“The Hillsboro Story,” a unique multimedia production by Hillsboro native Susan Banyas describing the school integration battle of the 1950s, will take the stage Thursday at Southern State Community College.
The production, presented by the college in partnership with the Highland County District Library, will begin at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, May 30, at Daniels Auditorium at the SSCC Hillsboro campus, according to promotional material for the event.
According to Banyas’ website, the production “weaves movement, monologues, dramatic images and music into a cultural detective story.”
The show depicts local characters advocating for school integration in 1954, when Hillsboro was the last community in Ohio to accommodate white and black students side by side in its classrooms.
While Hillsboro’s middle and high schools were integrated even a few years before the U.S. Supreme Court issued its historic desegregation ruling in “Brown v. Board of Education” in 1954, its elementary schools remained separate, with black students relegated to Lincoln Elementary, and white students attending the newly-expanded Webster school.
So notorious did the local situation become that it gained national attention. Time Magazine carried an article in its April 23, 1956 edition headlined, “Holdout in Ohio.”
The Time article notes that nearly two years earlier, in the summer of 1954, “the white county engineer, Philip Partridge, a hot anti-segregationist, became so incensed over the board’s action (to fail to integrate) that he tried to burn Lincoln down.” Partridge was convicted of arson and sentenced to one to 15 years, but was paroled after serving nine months.
Banyas was a white student in the third grade here when the events unfolded, and was always haunted by the memory of black mothers and children marching briefly each morning outside her classroom window in protest.
“Negro women in shirtwaist dresses and their children walk back and forth outside the classroom window, carrying signs. Then they disappear, then come back the next day,” said Banyas in a 2010 interview with The Oregonian newspaper of Portland, Ore. “Back and forth on Walnut Street, every day, outside the window, all year.”
It was this haunting that led Banyas to write “The Hillsboro Story,” the book on which the production is based.
The show has been performed in high school gyms, black box theaters, concert halls, cafeterias, an old vaudeville theater, a national parks site and a history museum, according to the website.
“Powerful post-show dialogues with audiences have become Act II of the theatrical experience — provocative, illuminating, and honest,” the website said.
The show will feature book excerpts and multimedia monologues by Banyas, SSCC actors, and other storytellers, co-directed by Rainee Angles. It will be accompanied by a music score by jazz composer David Ornette Cherry.
A reception and book signing will follow, according to promotional material.
The show has toured to Oregon and Ohio communities, The Brown Foundation in Topeka, Kansas, The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in to Cincinnati, and Hillsboro High School through an Ohio state library grant which included a residency and performance at Southern State Community College in Hillsboro, in 2012, according to the website.
Elizabeth Burkard, director of marketing at SSCC, said via email that the show will be “a big, must-see event for Hillsboro.”
For more information, contact the college at 937-382-6645.
Reach David Wright at 937-402-2570.