Historical play on racist chapter in St. Paul returns to neighborhood its based on

At CityLife Church, an ugly piece of St. Paul's past is taking center stage.

"Unknown,” said Tom Fable, a co-author of the play. “Wrongly unknown. It should be known. It is an important piece of history for the city both black and white."

The play “Not in Our Neighborhood” tells the story of prominent attorney William Francis and his wife Nellie, who moved from the predominantly African-American Rondo neighborhood to the all-white Macalester Groveland neighborhood in 1924.

They were met with resistance and threats of violence from their new neighbors including two cross burnings in their yard as well as an angry mob of over 100 demonstrators. Yet, they remained in the house for three years until Francis was named ambassador to Liberia where he died in 1929.

“They are like the Barrack and Michelle Obama of the 1920's,” said Eric Wood, a play co-author and director. “They were a power couple. How come no one knows about them or no on seems to, so I felt the story needed to be broadcast. Needed to be heard.”

After an elder at CityLife read an article about the play being staged at the Landmark Center, he learned the Francis' house is just four doors down from his church. He contacted the director and author and convinced them to perform "Not in Our Neighborhood" in the neighborhood where it actually occurred.

"We're hoping the proximity to the actual event adds to the weight the emotional appeal and gravitas, the overall experience," said Elder Michael Johnson of CityLife Church.

The play's authors hope their creation not only illuminates a dark chapter in St. Paul's history, but also shines the spotlight on a pair of citizens who deserve to be remembered for their courage and dignity.

“I hope the neighborhood comes, learns, acknowledges history and moves forward,” said Wood.