Project Unspeakable is a creative, empowering, community-building initiative to challenge the official silence that for decades has surrounded the “unspeakable” assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert Kennedy.
In so doing, we also intend to shed light on the “unspeakables” of today — school-to-prison pipelines, police brutality, mass surveillance, extreme economic divides and covered-up crimes that have led to or worsened the multiple crises that currently beset our country and the world. Ultimately, the goal of Project Unspeakable is to motivate people to demand and work for governmental and corporate openness, transparency, and democratic accountability, which we believe is a prerequisite for effectively addressing the multiple social, political, and environmental crises we currently face.
In the broadest sense, Project Unspeakable is an attempt to liberate the truth, so that the truth can liberate us.
Coinciding with the 50th anniversary of the death of John F. Kennedy and inspired by James Douglass’ remarkable book, JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters (Simon & Schuster, 2010), playwright Court Dorsey and associate writers Stephen Wangh and Debbie Lynangale created the documentary play Project Unspeakable based on historical quotes related to the assassinations of these four pivotal leaders.
We are deeply indebted to James Douglass for his research, writing, support and encouragement. He was the one who introduced us to Thomas Merton (internationally respected spiritual writer, Trappist monk and social observer and activist) and his use of the term “unspeakable”. From Jim’s book (page xv):
“The Unspeakable” is a term Thomas Merton coined at the heart of the sixties after JFK’s assassination—in the midst of the escalating Vietnam War, the nuclear arms race, and the further assassinations of Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, and Robert Kennedy. In each of those soul-shaking events Merton sensed an evil whose depth and deceit seemed to go beyond the capacity of words to describe.
“One of the awful facts of our age,” Merton wrote in 1965, “is the evidence that [the world] is stricken indeed, stricken to the very core of its being by the presence of the Unspeakable.” The Vietnam War, the race to a global war, and the interlocking murders of John Kennedy, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, and Robert Kennedy were all signs of the Unspeakable. It remains deeply present in our world. As Merton warned, “Those who are at present so eager to be reconciled with the world at any price must take care not to be reconciled with it under this particular aspect: as the nest of the Unspeakable. This is what too few are willing to see.”
Why do this, and why do it now?
By shedding light on the “unspeakable” assassinations of the 1960’s, the Project raises questions about what is happening now, in terms of similarly covert, often criminal activities on the part of rogue elements within the U.S. government, the military, the intelligence/national security agencies, and their corporate allies (think Wikileaks revelations, recent NSA revelations, etc.) Thus, the Project has the potential to bolster current demands for governmental and corporate openness, transparency, and democratic accountability—a likely prerequisite for effectively addressing the multiple social, political, and environmental crises we face.
Revelations about data leaks and spying, covert U.S. military actions in foreign countries around the world, the undermining of basic civil and human rights and Constitutional protections, and the enormous behind-the-scenes influence of giant corporations regarding government actions and policies have led many people to question whether a quiet coup d’etat by the ‘National Security State’ and their corporate allies has taken place. Many suspect that our country is being run by an informal and largely invisible ‘Shadow Government’ that is beyond the reach of our citizens and their elected representatives, and thus of any real democratic accountability. Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter stated in July, 2013: “America does not at the moment have a functioning democracy.” See related readings.
Starting in November 2013, the U.S. began a five-year period covering the 50th anniversaries of the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., and Robert Kennedy. These anniversaries provide the opportunity for a generation of baby-boomers who have lived most of their adult lives in the rubble of shattered dreams, who have seen the great leaders of their generation slaughtered in officially whitewashed circumstances, to come forward to insist that the truth finally be uncovered regarding this destruction of lives and visionary leadership.
In addition, Project Unspeakable offers young people a unique opportunity, not only to learn more about these four inspirational leaders of the 1960’s, but also to re-energize their recent efforts to confront current manifestations of the “Unspeakable,” as many have already been doing in the “Occupy” and climate action movements. Creative responses to the script (writing, poetry, music, spoken word, theater) provide vibrant windows on current events. Project Unspeakable events have brought together multi-racial audiences, inspiring readers and participants to consider the deaths of these four key leaders as elements in our joint U.S. history.
Who’s part of this project?
Staff and Volunteers:
The Project is delighted to have a dedicated team of staff and past and current volunteers, including:
- Court Dorsey
- Randy Kehler
- Debbie Lynangale
- Christopher Sikes
- Brad Fox
- Cheryl Fox
- Ivan Ussach
- Doug Wilson
- Bill Strickland
- Amilcar Shabazz
- Leslie Sullivan Sachs
- Judy Hall
We’re also grateful for the contributions of our past staff members, Karen Rehmus, Marlene Buchanan, Monique Desir and Vanessa Lynch.
