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caption: From upper left clockwise: Diane Sugimura, KUOW's Zaki Hamid,  Inye Wokoma and Vivian Phillips. 
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From upper left clockwise: Diane Sugimura, KUOW's Zaki Hamid, Inye Wokoma and Vivian Phillips.
Credit: Courtesy of the guests

Drawing the line on progress, for certain citizens

Seattle Rep theater presented a production of August Wilson's play Jitney this spring. Unfortunately, the run was just cancelled due to Coronavirus concerns.

Wilson wrote a series of 10 plays about the African-American experience. Each is set in a specific decade of the twentieth century.

Wilson won the Pulitzer Prize for Fences, set in 1950’s, and The Piano Lesson, set in the 1930’s.

August Wilson had a connection to Seattle. He moved here in 1990 and finished the last half of his cycle here. He was diagnosed with inoperable liver cancer in 2005 and died that year at Swedish Hospital.

Wilson is considered one of the great playwrights of the twentieth century, on par with Eugene O'Neill and Arthur Miller.

Set in 1970’s Pittsburgh, Jitney is the story of a rideshare service run by Jim Becker. His business emerged in response to redlining practices. It is being forced to close due to gentrification.

Redlining was devised by the federal government, theoretically to help banks in the wake of the Great Depression. The practice, steeped in racism, was embraced by local governments. The story of Jitney resonates for us in Seattle, a place which, like cities around the country, is still grappling with the legacy of targeted discrimination and disenfranchisement.

In a collaboration with Seattle Rep, we invited a number of local leaders to join a discussion on the history and legacy of redlining and gentrification. We hope that through this discussion, framed by personal experience and the lens of the play, we can reflect on what we want for our city in the coming decades.

This recording took place on March 8 in the KUOW studios. KUOW’s Zaki Hamid spoke with Diane Sugimura, former director of Seattle’s Department of Planning and Development; Inye Wokoma, co-founder of Wa Na Wari, the center for Black art, stories and social connection in the Central District; and Vivian Phillips, a communications and arts advocacy consultant and a member of KUOW’s board of directors.

Excerpts from Jitney were read by Ronnie Hill, Brandon Jones Mooney, Malcolm J West and Alex Lee Reed.

Please note: This recording contains an unedited racial slur.