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Musical in Mississippi Pays Tribute to Unsung Hero of the Civil Rights Movement

Screen Shot 2014-12-01 at 1.49.49 PMA new oratorio “Repast,” telling the relatively unknown story of civil rights hero Booker T. Wright, debuted last month at the Southern Foodways Alliance symposium in Oxford, Mississippi.

Wright was first discovered by NBC when he was a waiter in Greenwood, Miss., at Lusco’s, a whites-only restaurant. NBC immediately wanted him to appear in their 1965 documentary “Mississippi: A Self Portrait.” In it, Wright spoke out about his experiences working in the South—sentiments which eventually got him killed.

“I recognize in Booker the pride that he took… in doing his work, and doing his work well,” poet Kevin Young, who worked on the project, told NPR. “And then the shame that sort of placed upon him and the things he has to endure.”

Despite the harsh, racist conditions that Wright had to work under he always did so with a smile and a kind demeanor.

“I think the greatest lesson was that we had centuries of people who smiled despite oppression and that smile was a sacrifice,” said culinary historian Michael Twitty of the show.

Wright was fired from Lusco’s after appearing in the NBC documentary and speaking out against the racism in the restaurant industry.

“I knew other Booker Wrights who were men of dignity and grace and facing unbelievable obstacles,” artistic director for “Repast,” Bruce Levingston, told  NPR.

Levingston commented on how much strength Wright must have had to appear on NBC and risk his life and job.

“Every time we play that piece, Booker comes alive,” he said. “And we intend to take it to venues all over the country.”

Wright was killed in 1973  in his own restaurant, Booker’s Place. His killer is still unknown.

“The gift that my grandfather left of us and the gifts that we get anew in this musical piece is the importance of seeing one another’s humanity,” Wright’s granddaughter, Yvette Johnson said. 

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