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Remember the Time: Radio Golf’s Message of Remembrance

By A Noise Within
October 25, 2022

August Wilson’s Radio Golf is a riveting drama with moments of belly-aching humor as Pittsburgh’s first Black mayoral candidate, Harmond Wilks, must choose between personal ambition and communal progress. In addition to the role of director, Gregg has taken on the role of teacher in the rehearsal room. When asked about his vision for the story, Director Gregg T Daniel said, “The play is about many things but certainly assimilation and remembrance. [August Wilson] wanted people to remember that you’re obligated to reach out and bring someone along with you.”

Harmond & Mame Wilks and Roosevelt Hicks are well-educated Black people trying to climb the social and political ladders. In 1997, they represented everything we have strived to be. Mame, Harmond’s wife, is a campaign maestro sculpting Harmond’s mayoral run. She is the co-author of his political story. Her success in building her husband into a legitimate candidate has led to an interview, and sure hire, with the governor.

Harmond and Roosevelt, business partners, picked up golf to further chase validation instead of a love for the game. The golf course is where businessperson Bernie Smith approached Roosevelt with the opportunity to run WBTZ. Roosevelt often derives self-worth from his financial position in society. Every time he slings the N-word, the word drips with self-hate. In a rant towards Sterling Johson, he castigates Black people using familiar racist tropes and stereotypes that are still being combatted today. He and Harmond have a similar goal in restoring Hill District, but they have very different motivations.

Harmond and Mame’s mayoral campaign is centered on a development project that includes a new apartment complex with a rooftop garden. Roosevelt’s reputation and career are dependent upon the development project as well. They envision a Hill District that attracts big businesses like Whole Foods, Barnes & Noble, and Starbucks. Before the ground can be broken, they must demolish an abandoned home, 1839 Wylie, which sits in the middle of their site. The home was acquired by Harmond illegally, but it still belongs to Bedford Developments. The rightful owner, Old Joe, solicits Harmond’s help to regain ownership of the home.

If you’re familiar with August Wilson’s Gem of the Ocean, the first play in Wilson’s American Century Cyle, you recognize 1839 Wylie as the home Aunt Ester. In Gem of the Ocean, Aunt Ester is the embodiment of ancestral connection. She embodies all the memories and traditions from our ancestors. Black people from all over trekked to 1839 Wylie for guidance and direction from Aunt Ester. Everything she is still lives at 1839 Wylie in 1997. For Harmond and Roosevelt, 1839 Wylie is a hindrance to their progress. When the owner of the home solicits Harmond’s help in protecting his home, Harmond is presented with a decision. Reconnect with your history and community or destroy them both for personal gain.

In a 60 Minutes interview August Wilson explains what happens when a group of people is separated from their history:

If that connection to your grandparent is broken then you are lost in the world. You don’t know who you are, you don’t know what your duty is. Without that tradition, without something in place that says, ‘this is how you conduct yourself in the world’, then we’re just wandering all over the place without any purpose, without any future, without any direction. 

For a while, Harmond’s connection to his ancestry was broken. Voices of the community like Sterling Johnson and Elder Joe Barlow helped him remember. Harmond talked about improving “The Hill” without talking to the people of the Hill. They never asked for an apartment complex that will probably displace them. Old Joe only wanted to keep his house and new lights at the park for the kids. He merely wanted the basic rights extended to everyone else.

Mame and Roosevelt never connected with Sterling nor Old Joe. They chose not to remember. When Harmond decides against the demolition of 1839 Wylie, Mame and Roosevelt’s careers are collateral damage. Mame loses her job with the governor and Roosevelt is on the brink of irreparable harm caused to his business reputation. They prioritize their careers above their relationship with Harmond. They were both attached to Harmond financially and socially but when he was no longer beneficial to them, they discarded him.

In 2022, what August Wilson would want us to remember? There are more Black billionaires than ever, but progress has slowed to a snail’s pace. On social media we rejoice in the accomplishments of a few, while lamenting the position of many. What have we forgotten? Did we forget that this place was not designed for us to thrive? Did we forget that we are standing on the shoulders of the people that sacrificed before us? Maybe the answers lie in stories from the past, some passed down through generations via word of mouth while others were written and given life on a stage.

Author: Kelvin Hicks

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Photo credit: Christian Telesmar and Sydney A. Mason by Daniel Reichert.