The Bridge Party
The Bridgettes, African American bridge club Formal Dance, Columbia, Tennessee, circa 1942
Back Row: (left to right) Thomas Jones, Frank Leroy Hawthorne, M.D., Benjamin Franklin Davis, M.D., Vernon K. Ryan, Cyrus Jerome Browne, Edward H. Kimes, Tommie Mitchell, Frederick Randolph Howell, Horace Oliver Porter Middle Row: Olivia Nicholson, Hattye Mary Evans, Eddie M. Blackwell, Annie Lee Bugg, Alene Mitchell Front Row: Ruth Delores Whitaker, Pett Mae Davis, Pinkie Flippin Ryan, Mozella Brooks Browne, Samuella Trotter Kimes, Camille Evans Howell, Mildred Sinsing Porter
The Bridge Party portrays the strength of a group of black women who gather for their weekly bridge game as they cope with a house-to-house search of the black community in the wake of a lynching.
The setting of The Bridge Party is the meeting of an African American women’s bridge club in the South of the 1940’s. A group of women have gathered for their weekly bridge party hosted by the daughters of Emma Edwards, Theodora, Leona and Marietta. The play dramatizes the ways in which these women deal with the racism of their era while still maintaining their dignity and sense of self. At the same time, the women are faced with their own personal dilemmas. We learn that Cordie Cheek, a young black man, has been acquitted of the charge of molesting a white woman. Leona, pregnant and separated from her husband, must confront her mother-in-law Mary Jane Barnes.
At the beginning of the second act, Marietta reports that Cordie Cheek has been tortured and lynched on a bridge outside town. The women, still struggling with family issues, are confronted by newly-deputized white officers going house-to-house through the black area looking for guns to confiscate. Using “mother wit,” Emma Edwards thwarts the renewed attempt of the deputies to seize the guns in the house. The play ends with Marietta’s speculations about the possibility of race war and the ultimate achievement of justice.
Sandra Seaton and Ruby Dee when the legendary Ruby Dee appeared in the Glenda Dickerson production of Sandra Seaton’s play, The Bridge Party, at The University of Michigan
“Because racism was then legally entrenched and publicly justified, it was a significant accomplishment to build a life with ceremonies and rituals affirming the integrity and importance of our friendships and families, of our own lives.”
Sandra Seaton, from How I Came To Write The Bridge Party
Seaton based the play on family stories describing the way of life of middle-class blacks in the South before the modern civil rights movement. This play is not a “docudrama” of her family’s life but rather a presentation of a part of the African American experience that is often overlooked.
Sandra Seaton’s play The Bridge Party merges two events: The Columbia Race Resistance of 1946 and the 1933 lynching of Cordie Cheek. In the excerpt below, Edward Kimes, Cemora Morton and Columbia residents remember this 1946 Civil Rights Resistance in Columbia, Tennessee.