INDIANAPOLIS – Delores Thornton has always had an eye for talent.
For years, she’s created skits and plays, using her lineup of young performers to help bring some of the most iconic names in Black history to life.
“I use children a lot in plays and skits,” Thornton said. “Some of them I have had in plays, depicting characters such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks and James Brown.”
However, this time around, her cast is tapping into a different kind of character. As part of her Black History Month production, she’s bringing the story of Black Wall Street to center stage, a story Thornton has studied and researched throughout the years.
“They do not know. Our people do not know the story of Black Wall Street,” Thornton said. “People tell me they’ve never even heard of it.”
The Greenwood District, famously known as “Black Wall Street”, was a historic district in Tulsa, Oklahoma in the early 1900s.
“In this entire district, about 95 of the businesses were Black,” said Thornton. “These were people, who weren’t that far removed from slavery, that had started their own businesses. It was a self-contained, sort of like village, with its own stores and banks.”
However, despite its success, racial tensions were still high, and in 1921, Thornton said it all came to a head.
“There was a situation of an elevator operator, named Sarah Page, who was Caucasian, and accused one of the young boys on Black Wall Street of accosting her, and then that set off a chain,” said Thornton.
The fallout would ultimately lead to what would be known in history as the “Tulsa Race Massacre”. For a span of 18 hours, between May 31 and June 1, 1921, chaos and destruction, sparked by a white mob, would destroy the once thriving district, known as Black Wall Street.
“The entire, I think, 40 city blocks were burned down,” said Thornton. “All of the businesses were, at first, looted. The buildings were burned down, people were killed, all under the watchful eye of local authorities.”
“It is just a real sad story, but it’s a true story,” she added.
Despite what happened to its original physical structure, the story of Black Wall Street is still standing. Through this play and other productions throughout the year, Thornton said it’s part of her mission to find creative ways in sharing these stories to be remembered for future generations.
That’s why she’s starting young. The cast of Black Wall Street is made of mostly kids, ranging from 7 to 14 years old, with help of supporting adult roles mixed in.
“In my mind, I didn’t want it to be too heavy for children. That’s why their parts are relatively short,” said Thornton.
Thornton said working with kids in her plays is part of her strategy in teaching them about Black history at a time where it’s debated to be taught in schools.
“Now, with certain segments of the population wanting to remove all Black history, I just felt it was very necessary,” she said. “I chose Black History Month because it brings so much significance as to how far we’ve come and how far we still have to go.”
“I am doing this with children because children, it’s an old cliché, but that’s our future,” she added. “So many things that they do not know, that they do not understand, and I feel like somebody needs to reveal these things.”
Black Wall Street debuts Saturday, February 25. Tickets are $15 in advance and $20 at the door at the Gospel After 5 Theatre (10202 E Washington St) with performances at 1 and 3 p.m. For tickets in advance, you can contact Thornton through email.