Invisible Men BY JAMES MCCARTY YEAGER CAMP LOGAN A play in two acts By Celeste Bedford Walker FIVE PROUD BLACK SOLDIERS march into the theater swinging along to an open-throated -cadence. They are spirited and young and blithe and only the tiniest bit apprehensive, as men under discipline and in danger of their lives must be. As they halt and are inspected by their black sergeant, we see they are in the highcollared wool tunics of the U.S. Army of World War I, the War to End Wars, the Great War, the largest single concentrated intentional bloodletting in human history Then we learn from a white officer that these men are from Company I of the Army’s 24th Infantry Regiment, newly stationed in Houston in July of 1917; that members of the Houston white community have unreasonable fear of their presence; and that the soldiers \(but not the civilians, out on the streets. Thus the stage is set for a dramatic examination of the only race riot in U.S. history wherein more whites died than blacks. For old-time farm boys seeking a few adventures and some other vista than the interminable daily examination of the south end of a north-bound plow-hitched mule, the Army was a good career. When the United States decided to let blacks into the Army during the Civil War, the same freedom-within-discipline that was available to white farm boys became available to black farm boys, too. There were a few extra restrictions, left over from slavery, of course, but in the end it all seemed equal. In exchange for three hots and a cot you got to risk your life. But a black man could do that drinking moonshine or talking too loudly on the courthouse square. By the time of World War I, some blacks, like Wayne Dehart’s Sgt. McKinney in the play, had made good careers in the Army and had thus experienced more power and responsibility than most of their black peers outside the service had ever been James McCarty Yeager is a former Houstonian who edits Minority Business Report in Bethesda, Maryland. allowed. As five of the men of his platoon are seen in barracks, telling old lies and new jokes to one another and to the new sense of the camaraderie and bonding among these men becomes evident. Their eagerness to get to France to fight \(not unreasonable, considering their unit’s service record in Mexico chasing Pancho Villa in 1916, in the Philippine Insurrection around 1901, and as Buffalo Soldiers in the are fro’m them in time. Such enthusiasm and anticipation is a tribute either to patriotism, indoctrination or innocence. Slowly, however, the audience sees the enthusiasm of these five soldiers and their sergeant worn away their pride besmirched, their independence threatened by the Jim Crow laws of Houston on these black men nobly serving a country which still, and often officially, despised them. A number of skillful touches in the writing and acting add to the drama. The relationships among the men in barracks are so well presented that, while you see the differences in their backgrounds, you also see the unity that derives from their unique position in World War I American ‘society as proud black men with guns. From offstage, a .parade of degrading incidents is revealed through the conversation of the soldiers: Harassment, fights and disrespect are the reactions of Houston racists, many of them on the police force, to the presence of uniformed young black men. Patriotism, it must have seemed to the white power structure, did not contemplate the possibility of being defended by blacks an attitude which if considered valid today would leave the nation defenseless. Two subplots intersect in a scene in which Sgt. McKinney crosses over from defender of the Army and its collaboration with the white racists of Houston to become ringleader of the revolt. First he is informed by a drunken and incompetent white officer that while the officer is going to France the black soldiers are not. And rumor has it that the newest recruit \(Hardin, the college boy who has become their mascot and hope of all their innoHouston police. McKinney passes out ammunition and weapons to his men and leads a march on downtown Houston to exact revenge for Hardin and other soldiers dead or maimed at the hands of whites. When at the last minute Hardin reappears, beaten but alive, the soldiers force him to hide in a house rather than participate in the march. Someone, they are determined, will survive them. A brief court martial scene records the preordained conviction and execution of 13 soldiers, the gravesites of whom the Army at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio is uneasy about to this day. Their execution two days after conviction was so summary it later led to the establishment of military courts of review, thus providing some retrospective service to their deaths, if no mitigation of their tragedy. In an epilogue, an older Hardin, now an officer, gives a recruiting speech in which the devotion of black troops to freedom is stressed. We see him leave, one arm missthe strength of his faith that U.S. institutions, even the Army, will right wrongs instead of perpetuating them. As art deeply rooted in history, Camp Logan reveals not only social conditions but their consequences for individuals. The soldiers here are not depicted as saints, but their motivation and reasoning are made clear and in the light of drama and history the events of August 1917 are shown to have been completely avoidable and perfectly understandable. Reviews of performances by a Texas troupe traveling between 1989 and 1992 have appeared in the New Yorker and American Theatre Magazine, as well as the Boston Globe, New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Washington Post, Newsday, the Austin American-Statesman, San Antonio Express-News, Kansas City Star and Houston Post. The favorable reviews say a great deal about the play’s strength and impact, as does an earlier Texas Observer The two-act drama by Houston playwright Celeste Bedford Walker will receive its first commercial performance in Houston on Saturday, May 29th at 7:30 p.m. in the Miller Outdoor Theatre in Hermann Park. Admission is free. The play is directed by Mme.Yujuan Carriere-Anderson and is co-produced by Mike Kaliski, Celeste Bedford .Walker and Mountain Top Productions. 20 JUNE 4, 1993
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