|The Leesburg Girls pose for SNCC photographer Danny Lyon|
Myxolydia Tyler is a teaching artist, vocal coach and actor who, among other things, has worked in the Education Department at Lincoln Center. She considers herself "an actor who likes to tell good stories" rather than a playwright. Whatever she calls herself, she has the makings of a good play in "Falling Birds."
Tyler began her work on the script in 2006 after reading about the Leesburg Girls in Essence magazine. It wasn't until 2013 that the play had a reading. Still, it wasn't an active project. Then, she said, things got weird. Last year she received an envelope with a return address of the Hermitage Artist Retreat. When she opened it, some sand and a seashell fell out -- along with an unsolicited invitation for a six week residency. She thought it was a prank. Fast forward to October 2019 when Tyler found herself at the Hermitage working on her script and reading an excerpt (with help from Angela Bonsalves) to a rapt audience.
|The Leesburg Girls|
The girls weren't the only ones picked up on that day in 1963 Americus, GA. But the boys who were arrested were jailed locally; the girls were transported 15 miles away to Leesburg. It was a number of days before their parents knew where to find them.
Danny Lyon, a 21-year old photographer working with SNCC (the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee) is credited in part for their release. Once SNCC learned about the girls' confinement, Lyon went to Leesburg to document their plight. He captured their situation with a hidden camera and SNCC used the photos to fight for their liberation. The pictures made their way to Attorney General Bobby Kennedy, who ordered that the girls be released.
When the girls were allowed to go home, Tyler said they were "rushed out as quickly as they were rushed in" -- after, that is, each girl committed never to protest again and paid a fine. Tyler told us that little was said about the incident once the girls were back in Leesburg. Apparently even the girls didn't talk about it among themselves.
|Myxolydia Tyler and Angela Gonsalves|
But Tyler is interested in more than telling the story of the girls' imprisonment. She wants to explore how we heal when histories and stories go untold. In the course of her research, she has had the opportunity to speak with several of the women who lived through the ordeal and are fiinally talking about their experience. But that portion of the play wasn't ready for public consumption.
To read more about the Leesburg Girls, click here. And to see more of Danny Lyons' civil rights photos, click here and here.
Next up -- the bloodcurdling story of Burke and Hare.