- Purchase/rental options available:
In the 1940s, organizers in the struggle for Black freedom, eager to distinguish themselves from the pacifist movement, began to introduce “experiments” in desegregation into their activities. Inspired by Gandhi and his interpreters, these actionists (as they called themselves) discovered and implemented the principles and practices of direct action that would later be used on a broad scale. At the time, direct action and civil disobedience were considered dangerously “militant” activities; all involved agreed that training was required. To meet this need, the actionists introduced a new technique to their interracial workshops: the sociodrama. These rehearsals for direct action allowed participants to discover new tactics of “psychological violence” and to habituate themselves to violent opposition. Drawing on the experimental ethos of the age, the sociodramatic rehearsals invited trial, error, and innovation. This essay explores this signal moment in American history, illuminating the theatrical practices that informed the development of this consequential form of protest.