Kevin Marshall, a faculty member of the University of Florida School of Theatre and Dance and Director of the Center for Art & Public Policy, used his 2014 Rothman Summer Faculty Fellowship to write the play Gator Tales. Gator Tales delves into the history of racial integration at the University of Florida (UF) by bringing oral histories of UF’s first black alumni to life on stage.
With the support of Rothman Summer Fellowship, Marshall was able to dedicate time in the summer of 2014 to research in the African American Collection, which is housed in the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program. Marshall primarily focused on specific sub-collections – the Alachua County African American History Project, Fifth Avenue Blacks Collection, and Gator Pioneers: Celebrating the Firsts. It was from these archives that the stories of Ron Coleman, Evelyn Moore Mickle, and Joel Buchannan were unearthed. These three individuals, among others, attempted to tear down the bricks of institutional racism at UF and in Gainesville more broadly, and represent a chronology from the 1960s to the late 2000s.
The use of oral histories indicates a unique insight provided by Marshall’s method and research – it is the non-fictional elements that enhance the fictional dramatic setting and not the other way around. However, the difficulty of any such project is balancing the cogency of historical analysis with the emotional liveliness of a theatrical narrative. The value of oral histories as a historical source is that they bridge the gap between evidence and narrative because the evidence is the narrative. This immediacy is both educational and emotional. Marshall has uniquely and creatively combined these two often competing elements into a dramatic piece that is both realistic and evocative.
The collapse of historical distance by placing these events and stories on the stage is not only emotionally powerful, but it is also a reminder. Although progress has been made, it is difficult to believe that all that needs to be done has been done. The bricks may have been torn down, but the foundation remains. By removing the distance between text and historical narrative, Marshall’s Gator Tales has served as a stark visual reminder that racism has not yet resigned itself to the trash bin of history – rather it lives and breathes before our eyes.
Center for the Humanities
and the Public Sphere
College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
200 Walker Hall
P.O. Box 118030
University of Florida
Gainesville, FL 32611