Lionheart presents play about black pioneers

A Norcross-based community theater group will bring a little-known chapter in black history to the stage Friday.

Lionheart Theatre Company will celebrate Black History Month with the opening of "Flyin' West," a play that follows black female pioneers, some former slaves, who settled in the all-black town of Nicodemus, Kan.

"It's a beautiful story," said Jonesboro resident Kimberly Ginyard, who plays the role of Nicodemus town mayor Sophie. "Although it has some fiction, it also has some facts."

Following the passage of the Homestead Act of 1860, about 40,000 blacks migrated to Kansas to settle on land they could call their own. A little more than 25 years later, Nicodemus had grown to a town of more than 400 residents with churches, stores, a school and two newspapers.

Atlanta author and playwright Pearl Cleage used the historical setting of the town of Nicodemus to bring to life a group of women whose lives are altered when the West is opened up for people willing to settle in a harsh, unknown region.

"I think it's surprising," Lawrenceville resident Nicole L. Jackson said of Cleage's play, which presents themes ranging from determination and feminism to pride and freedom. "On the outside looking in it just seems like it's about frontier women, but there's a lot of underlying meaning dealing with gender and race. I think people are going to expect a stereotypical 1800s play and they're going to be blown away."

"Flyin' West" was originally commissioned by the Alliance Theatre Company in 1992 and was published in 1995 by Dramatists Play Service. It remains one of Cleage's most acclaimed works.

"This is the story about courageous black women who struggle to build a life for the next generation," said director Tanya Carroll. "The spirit of this play inspired all women."

"Flyin' West" will open at 7:30 p.m. Friday at the College Street Playhouse and will run weekends through Feb. 21. For more information or to purchase tickets, call 678-938-8518 or visit www.lionhearttheatre.org.