Refusing to be silent: Tracing the role of the black woman protector on the American stage
In the plays of Georgia Douglas Johnson, Alice Childress, and Pearl Cleage, black women are often portrayed as defenders of the physical self, protectors of identity, and guardians of the future. This study will examine how these playwrights examined the issue of protection in their plays. Although each playwright will be looked at specifically in relationship to one of the three categories—physical, social identity, feminist—the boundaries remain fluid. Where each playwright fits predominately into one category, the overlap is noticeable as the definitions between the three areas of protection sometimes merge.
“Physical protection” is the act of defending from attack and loss. In relationship to Georgia Douglas Johnson it will mean looking at how black women are unable to protect the body from physical devastation, i.e. lynching. “Social identity protection” requires the main characters to undergo a transformation that will inevitably change how they view themselves in relationship to their environment. Social identity protection is manifested in the plays of Alice Childress when the women realize that they must redefine society's perspective on the black woman's place. This transformation is especially significant for two reasons. First, it is the catalyst for the other characters' journey to self-identity. Second, the journey encourages the reevaluation of their responsibility to the black (and larger) community. “Feminist protection” involves black women who are concerned about the physical safety and longevity of one another. Successful feminist protection requires that black women tell the truth and not keep silent about how their race and gender informs their lives in America. These distinct facets of protection become united in each playwright's individual commitment to portraying the African-American experience on stage and beyond truthfully.
An examination of the history of blacks on the American stage will provide a framework that substantiates the need for this study on protection. This historical background will provide the context needed to understand what necessitated the work of Georgia Douglas Johnson, Alice Childress, and Pearl Cleage.
0453: Womens studies
0325: African Americans