BWPG IS IN THE NEWS!
Kerrington Shorter, cast member of The 172 Project, produced by the Black Women Playwrights' Group in collaboration with Phoenix Theatre Cultural Center, Indianapolis, IN.
October 16, 2022
By Betty Miller Buttram
FWIS Contributing Writer
In recent FWIS newspaper issues, articles were written about the World War II Museum in New Orleans, the Red Ball Express, and the U.S. Army 761st Tank Battalion. In the latter article, I asked that you stay IN Touch because there would be another story coming. That story is here and ready to be told. It is about villages in the Netherlands and their liberation from the enemy during World War II.
The Netherlands American Cemetery and Memorial in Margraten honors the names of 1,722 missing American World War II soldiers and contains the graves of 8,301 servicemen. Of those fallen soldiers, 172 were African Americans. While their name, rank, unit, hometown, and the date of death is available, little else is known about the African American soldiers before they joined the U.S. Army and helped liberate the Netherlands. That is the story, and it has been written as “The 172 Project,” by the Black Women Playwrights’ Group (BWPG).
The Black Women Playwrights’ Group (BWPG) is a non-profit service and advocacy group for African American playwrights writing for the professional theater. The organization is based in Washington, D.C. and the members produce their work on an individual basis, and often come together for group projects.
Pamela G. Armstrong-de Vreeze is an African American of dual citizenship (American and Dutch) and has been a member of BWPG since its beginning in 1989. She presented to the BWPG members this story about the cemetery in Margraten. She works with the Dutch Black Liberators, a support group in the Netherlands, who are dedicated to connecting the African American descendants of World War II soldiers with the villages who adopted and care for their graves. Pamela tells the story of the 172 soldiers in her own words: “Equal in death; unequal in life’ is the theme that motivates the supporters of the Back Liberators who are buried in Margraten, an American Cemetery located in the Netherlands. When the American soldiers arrived in the southern part of the Netherlands, they were greeted and treated as heroes. The soldiers’ color was secondary to the fact that the Dutch saw them as their liberators and treated them with respect. This became a problem when the white American soldiers tried to teach the Dutch the protocols of racism. Dutch families became aware of the do’s and don’ts of how to deal with the soldiers of color, which is the reason that their website opens with that statement, “Equal in death; unequal in life.” The Dutch support group, entitled the Black Liberators, is committed to treating all the soldiers’ graves equally.
These soldiers, many who left the Jim Crow south, thought that if they served their country by being part of the forces liberating Europe from Nazi Germany, that they would have freedom once they returned to their country of birth, the United States of America. However, they never returned. They died in the service of their duty, and due to various reasons, their bodies were not returned to their families in the USA. Many of the living descendants of the soldiers are not aware that they have relatives buried there. I was made aware of this fact when I talked with the adoptees of the soldiers’ graves. Many of the families want to communicate with their soldiers’ American families but cannot. Poor recordkeeping, a fire that destroyed many of the files, and a lack of will on the part of a racist military during the 1940’s left the African American soldiers’ families ignorant of the fate of their sons and brothers. Many of the white soldiers’ families have been contacted and have relationships with the Dutch adoptees. In the meantime, Dutch families of the African American soldiers continue to care for and visit the graves during annual ceremonial events as they await information about surviving family members. The Dutch care for the graves by placing flowers, letters, and gifts of appreciation at the site of their soldiers’ crosses. It is an honor for the families to care for the soldiers in this manner. The residents of Margraten do not take their freedom for granted and they want the American families to know that their ancestors are being cared for with honor.”
That is the history story told to BWPG about these fallen young heroes between the ages of 18-22 who never made it back to America. The BWPG playwrights have given voices to their spirits by writing “The 172 Project,” to honor these young men and their service to the U.S. Army.
