Selma stories: Two-night event brings homegrown miniseries, musical to Saenger stage

By JOSHUA WILSON,

J.P. Haynes, a Hattiesburg-based writer, director and producer, will soon bring her work home to the Hub City as part of a celebration of Black History Month.

On Feb. 27, “Selma: The Untold Stories,” a four-part limited TV series, will have its world premiere at the Historic Hattiesburg Saenger Theater. On Feb. 28, the touring cast from “Selma The Musical: The Untold Stories” will present a special live performance on the Saenger stage.

The TV series and musical are set in Selma, Alabama, during the tumultuous 1960s. The musical tells the story of the protest marches held in 1965 along the highway from Selma to the state capital of Montgomery. The marches, organized by nonviolent activists and led by Martin L. King Jr., highlighted racial injustices and led to violent conflicts.

On what was later known as “Bloody Sunday,” March 7, 1965, state troopers and locals attacked the marchers, hitting them with clubs and firing at them with tear gas. Amelia Boynton, a civil rights leader, was beaten unconscious, and a photograph of her lying wounded was broadcast worldwide. The events of Bloody Sunday led directly to that year’s passage of the Voting Rights Act.

In 2012, Haynes moved from her hometown of Amory to Hattiesburg and began work on a spoken-word performance about the Selma events. A few years later, she presented her work at the Selma Jubilee, an annual commemoration of Bloody Sunday, the marches and the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

During the jubilee, Haynes was encouraged by several civil rights leaders to develop the performance into a play or musical. She began work on the project immediately, and, in 2017, the musical premiered in Selma.

The cast has now been on tour for three years, visiting, among others, Louisiana, Kentucky, New York and the Bahamas. The musical has been featured on ABC’s “Good Morning America” twice.

“My idea catapulted into a world tour,” said Haynes, who is producing the musical and the TV series through her own company, Infecting Change Productions.

The TV series is a broader look at the Selma of 1965. The series is a work of historical fiction that follows a family as it struggles with the conflicts of the Civil Rights Movement.

“The series asks what it would have been like as a normal family in 1965,” she said. “People wanted to keep the peace … and lots of people supported Dr. King. But, then again, lots of people didn’t support him.”

Each episode focuses on a different member of the fictional Wilson family and on a different viewpoint. Some members of the family are King supporters while others are not.

“The series is supposed to represent ideas in America and open up lines of conversation,” said Haynes. “Each episode focuses on a particular family member, but the episodes together present an interweaving story.”

The events begin at 8 p.m. each night but will be preceded by a 6:30 p.m. red carpet reception. Tickets are available at www.hattiesburgsaenger.com.

The two-night event is sponsored by Signature Magazine, the Hattiesburg Saenger Theater, the Sixth Street Museum District and the City of Hattiesburg with support from FestivalSouth and the  University of Southern Mississippi School of Music.