A woman dressed in formal church clothes sits at the back of the rotunda on a rainy Wednesday evening. As a few people enter, she continues to write in her journal. Getting up to begin her act, she speaks in the voice of an elderly woman.
This is Joanna Maddox, portraying Rosa Parks, the mother of the civil rights movement.
Maddox, while acting, embraced the persona of Parks so thoroughly as to greet stragglers entering the rotunda with a “Good evening!” and “Glad y’all could come out in this awful weather.”
The actress gave a powerful description of growing up in the segregated South. She described the life of Parks, growing up working on a plantation in Alabama and meeting her husband, Raymond. One story involved her confusion over whether the water tasted different at fountains marked “Whites Only” than ones marked “Blacks Only.”
The highlight of Maddox’s presentation was explaining the famous moment where Parks refused to move to the back of the bus. Maddox sang a favorite hymn of Parks’ saying that Parks believed it gave her strength while she was in jail.
The event finished with a group of student volunteers singing the famous protest song “We Shall Overcome.”
An experienced actress, Maddox has portrayed the likes of Harriet Tubman and Bessie Coleman for her historical programs. She also does shows as Diana Ross, Tina Turner and Whitney Houston. Of them she says, “My divas have taken me everywhere!”
The Feb. 1 event was part of the Office of Student Life’s Spring into Diversity event series.