In the days before mass media and social media, in the days before the Black Lives Matter movement and other recent efforts to achieve racial and social equity; and in the days before the enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which forbade racial discrimination in matters of employment and education, something shameful occurred at Oak Park Township High School (as OPRF was still called).

On Christmas Day (no less!) of 1937, the Huskies football team participated in a kind of mythical High School National Championship game at the Orange Bowl in Miami, Florida. They played the game, however, without one of their star players, back Lewis Pope, who was not allowed to play for no other reason than the color of his skin.

The school was not merely passively complicit. Rather, it agreed to the discrimination.

This Sunday, Nov. 6, the Historical Society of Oak Park-River Forest is producing a staged reading of my one-act play, “The Ebony Streak,” which is based on the 1937 incident that caused a local scandal and received attention from well beyond the borders of our village. This production is presented at the high school in its Little Theater, with the gracious assistance of the school and will feature several OPRF alums.

The Historical Society provided valuable research assistance, with copies of newspaper articles and original source material, such as letters from local ministers and representatives of civil rights organizations. Additionally, the play features many of Lewis Pope’s own words based upon a taped interview from when he was awarded the high school’s Tradition of Excellence Award in the 1990s. With such assistance and source materials, and building upon the research and writings of local historians such as Doug Deuchler, the play almost wrote itself.

The story of Lew Pope’s high school career and his life afterwards is moving and important to tell 85 years later. We have come far but still have far to go in matters of racial and social equity. It was an honor and privilege for this playwright to use the words of the actual individuals involved — from local citizens, to school administrators and employees, to the truly heroic Lew Pope himself — to provide a glimpse into the way today’s progressive community was. And it has been a reminder that the fight against injustice and discrimination needs always to be fought. After the performance, there will be a panel discussion with questioning from the audience, which should be informative and inspiring.

Oak Park prides itself as a community that values both its history and its commitment to diversity and equity. “The Ebony Streak” is a dramatic treatment of the experience and the life of one of our heroes on the path toward diversity and equity.

“The Ebony Streak” will be performed Sunday, Nov. 6 at Oak Park and River Forest High School, 201 N. Scoville Ave., at 2 p.m. Admission is free.

Join the discussion on social media!