Anyone who reads Mountain Xpress on a regular basis will rapidly become aware that Asheville now has a vast amount of amazingly talented playwrights, directors and actors. [Recently], after reading about an adaptation of Romeo and Juliet here, I was thinking about my high school days (’69-’70) at Asheville High and what happened when Lee Edwards and Stephens-Lee were combined to form Asheville High.
It occurred to me that if someone were to work with me and others who were there on a play and produce the result, it would make a historical and moving work about a critical time in Asheville’s history and also be an inspiring statement that could be a teaching lesson for the whole city. Since I was the co-captain of the first Asheville High integrated football team, and since my dad was made principal of Stephens-Lee the year before segregation ended, [then] became principal of South French Broad after that, I have a lot of memories of those days, both good and bad.
I remember the first day speech “Pee Wee” Hamilton gave us in the locker room, where it became evident that he was going to create more problems by ordering everyone to get a military-style haircut, and some of the best players decided to quit and concentrate on playing basketball, and that the coach was overjoyed he could start forming his new team early. I remember the day of the riot at Asheville High, which changed all our lives and made us painfully aware that we had to deal with racism, and that change was a reality whether we liked it or not. We were all aware that the war in Vietnam was raging, and with the draft any of us young men might soon be on our way to Vietnam and the war after graduation.
Anyway, I have thrown this out in the hopes that some talented people might read this and decide to work with me on a play about it all. There are many people, [including] African-American, white, Asian and others who could be contacted for insights as well.
— John Penley
Editor’s note: Penley reports that he can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org.