An artistic journey through Black history


Five performers in black leggings, T-shirts, and kente cloth dance in a line. The actor second from left plays a djembe.

1619: The Journey of a People” at Fleetwood-Jourdain Theatre, Evanston. (Photos by Basil Clunie)


“1619: The Journey of a People” by Ted Williams III is an entertaining and informative chronology highlighting essential events in the progression of the African American experience. 

It uses music, dance and spoken word to craft an historical narrative that begins with the arrival of twenty slaves who landed on the North American continent roughly 150 years prior to our nation’s founding and continues through the most recent Black Lives Matter movement.

The performances are outstanding beginning with an all-cast stylized African dance routine. It’s punctuated with cries and whip sounds accompanied by the evocative complex drum beat of percussionist/actor Ozivell Eckford that sets the tone for the first part of the journey.

Interweaving traditional, pop, gospel, soul, hip-hop and rap, the musical styles change with each historic period represented.

The gospel-like version of the “Star Spangled Banner” performed by Simbryt Whittington Dortch was rousing and soulful as was her memorable heartfelt version of “Steal Away.”

Williams and Marchello Lee’s duet of “Booker T or W.E.B.” was a fast-paced explanation of the two men’s points-of-view on the actions needed toward progress.

“I Thought We Were Free” led by Shannon Stiles with backup vocals by Vanessa Love and Lucy Maura continued an energetic gospel vibe.

Lee’s choreography was expertly executed by dancers Love and Maura, the highlight of which was the visually stunning butterfly number featuring LED accented costumes by Cynthia Walls.

Action takes place in front of a 180-degree mixed media mural by Sholo Beverly reminiscent of graffiti art, blending a mélange of colorful muted images imbued with hidden messages.

The background is mostly in shades of blue, punctuated by areas of shocking red and white. Above that is a suspended array of sepia-colored broadsides and newspaper headlines proclaiming various momentous occurrences in African American history.

This production is jam packed with important information about individuals and events that shaped the history of black people in America, cleverly presented as a kind of Cliff’s Notes version of what you need to know to pass your high school black studies class.

It is not surprising that the author, Ted Williams III who also appears on stage, is himself a Poli-Sci teacher at City Colleges of Chicago. 

As a theatrical production there may be more interesting ways to tell this story.  Williams alludes to Alex Haley’s Roots, possibly the gold standard of black history presented in a creative context.

Indeed, this is not really a story at all but rather a multi-arts recital or cabaret show with a message. So, in this sense” 1619″ is not strictly theater but more of a performance arts review.

Ultimately, the result is a kind of pre-test fever dream full of fragmented pieces of information, names, places and events that will make you feel a need to pay attention to and take a lesson from.

However, that is not a bad thing. In fact, it is a very enjoyable, thought- provoking, ninety minutes or so that will have some of us “more chronologically experienced” members of the audience appreciating the number of events that have taken place within our own lifetime.

 I really wanted to jump to my feet and join-in on “We Shall Overcome” to relive some of the excitement of the promise of potential unity that song evoked back-in-the-day.

I was happy to see a number of young people in the audience who will hopefully take away a snapshot of the bigger picture of the African American journey that might encourage them to want to know more and delve deeper into the causes and effects that have brought us to this particular moment in time.

Fleetwood-Jourdain Theatre specializes in African American and African Diaspora-centered storytelling. The Noyes Cultural Art Center stage and theater is a perfect sized comfortable venue for this production.

DETAILS: “1619 the Journey of a People, ” is at the Fleetwood-Jourdain Theatre Noyce Cultural Art Center Center, 927 Noyes Ave., Evanston through June 30, 2024.  For more information call 847-866-5914 or visit

Reno Lovison

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