like many Americans, she couldn’t have imagined the outcome. In the ensuing climate of sharp political and social divides, Mark St. Germain’s 2011 play—based on the true story of a Ku Klux Klan leader and a Civil Rights activist who clashed over the desegregation of public schools in Durham, N.C., in 1971—took on a whole new meaning.

“I was thinking we’d celebrate how far we’ve come,” said Reynolds, who directed Best of Enemies at New Stage Feb. 28-March 12. “I still think that’s something to do—to look at what has occurred since the early ’70s and celebrate the progress that has been made. But I also think, realistically, it brings up how some things have not changed, how some things were maybe buried, how we weren’t paying attention to what was going on in people’s minds.”

In the past year, a number of events have put the issue of desegregation back in the spotlight. Last spring, 62 years after the landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision, the U.S. Government Accountability Office reported that segregation in schools is getting worse, not better: As of 2014 the number of U.S. schools with majority black or Hispanic students eligible for free or reduced-price lunches has almost doubled, from 9 percent to 16 percent, since 2001.

Read the riveting article by Brad Rhines from American Theatre here.