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Eminent Domain Becomes “Imminently Yours”

The residents of the mountaintop community take a selfie before leaving. Photo by Jonathan Slaff.

The play “Imminently Yours”, is currently appearing at Theatre 80, located at 80 St Marks Place in Manhattan. Presented by the Negro Ensemble Company, directed by Count Stovall and written by Karimah, “Imminently Yours,” will run until June 30.

The story line is about a location inhabited by descendants of slaves who had the mountain area for over 136 years. Initially there were 20 families. They dwindled down to 3 families as the youth moved into the cities and took on jobs, leaving their inheritance of the land behind to the older folks who was able to keep their existence on the land secret for over a century. The property was valuable because homestead buildings existed by a beautiful lake, all this concealed from the curious public by a curtain of poison ivy.

As time went by, relatives of the initial families forgot about or ignored their claim to the land and stopped visiting the enclave. Therefore, the remaining elders who lived off the land, never got the opportunity to tell the youth the history of the land and how they acquired it after slavery. This left the youth unaware of the value of the land, their legacy to the land and their history to it. This ignorance proved ultimately damaging.

There were some amusing parts wherein the elders staved off any nosey intruder with empty guns and blind Lillie Mae used her blindness to feel up men. The elders however were not wasting their time in their hidden dwelling where they had never paid taxes but studied and spoke several languages. Unfortunately, their peaceful concealed lives were uncovered when James, a young lawyer played by Ryan Desaulniers, visited the mountaintop as a representative of the governor. The cagey elders were sidestepping James, when Mildred, a visiting relative, played by Nia Akilah Robinson, who visiting with her lawyer mother Edna portrayed by Colette Bryce, was unable to read the warning signs the elders were trying to give her. Unfortunately Mildred did not understand the efforts of the elders to keep her quiet and enamored by James, she revealed the mountainside, dwellings and lake to the young lawyer. The lawyer revealed the existence of the elders played by Arthur French (Oscar), Dorothi Fox (Lillie Mae) and Alberta (Edythe Jason) to the governor to his regret.

The dwellings and lake were of special interest to the governor who used Eminent Domain to take the land from the elders and their way of life was forever gone. Eminent domain refers to the power of the government to take property for the public good. While there is a vested right to property ownership in the United States and owner rights to their land considered important, ultimately if the government has a stronger interest, it can exercise its power of eminent domain if it deems seizure of the property is for the public good. However, that does not mean government can take your land without providing “just compensation.” Owners can use what is known as “condemnation” to object to the taking of their property under what is known as “condemnation” generally the government ends up with the land after paying what they feel is fair market value.

The play does not blame anyone but ultimately the confiscation of property from these descendants of slavery seemed historically unjust and proved to be both sad and tragic.

Performances are Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8:00 PM and Sundays at 3:00 PM and 7:00 PM. Call the Box office at 866-811-4111 for tickets. For Group sales call 212-580-9624.

About the Author

Journalist and radio host, Deardra Shuler, has a background in publishing, theatre, concert promotion, producing and was the former PR chairman of FESPACO, an African film festival in Burkino Faso. She reviews books, plays, theater and movies. Her short story was published by Penquin Books in Aurielle Ford's book "Mystical Souvenirs." Deardra has her own blog under Writblog and writes for several African American publications in New York. She has a column and radio show in Sweden entitled Music Pastures. Her show Topically Yours is on the Blakeradio Network, Rainbow Soul. She also produces and facilitates other radio programs that she has brought to the BlakeRadio network.

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