STEP RIGHT UP AND MEET
KENDRICK JONES IS WILLIE ROBERSON
Willie Roberson was born in Columbus, Georgia on the Fourth of July, 1915. His father walked out a month after his birth. His mother died when he was two and Roberson was raised by his grandmother. When she died in 1930, Roberson left his job as a hotel busboy in Georgia to go to Chattanooga in search of work. Finding none available, he boarded a freight for Memphis in search of free medical care. Roberson suffered from an advanced case of syphilis. He was alone in a boxcar at the end of the train when he was arrested just outside of Scottsboro and accused of rape.
Roberson could neither read nor write. He also had difficulty speaking which made him the butt of many courtroom jokes.
Roberson’s six years in jail were difficult. He suffered from asthma and the lack of fresh air aggravated his condition. He said, “If I don’t get free, I just rather they give me the electric chair and be dead out of my misery.”
Throughout the many trials, he stuck to his testimony. Eventually, even prosecutors came to believe him.
Roberson was one of the four Scottsboro Boys released in 1937. Upon his release, he was continually plagued by ill health and suffered asthma attacks and bad luck. One night in Harlem, he was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct. He wrote, “I am again a victim of almost inconceivable malignity – and though I hartily dislike the role of myrter, I have been cast in that role and is seems impossible to escape it.” Roberson’s asthma had been greatly aggravated during his time in jail and he eventually died of an asthma attack.
Read more about Willie Roberson at Scottsboro: An American Tragedy.
KENDRICK JONES created this role in The Scottsboro Boys at the Vineyard and Guthrie Theaters. Off-Broadway: Stairway to Paradise (City Center Encores!). Regional: Bubblin’ Brown Sugar (Fox Theatre, Atlanta). Other theatre credits include Looking for Josephine (Opera Comique, Paris), Barack on Broadway (New Amsterdam Theatre), Broadway By the Year and All Singin’ All Dancin’ (Town Hall NYC). Trained at NYU Tisch School’s ETW. www.myspace.com/TAPKID257.
THE SCOTTSBORO BOYS begins performances October 7 and opens October 31 at the Lyceum Theatre (149 West 45th Street).
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