Serial Black Face revisits the trauma of the Atlanta Child Murders

Janine Nabers’s play, which premieres at Actor’s Express on April 2, won the 2014 Yale Drama Series competition
Serial Black Face Actor's Express
Illustration by Edel Rodriguez

It has been more than three decades since two teenage boys went missing in Atlanta in the summer of 1979. Their disappearances were the first of 29 kidnappings and murders—almost all of young black boys and men—that rocked the city until 1981. For Bunnie Jackson-Ransom, the memories of a traumatized community remain vivid: “[Families] with young black boys were holding tight to their children and praying a lot,” she says. Jackson-Ransom’s ex-husband, Maynard, was Atlanta’s first black mayor, and the crimes dominated headlines during his second term. “There was pandemonium within public housing communities and in southwest [Atlanta] where most black people lived,” she says. “On any given weekend, volunteers from the African American community would scour wooded areas where bodies of the boys had been found, looking for clues and evidence to help police.”

That tumultuous chapter is revisited now in dramatic form with the world premiere of Janine Nabers’s Serial Black Face at Actor’s Express (April 2 through 24). The play, which won the 2014 Yale Drama Series competition and was presented as a staged reading at Lincoln Center Theater, focuses on a single mother named Vivian living in an Atlanta housing project, who wrestles with the disappearance of her young son and changing relationship with her daughter. Nabers, an alumna of Atlanta’s Alliance/Kendeda National Graduate Playwriting Competition, has referred to the events that inspired Serial Black Face as “a time in America that has been gravely overlooked.”

This article originally appeared in our April 2016 issue under the headline “Reign of Terror.”