A Year of Rebirth

Alice Childress Comes Home: Legend Returns to Roosevelt Island

Updated 2 years ago David Stone

A long, proud story is about to land in a happy ending, thanks to RIOC and the Main Street Theatre & Dance Alliance. Roosevelt Island pioneer and African American literary legend Alice Childress comes full cycle, a year after a tribute to her was nearly obliterated in mud behind PS/IS 217. Next week, a staged reading of her classic play, Trouble in Mind, will fill the Howe Theatre, in the Cultural Center at 548 Main Street.

Alice Childress Comes Home: Legend Returns to Roosevelt Island

Thirteen months ago, walking along the West Promenade, now with my own newspaper, I decided to try tracking down the mystery of how Alice Childress’s tribute plaque on the lawn behind the public school became orphaned, its commemorative tree cut down and removed.

But memories dim. School staff thought RIOC removed the tree, but RIOC had nothing to do with it, since it’s on City property.

The Roosevelt Island Rainbow Coalition, cosponsor of the plaque and Magnolia tree that shaded it, is out of existence, and its other sponsor, the Tree Board, knew nothing about it and was too broke to do anything about it anyway.

Alice Childress born 1912, Charleston, SC - died 1994, Roosevelt Island
Alice Childress born 1912, Charleston, SC - died 1994, Roosevelt Island

Sadly, the plight of the memorial grew dire as school teachers began using the lawn around it for free parking, muddy ruts dug in the soil, threatening to disgrace Roosevelt Island’s legend and literary pioneer.

But by spring, an angel came to the rescue, arranged to remove the plaque for restoration and safekeeping.

Her benevolence didn’t end there.

The angel, RIOC community liaison Erica Spenser-El, with the full support of President/CEO Susan Rosenthal, arranged a ceremony in June in which the tribute to Alice Childress was rededicated at a protected location just south of the Meditation Steps.

But Alice Childress deserved more…

When we learned that Alice Childress’s protege, New York stage veteran Michael Rogers, now lives on Roosevelt Island, MST&DS Executive Director Kristi Towey and I began talking about staging one of her works at the Howe Theatre.

Alice Childress Memorial Plaque rescued by RIOC
Alice Childress Memorial Plaque rescued by RIOC
© David Stone / Roosevelt Island Daily

Maybe Rogers could be persuaded to help.

We got in touch with him, and he was excited.

When we met with Rosenthal, looking for support, she ran with it

The result is a pair of staged readings in the Howe Theatre, the first next Monday, November 6th, and repeated a week later on the 13th.

Curtain up for both shows is 7:15, and through RIOC’s generosity, both are also free.

Rogers directs this cultural watershed for Roosevelt Island and its cultural legacy.

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