Atlanta historian Karcheik Sims-Alvarado always treasured a black-and-white photograph of W.E.B. DuBois and the faculty of then Atlanta University.
Last month, she unveiled a life-sized cutout version of the photo in front of Fountain Hall, where the noted historian and activist penned “The Souls of Black Folks.”
Tonight, Fountain Hall, which sits on what is now Morris Brown College, will be the stage for a musical that deals with the loss of the historian and civil rights activist’s first child as well the life of actress and educator Adrienne Herndon.
“I’ve always been big on the importance of place,” said Sims-Alvarado, who co-wrote the play with singer and actress Minka Wiltz. “Once I installed the life-sized image, I started thinking about how to bring the photo to life. Can I do it with actors?”
“Lifting the Veil: An Outdoor Musical Inspired by The Souls of Black Folks,” will have a one-night run and was sold out in four days.
Actors and playwrights Minka Wiltz and Karcheik Sims-Alvarado.
The musical focuses on how Herndon and young DuBois, who died on the Atlanta University campus, failed to receive proper health care during a time when African-Americans were considered second-class citizens.
Adrienne Herndon is played by Wiltz, who hopes to add other acts and expand the play next year.
“I grew up in Atlanta and had heard her name before,” Wiltz said. “I didn’t know the breadth of her experiences. Getting to know her helped me get to know the history of the city where I was born and raised.”
Herndon, who was born in 1869 and later married Alonzo Herndon, Atlanta’s first black millionaire, struggled with Addison’s disease.
Young Burghardt DuBois died of diphtheria in 1899 on the AU campus.
Initially the focus was on Herndon, but as time went on “the story of DuBois’ son called out to me,” said Sims-Alvarado. “This was a big year for him, but in the midst of all of that, he loses his son. White doctors refused to give him treatment.”
Sims-Alvarado and Wiltz decided to weave the two stories together to better focus on the larger narrative of “the failure of the medical community to treat them properly and that led to their deaths,” she said.
The plays stars Wiltz, Jayme Alilaw, Gavin Gregory and Sims-Alvarado. The actors are accompanied by award-winning composer Gregory McPherson.