‘Black at the Assassination’ adds an overlooked perspective on JFK events

Kyndal Robertson and Camika Spencer: Kim Ritzenthaler Leeson
Kyndal Robertson and Camika Spencer: Kim Ritzenthaler Leeson

Two Oak Cliff playwrights tell the story from a different angle.

Kyndal Robertson and Camika Spencer won TeCo Theatrical Productions’ new play competition in March with their one-act play ‘Pious.’

“Not only did we win — we won accolades from people we didn’t even know,” Robertson says.

So when the theater company’s owner, Teresa Coleman Wash, wanted to produce a play about the JFK assassination from the black perspective, she called on the playwrights.

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The Oak Cliff natives, who are first cousins, began working on the play that would become “Black at the Assassination,” which opens Oct. 17 at the Bishop Arts Theatre Center.

They started by researching what was going on in the city’s black community at the time. They read Elite News founder Bill Blair’s biography, which gave them some perspective on the overall culture at the time. They combed through the Warren Commission Report for people of color. And they conducted interviews with family, friends and acquaintances.

“It’s Dallas’ story of black people at the assassination. You can’t Google that,” Spencer says. “It’s a big historical moment in our city, and we had no idea what our community was doing.”

The play’s story is told in five vignettes. The first takes place in a fifth-grade classroom and is told from the 10-year-old perspective of Brenda Spencer, Robertson’s mom.

“Their classrooms were all portables,” Robertson says. “Her classroom was the only one with a TV because her teacher had brought one from home to watch.”

“It’s a big historical moment in our city, and we had no idea what our community was doing.”

The second story is that of another real person, Joe R. Molina, who worked at the Texas School Book Depository.

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Robertson and Spencer interviewed Molina, who they say doesn’t like to talk about his JFK connection. According to Molina’s Warren Report testimony, Dallas police came to his home in the middle of the night soon after the assassination, woke his whole family and searched his house before asking him to come in for questioning. The chief of police told the local news media that Molina, a 16-year employee of the book depository, had been associated with “subversive persons.”

Molina was fired about three weeks after the assassination because of rumors that he was a communist and a friend of Lee Harvey Oswald, although Molina worked only on the second floor and said he never knew Oswald. Molina had trouble finding another job after that.

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“He was blackballed,” Spencer says.

The stories in the play are fictional but based on these real-life accounts.

Along with tales of the assassination, the play travels through time over the decades until the present, with a view on “progress and the plight of Dallas through the years,” Robertson says.

Spencer, 42, is a singer for Jonathan Tyler and the Northern Lights, a teacher and an artist. Robertson, 33, is a singer and actor who works full time at the UT Southwestern cancer center.

“I’m glad Theresa had the light bulb for this,” she says.

Their first play, “Pious,” is a comedy about “these two ornery old black church women who are on their way to the worst wedding ever,” Robertson says. The writing duo has expanded that play and will produce it again in November.

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