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Hope through hard times: Sumter County Museum hosts performance orating written letters from Anne Frank, MLK

BY SHELBIE GOULDING
shelbie@theitem.com
Posted 1/25/20

History has a way of making itself relevant in the present, especially through the powerful words of iconic people.

The Temple Sinai Jewish History Center opened a new exhibit and hosted an …

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Hope through hard times: Sumter County Museum hosts performance orating written letters from Anne Frank, MLK

Posted

History has a way of making itself relevant in the present, especially through the powerful words of iconic people.

The Temple Sinai Jewish History Center opened a new exhibit and hosted an associated performance on Thursday expressing the words of Anne Frank and Martin Luther King Jr. and how they still have meaning in society today.

Recently, the history center added an exhibition hall that can host rotating exhibits. Currently, it features the “Anne Frank: Private Photo Album,” which came from the Anne Frank Center USA and shows more than 71 photographs of Anne and her family’s life.

“You can see that they were real people, just like you and me,” said Annie Rivers, executive director of the Sumter County Museum, which maintains the center in Sumter. “It’s important to see that aspect.”

The Anne Frank Center also offered art performances with the exhibit, and Rivers said she fell in love with the “Letters from Anne and Martin” performance. Rivers then asked Jennifer Plick, director of education at the Anne Frank Center, to bring the performance to Sumter.

“We bring these exhibits, art performances and workshops to communities all across the country,” Plick said.

“We are so happy to be here in Sumter, and it’s a way to really promote Anne’s ideals and the legacy she left behind for all of us to learn from.”

Plick said this was the first time the performance was brought to South Carolina, and they were able to perform at the Sumter Opera House for more than 400 students from local schools as well as at the Temple Sinai Jewish History Center.

The seats were filled in the Temple Sinai sanctuary for the Thursday evening performance.

The performance was a dramatic presentation of how both Anne Frank and Martin Luther King Jr. were born in the same year, 1929, but each of them took on different social issues in different cultural times.

Anne Frank, played by Rachel Griesinger, was one of the 6 million Jews who were persecuted and killed in the Holocaust during World War II in Europe. She was 13 years old when she and her family went into hiding in an attic in her hometown of Amsterdam in 1942. Anne’s greatest companion during this time was her diary, Kitty, which she considered her friend.

Martin Luther King Jr., played by Wesli Spencer, was a civil rights activist from Atlanta, Georgia, who used non-violence and peaceful protesting to push for equality for black Americans during the time of segregation. In 1963, he was organizing a peaceful protest in Birmingham, Alabama, when he was arrested and placed in the Birmingham City Jail. In his cell, he found a newspaper with an article on his recent activities, which provoked him to write his response to the criticism in the form of a letter. Five years later, King was assassinated.

The play took place in these two settings of Frank’s and King’s life, showing how the two stayed optimistic in times of hardship and terror.

It began with historical recordings from King’s life and being detained in his cell in Birmingham. He sat down and picked up an old newspaper and a pencil.

Then, historical recordings from Frank’s world played, and Frank was clutching her diary while peeking out the window of the confined attic. She also sat down, covering her ears to block out the sounds of shouting outside.She then opened her diary and picked up a pencil.

In unison, both Frank and King lifted their pencils up high and pulled them in tight to their chest before they began to write. Throughout the performance, the two alternated reading their letters to the audience until they each signed their names at the end.

The play was empowering, showing emotion, soul and strength from both perspectives of Frank and King in their times of hardship.

“Personally, I was crying by the end,” Rivers said. “It was really emotional and powerful to see.”

Rivers said she enjoyed seeing both voices come together, and she said she hopes the performance brings their history to life for the community and that attendees walked away with their words that are still relevant today.

Rivers was able to see how the performance affected the community, as they were able to ask questions to the actors and Plick after the show. They asked about the actors’ lives, what it was like for them to put themselves in Frank’s and King’s shoes, what it took to become the two characters and more.

Spectators were also able to stick around after the show to watch a short video on Anne Frank, explore the featured local Jewish history exhibit and see the new photo album exhibit.

The Anne Frank: Private Photo Album exhibit will be on display through Feb. 29.

The next exhibit the Temple Sinai Jewish History Center plans to host will be from the Institute for Holocaust Education from March 26-May 2. The exhibit is based on the writers of Curious George who were in France right before the Nazi invasion and escaped on bikes with the Curious George manuscript.

“It’s a great story that a lot of people don’t know,” Rivers said, “so we’re excited to share it.”