The BWPG began their storytelling of these soldiers by developing scenes and including them on their BWPG private SMS app 12@12noon and then decided to produce live performances. Scenes written by BWPG members explore the experiences of Midwestern soldiers fighting for freedom on foreign soil. These dynamic 12-line scenes create the soldiers as multi-faceted human beings with hopes, realizations, and honor. Written scripts of the scenes will be broadcast on the internet the weeks of October 31 and November 7 via the innovative theater app 12@12Noon developed by BWPG. You can download for free from Google Play or the App Store to read the scenes and then come to the theater venue to see the live stage performances of these scenes.
These live performances will be first at the Phoenix Theatre Cultural Center, 705 Illinois Street, Indianapolis, IN on November 11, 2022, at 8 p.m. Then the next performance will be here in Fort Wayne at the University of Saint Francis, Historic Women’s Club, 402 W. Wayne Street, November 12, 2022, at 2 p.m. Tickets for the November 12 live performance are $10 and can be purchased from www.eventbrite.com. Type: The 172 in the search bar.
A discussion centering on the soldiers’ legacy follows each performance. Come out and hear their stories and see them unfold from the stage.
Black Women Playwrights’ Group Honors
172 Black Soldiers Buried in the Netherlands
By D. Kevin McNeir
November 11, 2022
As America prepares to honor its military veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces with parades, pomp and circumstance on Veterans Day (Friday, November 11), a D.C.-based service and advocacy group for African-American playwrights whose members include women writing their first play and those honored for their work, will pay tribute to an all-but-forgotten group of Black soldiers.
The 172 soldiers who died while fighting in Europe during World War II were buried in Margraten, Netherlands, will be honored by the Black Women Playwrights’ Group (BWPG) in “The 172.”– with celebrations presented through a creatively-designed theater app that debuted on October 31. The 172, which embraces both the 20th and 21st century in honoring World War II’s African-American soldiers will be shown in both live performances and on the web via 12@12 NOON – BWPG’s innovative theater app, which one D.C. theater critic described as “the biggest technological game changer for theater in the 21st century.”
Scenes written by BWPG members explore the experiences of soldiers fighting for freedom on foreign soil. And while they liberated Europe, they died in service – their bodies never returned to their families. The 172 represented many states nationwide, including Hawaii, Connecticut, New Jersey, and New York. Performances will be held during the Veterans Day weekend on Nov. 11 and 12 in Indianapolis and Ft. Wayne, respectively. Discussions focusing on their lives, legacy, and sacrifice, which families of
Margraten honor each year will follow both performances. The celebration can be downloaded via the free app for those interested in reading the scenes on BWPG’s private SMS, 12@12NOON. The dynamic 12-line scenes imagine the soldiers as multi-faceted human beings with hopes, realizations, and honor. Through the app, viewers can comment, share the scenes with others and write their 12-line scene inspired by the original scene.
Founded in 1989 and incorporated in 1993, the Black Women Playwrights’ Group supports the playwriting process by critiquing its members’ work, providing workshops and readings, and information on production opportunities, as well as introductions to producers. BWPG as counts as a touchstone for writers of color at local universities, in the D.C. Public Schools, residents of group homes and programs for spouses and children of the incarcerated. Karen L.B. Evans, the organization’s founder and executive producer, said the most memorable things about performing in Indianapolis and Ft. Wayne was being able to honor Black men, so young and with so much promise who hailed from the Midwest, who gave their lives for freedom. “The journey to develop the app, takes its readers into the inner workings of the world our award-winning playwrights have created for these young men,” Evans said.
BWPG member Pamela Armstrong-de Vreeze, who developed the 172 Project and lives in the Netherlands said, “As an American with dual citizenship, I was surprised to learn about the Dutch supporters of the fallen soldiers,” she said. Armstrong-de Vreeze noted that American soldiers often encouraged Dutch families to mistreat African-American young men. “But they didn’t prevail, and the families have passed their appreciation of the sacrifice made to ensure their freedom from one generation to the next over the years,” she said. The Phoenix Theatre Cultural Centre supports the project in Indianapolis and Black Liberators of the Netherlands. The technical development is by Zingworks, LLP.