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LONGVIEW, Texas (AP) — A Longview native’s collegiate research project has become a one-woman play about a dark period in her hometown’s history.

The Longview News-Journal reports Elizabeth Michael Melton stars in “Unpacking Longview,” a new play she says is about family legacies and public school desegregation in Longview.

Her hope is that the production spurs conversations about how moments from desegregation — including the 1970 Longview Independent School District bus barn bombing — impacted residents on all sides in the city.

“Unpacking Longview” is based on Melton’s doctoral dissertation research that began in 2015. She collected oral histories from parents, teachers, students and administrators connected to Longview ISD during desegregation.

It is a production of Artsview Children’s Theater in partnership with Melton, who wrote and will perform the piece.

“I’m more concerned with kind of thinking how we can make these kinds of conversations sustainable,” Melton said, “and how can we continue to create spaces where people can share their experiences, whether they be negative or positive about their life here in East Texas and to continue to create spaces where we can brainstorm on how we can make it better.”

Free performances are scheduled at 4 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 11, and at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 12, at the Mickey Melton Performing Arts Center that is named for her father, a longtime Longview ISD trustee for whom a road at the North Business Park also is named.

Each show will conclude with a discussion in which audience members can talk about the performance’s primary themes, she said.

Melton is a 2006 Longview High School graduate who holds multiple degrees from Texas A&M University and is a doctoral candidate at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she teaches introduction to performance studies, performance and culture and theater history courses.

“I’ve talked to folks all over Longview, and it’s interesting to see how stories differ based on experience,” Melton said. “Like the bus bombings. I didn’t know those had happened until I started doing this research, and all of my grandparents were public school teachers. My mom was a public school teacher; my dad was on the school board; and I was like, ‘What? How did I not know about this?'”

Fred Loyd Hayes and Kenneth Ray McMaster, both of Longview, were convicted on charges of setting explosives under the Longview school bus fleet, damaging more than 22 buses on July 4, 1970.

The two men were sentenced to 11 years in prison and given $11,000 fines. The buses were to be used in a federal integration plan, and all but one of the vehicles were used after the bombing.

Melton said she hopes the performances leave audience members thinking about what it means to be an East Texan and how the community can grow to actively work against racism and inequity.

She is raising funds for the production, which is estimated to cost more than $5,700 for materials and labor.

“It’s expensive to create a play. I also think it’s important for artists locally . that they get paid for their labor and their work,” Melton said.

“I think that that’s the end game,” Melton said about her goal for the play, “and for folks to come away from the performance just thinking more and reflecting more about their lives and how this either has affected them and they haven’t thought about it or acknowledged it or spurs some folks to action who have been complacent and haven’t thought of this before.”


Information from: Longview News-Journal,