Laying bare the consequences of promoting and standing indifferent to hate and bigotry, Janet Langhart Cohen commands the stage with her latest endeavor: a one act play merging the stories of martyrs Anne Frank and Emmett Till.
The setting is Memory, a space where both teens exist in peace and escape the brutal intolerance that ultimately took their lives. Cohen’s hope is that the play will open dialogue on the horrors of the Holocaust, slavery – the American apartheid – and the current state of race and human relations.
“The mission of the play is more than just to show the commonalities between Blacks and Jews, but it’s also a call to action,” said Cohen. “The cycle of hate and genocide is still continuing and we need to either stop it, or manage hate.”
A young girl of thirteen when she died in 1945, Anne Frank contracted typhus in Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, one of many death factories in Nazi Europe, just weeks before prisoners were liberated by British forces. People around the world have gained insight on the Frank family’s life in hiding during Nazi rule with Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl, which to date has transformed the lives of over 20 million readers.
Originally written for students on the middle school level, who are typically around the same age as were Frank and Till at the time of their murders, the play has garnered rave reviews from audiences of all age groups.
An active participant in the civil rights movement herself, Cohen vividly recalls how the brutal murder of Emmett Till sent shockwaves throughout her community. “When that murder happened it just rocked us all,” said Cohen, who was the same age as Till at the time of his death.
A 14- year-old Chicago boy eager to visit his relatives in Money, Miss., Till was unaccustomed to the climate of hate that permeated every corner of the Deep South during the Jim Crow Era. After allegedly whistling at a Caucasian woman in a general store, his mangled, partially decomposed body was pulled from the Tallahatchie River, a cotton gin attached to his neck with barbed wire, and a bullet hole in his head.
“I learned about racism when I was seven years old,” said Cohen, who recalls her mother warning her about people who might not like her because of her skin color. “The irony is that racism still exists, it’s just in a different form. We see it every day from White police officers accidently killing unarmed youth to the Republican campaign as it relates to an African-American president,” said Cohen.
Directed by playwright and dramaturge Talvin Wilks, Anne & Emmett audiences will also delve into the minds of Otto Frank and Mamie Till-Mobley, the parents of the two teens whose stories of strength and courage are beyond inspiring
Though they were mere teenagers when their lives were sacrificed, Emmett Till and Anne Frank proved that the human spirit can rise above hatred and ignorance, giving way to the greater power of peace and harmony among the human race.