‘Trains’ retells Corbin’s dark history

Published 9:54 am Thursday, October 26, 2023

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By Lance Gaither


On Oct. 30, 1919, more than 200 African American residents of Corbin were forcibly removed from the town and sent to Knoxville, Tennessee after being forced into box cars.

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According to NPR, after reports of a white man being mugged by two black men, an armed mob formed and forcibly removed the town’s black residents. This was a time known as the Red Summer, a period of rampant racial and labor disputes, many of which were violent.

The fate of those who were shipped to Knoxville is unknown. Southern playwright Quinton Cockrell is a professor at Troy University in Alabama and has written the play “Trains” which explores a group of people that decided to stay in Knoxville.

“I’m sure some people stayed and some went to other places, but we do know that none of them ever returned to Corbin,” Cockrell said

Cockrell learned of the removal and Red Summer during a monologue writing contest at the Barter Theatre in Abingdon, Virginia, where the play was on stage on Oct. 1

“I had never heard of this happening or all the riots in 1919,” Cockrell said. “I saw it as a learning experience. I was interested in the circumstances surrounding it and how someone would handle it if it happened to them.”

Cockrell hopes the play can teach people that there can be positive changes and to understand the negative effects of racism.

“I think there is a little ray of hope in there,” Cockrell said. “I am very interested in the psychological effects of racism. I think it is very mentally scaring in a way you can’t understand unless you experience it yourself. I think to many people deny that and I wanted to bring that out for discussion.”

He hopes the play can bring an honest discussion on the history of race in America.

“One of the characters in the play downplays what happened,” Cockrell said. “I think some people these days try a bury the history of race in this country.”