Theater preview
Books, films and audio recordings are among the first places most people would look to find information about black history. The stage is another.

A new play, “The African-American History Museum,” debuting Friday in Austin, will take viewers on a walk through history, showcasing famous and not-so-famous blacks who have made an impact.

“The African-American History Museum” makes its world premiere at Austin Boulevard Church Theater, 7 Superior St., in Oak Park, at 8 p.m. The play runs for two consecutive weekends, Feb. 8 and 10, and Feb. 15 and 17.

The play, according to its creator, Loretta Ragsdell, is a celebration in music, song, dance and oration of African Americans. The play highlights the struggles, triumphs, talents and spirituality of the African-American people, she noted.

Under the direction of Ragsdell, a playwright and journalist who resides in Oak Park, the play hopes to give a closer look into the history of black Americans by giving the audience a first-person point of view.

“I wanted to give them humanity,” she said. “I want the audience to see what their plight was like, and the play just seemed to evolved.”

The show, she added, gives exposure to the intimate life experiences of the lesser-known scientists, inventors and civil rights activists, but also pays homage to those traditionally featured during Black History Month.

Inspired to give a voice to the voiceless, she admits to meeting many civil rights leaders during her life.

“I met Dr. King when I was about 8 years old. I didn’t really know too much about him at the time, but I knew he was someone special,” Ragsdell recalled.

“Although, Dr. Martin Luther King made many strides for African-American people, I feel as though America has reduced Black History Month to just Dr. King,” she added.

In the play, the audience takes a tour of a museum where each gallery depicts a particular period of time in African-American history.

Capturing the lives of such influential people as Frederick Douglass, Sam Cooke, Madam C.J. Walker, and Sammy Davis, Jr., the play endeavors to inspire the audience by making history come alive, Ragsdell explained.

“The audience gets to hear their favorite African-American historical figures tell their own stories in their own words,” she said.

Ragsdell maintained that the play will have three dimensions: “emotional, scientific, and humane.”

With the motto of “working for perfection” the cast has spent many long nights rehearsing and researching their roles.

The play is produced by The TRY CENTER, INC., an organization which provides youth and family support services including tutoring, guidance counseling, and job-readiness preparation. The organization also sponsors The Angel Food Ministries.

Austin Boulevard Christian Church, which houses a theater, is a co-sponsor of the play.

The church’s fellowship hall, Ragsdell describes, has been renovated and decorated with an impressive collection of African-American art and artifacts displayed throughout the theater, creating the ambiance of a true museum.

“We want people to come relax and grow with us. I feel like God gave me this play, and everyday I get a revelation.”

Friday and Saturday performances are at 8 p.m. and Sunday performances 5 p.m. For more information about the play and tickets, call 708-660-9820, or visit