Stage and film actor, Ernie Hudson, will star in a one-man play, "Ghost in the House" at Cedar Crest College and Parkland High School starting tonight.
The play will give audiences a chance to witness the life and struggles of Jack Johnson, the first African American Heavyweight Champion of the World.
The first show is scheduled for Feb. 7 at 7:30 p.m. at the Parkland High School Auditorium and a second show is scheduled on Feb. 8 at 8 p.m. at the Tompkins College Center at Cedar Crest College.
The Feb. 7 show will benefit the Parkland School District Education Foundation and will be preceded by a dining event at Outback Steakhouse - which will donate a percent of dinner sales to the Foundation.
Hudson is known for his roles in Ghostbusters, Congo, HBO's OZ, Miss Congeniality, The Crow, Hand that Rocks the Cradle, The Secret Life of an American Teenager, and most recently, Modern Family.
He also starred as Jack Jefferson in the Minneapolis Theatre in The Round's production of "The Great White Hope." The character of Jack Jeffries was based on the life of Jack Johnson.
In “Ghost in the House,” Hudson depicts an elderly Johnson reminiscing about his life and career. The play is a joint project developed by Frank Megna, a Los Angeles-based screenwriting and theater veteran, and Ernie Hudson. Few people realize that the boxing champion, Muhammad Ali's, inspiration during a fight was the ghost of Jack Johnson.
The title refers to Johnson's influence on Muhammad Ali, a similarly controversial boxing personality who reportedly saw parallels between himself and Johnson. In the early 1900s, Johnson was not only an athlete, but also a modern-day celebrity, garnering front-page headlines and making endorsements.
It was a time when black men and women rarely made the news.
"Like Ali, he had an interesting personal life as well as an impressive boxing record. Jack lived a very large life, and a very controversial life," said Megna. "There are some really strong parallels to our modern world. Ernie is very excited to play Jack Johnson as this play is a reminder of how far we have come."
Jack Johnson was articulate and smart, something not expected from a black man in the early 1900s. In a documentary about his life, Ken Burns stated, "For more than thirteen years, Jack Johnson was the most famous and the most notorious African-American on Earth…Johnson in many ways is an embodiment of the African-American struggle to be truly free in this country — economically, socially and politically…He absolutely refused to play by the rules set by the white establishment, or even those of the black community. In that sense, he fought for freedom not just as a black man, but as an individual."
The story of Jack Johnson deals with sports and racism in the early 1900s. His story is a lesson about racism, culture and overcoming adversity. The show provides an historical perspective on the culture and attitudes in the early 1900s and how one man defied prevailing attitudes to become the first black heavyweight champion of the world and one of the best-known figures of the early twentieth century.
White people hated Johnson because of his athletic success and because Johnson married a white woman, which in those days was illegal in many states. To punish Johnson, law enforcement convicted him of violating the Mann Act, which made it illegal to transport women across state lines for “immoral purposes.”
To escape the prison sentence, Johnson fled to Canada. At the time of his success there was a climate of deep racial unrest. Johnson agitated white Americans by refusing to be submissive which was expected of blacks at that time.
In the early 1900s white Americans felt that they were superior. The rights and privileges of black people were defined by people in power who were white. After Johnson beat the world heavyweight champion (Tommy Burns) in 1908, white people called for a “Great White Hope,” a white boxer that could beat Johnson.
Former champion Jim Jeffries came out of retirement to beat the black champion. After a grueling fight, Johnson wins. Racist attitudes caused a serious of riots across the country. Police interrupted several attempted lynchings. Hundreds were injured and 25 people died.
Johnson’s victory helped black athletes gain entrance into sports and change perceptions of black people. Johnson was inducted into the Boxing Hall of Fame in 1954, and is on the roster of both the International Boxing Hall of Fame and the World Boxing Hall of Fame.
Gold sponsors for the event are the Center for Retailing Solutions, TDOG, LLC, the Havighurst Insurance Agency (Allstate) and White Coil Visuals. Silver sponsors include: Express Business Center, Joe Bennett and the Bennett Family Car Dealerships, Greg Kuritz (Erie Insurance), Uline, Tim McNair and Hayden Films Institute.
For ticket information go to the Center for Retailing Solutions or call Doc Ogden at 610-434-6252.