Piece Comment

Review of Five Days in July Special

On July 12, 1967, Newark, New Jersey exploded into the nation's consciousness.

26 people -- most of them black -- died in five days of violence quelled by a rain storm. But Newark was just one of almost 160 cities torn by violence that summer.

Charles Schultz and Ester Podemski use drama and indepth discussion to return to Newark. It's an engaging and nationally relevant redux.

The producers call first on playwright Tracey Scott Wilson. Her original 28-minute radio drama follows the arc of the violence and the misunderstandings around it -- from the first reports of cabdriver John Smith's beating and possible death to his conviction for resisting arrest (later reversed).

Scott's vignettes are short, solid, and, for the most part, well-modulated. We see the riots play out in the projects, at the precinct, among activists and politicians. We hear how no one might agree about what happened.

Historic drama isn't easy, but this is well done -- and important for anther reason: very little newsreel footage of the Newark events exists. Radio -- albeit recreated -- stitches everything together.

At the play's end the governor and mayor assure us: the riots are over.

But then Part Two, a panel of experts chaired by host Nancy Giles reminds us, "No, they're not."

Giles and her panel ask about the riot's cause, its lessons, and its legacy.

This discussion translates Newark's very specific history to other cities. Princeton's Eddie S. Glaude is particularly strong. But all agree that the growth in the African-American middle class -- sparked in part by urban unrest like Newarks' -- probably makes the summer of 1967 a one-time thing.

Stations that like radio drama might run the first half hour alone. But the one-two of the full package is worthwhile. And since unrest rippled across the country in 1967, the program has legs through the summer.

Anthea Raymond
PRX Editorial Board
July 8, 2007
Los Angeles, CA