By Ryan Michaels
The Birmingham Times
Memorial, one of the four productions in Red Mountain Theatre’s Human Rights New Works Festival (HRNW), will make viewers confront the effects of Jefferson County’s history of lynching, said Keith Cromwell, Executive Director of Red Mountain Theatre (RMT).
The festival takes place at RMT’s Arts Campus downtown from Sept. 24 through Sept. 26,
“[Memorial] breathes life into what we know and highlights what we don’t know because these lives [of lynching victims] were taken from us,” Cromwell said. “It causes you to live in a world and have your thoughts provoked around what is the magnitude of the loss. If the pebble falls in the water, and the ripples move away, how did the loss of these lives affect those around them?”
The HRNW intends to show off new theatrical works that deal with racial and other minority people groups. Cromwell said Memorial, which was commissioned by RMT, will put the audience into the shoes of the families portrayed.
“It’s taking these horrible stories and humanizing them so that we can think, ‘my God, I would never have thought about—how does a family reclaim and put to rest a soul that has been so brutally and publicly murdered,’” Cromwell said. “What is the effect on a child whose parent was lost?”
Quinton Cockrell, an assistant professor in Troy University’s theatre department, wrote Memorial based on work done by the Jefferson County Memorial Project (JCMP), which researches and places monuments to honor victims of lynching.
Cromwell said he interviewed a few writers before Cockrell but said the Birmingham native — a graduate of Ramsay High School – was the best person for such an important work. “So, [it] didn’t take long to make that decision, and [Cockrell has] just done an extraordinary job,” Cromwell said.
Memorial contains “really hard” but important material, Cromwell said. Steven Spielberg’s 1993 Holocaust film Schindler’s List is a good example of the importance of difficult media, the RTM Executive Director pointed out.
“There are some movies that explored really heinous issues,” Cromwell said. “For instance…it’s incredibly important to see Schindler’s List, I may not want to see it all the time, or often. But that moment is indelible. We don’t forget the power of those stories being told.”
In working with JCMP, Cromwell said he believed the piece would keep the names of the lynching victims “alive,” something he said Cockrell did a “magnificent” job of in the play.
Cromwell also said RMT wants the “mothership” of the JCMP to take the play into the community. For instance, RMT has been invited to perform Memorial at the historic Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in February.
Birmingham is an internationally “sought-after” destination for people interested in human rights, said Cromwell, which inspired RMT’s HRNW Fest.
“I wanted to be a part of moving our community more into the front of worthwhile destinations and continuing to sort of breathe life into the opportunity we have here to tell the story of how human and civil rights issues were dealt with, continue to be dealt with,” Cromwell said, “and hopefully we’re a catalyst for strong and needed conversation to move us forward.”
The festival will also feature True North, a Christmas play told through the eyes of a child on the spectrum, Survivors, a play set in a high school which intends to teach the consequences of hate through Holocaust stories, and Bar Mitzvah, in which an Orthodox Jewish family moves from Brooklyn, New York to a small town outside of Birmingham.
To purchase tickets for Memorial or one of the other productions at the HRNW, visit