This essay examines the cultural and political work of the Free Southern Theater, specifically how this company used plantations, porches, and cotton fields in order to build a radical black southern theater in the civil rights movement. Staging plays like Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot for black southern audiences, the theater challenged a violent structure of time at the heart of global modernity that I call black patience. By this I mean an abiding historical demand for black people to wait: whether in the hold of the slave ship, on the auction block, or for emancipation from slavery. Focusing on the centrality of the plantation to the spatializing logics of black patience, I consider how the Free Southern Theater used performance to demand “freedom now” and to revise the oppressive histories of time rooted in the material geographies of the US South. Mounting time-conscious plays, the theater used temporal aesthetics to transform the region’s historical geographies of black time (e.g., the labor time of black slaves and sharecroppers working in cotton fields) into radical sites of black political action, aesthetic innovation, and embodied performance. Engaging and reinvesting the meanings of the South’s plantation geographies, the theater revealed how one hundred years after emancipation, time remained essential to procuring the afterlives of slavery and colonialism and to shoring up the region’s necropolitical attachments. Examining these aesthetic and political experiments illuminates the importance of time to the emerging field of black geographies and to the field of black studies more broadly.

You do not currently have access to this content.