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A Controversial Play

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The Play

Headline from The Brooklyn Daily, February 21, 1924 Many New York papers published their reviews of the play the day after the premiere, May 16, 1924.

"...we have a right to demand of [O'Neill's] drama that he provide a logical conclusion for the dramatic action he presents. He should at least show consistency in character development. This he fails to do. The white woman who marries a negro in this piece was lacking in sensitiveness, yet we are asked to believe that her sense of degradation drives her mad."
-- Brooklyn Daily Eagle

"The much discussed scene in which Ella kisses Jim's hand is a quite incredible mingling of genuine affection and demented fancy. Altogether a painful play, in spite of its touches of fine sympathy and inspiration. If its enemies had been less diligent there is scant likelihood that it would have attracted attention beyond the small circle of those interested in dramatic literature and in the theatre of experiment."
-- New York Times

"'All God's Chillun Got Wings' is a very tiresome play. It is tiresome because Eugene O'Neill has no more than outlined his problem before he sidesteps it... One expects that the latter half of the play will deal with the difficulties of intermarriage in the American community. As a matter of fact, it does nothing of the sort. When next we see the white woman, she is well on the road to insanity. Before the play ends, she is stark, raving mad. So instead of the problem of white and black, we have the problem of sane and insane."
-- The World

The Controversy

Headline from The World newspaper, May 16, 1924 New York newspapers started running stories about controversial elements of the play in February 1924.

"A tempest of criticism, both in the theatrical profession and out, has been aroused by the apparently fixed determination of Eugene O'Neill, the playwright, and Kenneth Macgowan, director of the Provincetown Players, to place a thus-far unidentified white leading woman opposite an announced negro leading man in O'Neill's forthcoming interacial play, "All God's Chillun Got Wings"... The plot of the play requires that the leading woman portray the part of a white sweetheart to a negro, to the extent even of kissing his hands, and it has developed a situation without precedent in the history of the American stage."
-- The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, February 21, 1924

"Joab H. Banton, District Attorney of New York County, said the statutes limit his office to the prosecution of producers of 'obscene and indecent' plays. He cannot act in any circumstances until after the first production of such plays. William McAdoo, Chief Magistrate, expressed the opinion that a play in which any physical demonstration of affection is shown between a Negro man and a white woman will result in dangerous racial disorders. 'I should think that in a country where racial prejudice is so deep-seated, any play of such character as is described might prove very dangerous.'"
-- The World, March 3, 1924

"A resolution protesting against the production of the play 'All God's Chillun Got Wings,' by Eugene O'Neill, was passed at the meeting of the Legislative League at the Hotel Astor yesterday afternoon... It follows: '... Whereas, we think such a play would stir up racial antagonism, be it, Resolved, That the Legislative League of New York protest to Eugene O'Neill against the proposed play and also against using a mixed cast of whites and negroes."
-- New York Times, March 18, 1924
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