This play, and Project Unspeakable as a whole, owe an enormous debt of gratitude to James Douglass, researcher and author of JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters. His research, his writing, his support and his encouragement were essential to the development of this script, and our subsequent Project work. We are also very grateful for the support of Stephen Wangh (associate writer of Project Unspeakable, theater professor and author, co-writer of The Laramie Project), and researchers and authors David Ratcliffe, Eli Martin Schotz, Lisa Pease, James DiEugenio, and John Schuchardt.
Convergences Theatre Collective (CTC) Collaborators
Under the direction of Jeremy Williams and Liz Stanton, over 30 diverse “makers” (professional theater artists working “on their feet”) provided input and feedback, helped develop a theatrical narrative and characters, and created preliminary design elements for the dynamic storytelling that is now part of Project Unspeakable: The Play, our theatrical version of the original documentary material. We quite literally could never have created The Play without their collaboration.
We are very grateful to already have the following wonderful and widely respected people as endorsers:
• Abdullah Abdur-Razzaq (speaker, writer, Staff Consultant for Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, former top aide to Malcolm X charged with the formation of Malcolm’s Organization for Afro-American Unity)
• Joan Baez (internationally acclaimed folksinger, songwriter, musician, and campaigner for human rights, disarmament, and nonviolence)
• Medea Benjamin (social change activist, co-founder of Global Exchange and Code Pink, Green Party candidate for U.S. Senate from California in 2000)
• Roy Bourgeois (U.S. Navy veteran, Catholic priest, human rights activist, founder of School of Americas Watch, advocate for women’s ordination)
• Iya Bush-Olatunji (long-time personal friend of Malcolm X and his wife Betty Shabazz; wife of legendary activist and African musician, choreographer, and drummer Babatundi Olatunji)
• John Dear (Catholic priest, author, lecturer, peace & disarmament activist, Nobel Peace Prize nominee)
• James Douglass (theologian, writer, speaker, co-founder of Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action, author of JFK and the Unspeakable)
• Shelley Douglass (speaker, writer, activist, coordinator of Mary’s House Catholic Worker community in Birmingham, Alabama)
• Patricia Ellsberg (public speaker, peace activist, former radio host, meditation leader, collaborator in revealing “Pentagon Papers”)
• Robert Ellsberg (author, former editor of “The Catholic Worker,” editor-in-chief and publisher of Orbis Books, publisher of the cloth-bound edition of JFK and the Unspeakable)
• Daniel Ellsberg (U.S. Marine Corps veteran, State Department analyst, “Pentagon Papers” whistleblower, author of Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers)
• Eve Ensler (activist, author, playwright, creator of “The Vagina Monologues,” initiator of “V-Day: the Global Movement to End Violence Against Women”)
• Evelyn Harris (singer, arranger, composer, performer, teacher, vocal instructor, former member of the internationally acclaimed Black women’s a capella ensemble, Sweet Honey and the Rock)
• John Judge (peace & anti-militarism activist, JFK assassination researcher, director of Coalition on Political Assassinations)
• Kathy Kelly (peace activist, author, speaker, founding member of Voices in the Wilderness and Voices for Creative Nonviolence, Nobel Peace Prize nominee)
• James Lawson (leading theoretician and tactician of nonviolent direct action during Civil Rights Movement, mentor to Nashville Student Movement and Student Nonviolent Coordination Committee, Methodist pastor, and university professor.)
• Joanna Macy (activist, author, teacher, speaker, workshop leader, scholar of Buddhism, general systems theory, and deep ecology.)
• Cynthia McKinney (international human rights activist, author, former six-term Congresswoman and first woman to represent Georgia in the U.S. House of Representatives, 2008 Green Party candidate for U.S. President, member of Citizens’ Commission on 9/11)
• Deena Metzger (writer, poet, playwright, essayist, prize-winning novelist, counselor, spirit-based healer)
• Paul Schrade (former director of United Auto Workers in California and associate of UAW founder Walter Reuther, aide to Robert F. Kennedy during 1968 presidential campaign, wounded during RKF assassination)
• Amilcar Shabazz (professor, Chair of W. E. B. Du Bois Department of Afro-American Studies at University of Massachusetts/Amherst, Secretary of National Council for Black Studies, author of books on racial justice and equality, history of African-Americans in the U.S.)
• Martin Sheen (peace activist and nationally-acclaimed film and television actor, director)
• Bill Strickland (professor of African-American Studies and Director of W.E.B. Du Bois Papers Collection at University of Massachusetts/Amherst, founding member of Institute of the Black World, author of companion book for PBS documentary “Malcolm X: Make It Plain”)