Green Pastures Recalled


Most of the reviews were on our side. Only a few critics got on us. A couple of “hysteroids” up in Harlem did some heavy drum beating, but it was to such a small extent, over-all, that it meant nothing. The Amsterdam News up there put out an editorial blasting hell out of them, saying they didn’t know what the play was about, that it wasn’t debasing to the Negro, and so on. It said the play just happened to have found in one stratum of Negroes a kind of ethos in which this kind of adventure could take place.

There was a party for us up in Harlem at Florence Mills’s club sometime during the second week of the run. Success had meant a lot; many of the cast were eating again, had roofs over their heads. That night all the principals entertained and told jokes and poked fun at the producer, Rowland Stebbins, and me. That night was the first time I’d ever heard “Happy Days Are Here Again”—it was just out—and we all sang it as though we meant it.

A little later in the year I was in France with friends. We were somewhere in the château country of the Loire, I forget just where, when I got a cable from my secretary: “You have won a prize. Do I have to tell you which one?” I hadn’t even thought about prizes; hell, I was happy to be getting such good royalties.

The play had 557 performances at the Mansfield and returned to New York in X935 after a triumphant nationwide tour. It has been produced countless times here and abroad, and it was done once again in New York in 1951.

But it could never be revived now, under the present climate. God, no. The Negro’s picture of himself right now, in this unconscious snobbism in which he is existing, wouldn’t allow it. He would denigrate the play, would say that this is Uncle Tomism, that this is what we’re trying to get rid of. The thing is that my play used the ambiance, the milieu, of the Negro, but it’s a bigger than race. I never saw my play—and I certainly don’t now—as part of any civil rights movement, as for or against any movement. It was no more simply about a race of people than The Weavers , say, or The Lower Depths was simply about one particular class of people. My play had little to do with Negroes—or, rather, it had as much to do with yellow and white and red as it did with black. Green Pastures was, at heart, about humanity, but maybe that’s a little hard to explain today.