Tale of a survivor

Feb 202011
Authors: Courtney Riley

After witnessing the lynching of his two friends, James Cameron heard a mob of at least 5,000 people cry for his blood to be shed next.

A rope was put around his neck, and he was hung from the same tree as his two friends, but a voice from the crowd cried out to let him go, making him the only documented lynching survivor in history.

Patrick Sims, an associate professor of drama and theater at the University of Wisconsin- Madison, wrote and performed a one-man play, “10 Perfect: A Lynching Survivor’s Story,” that incorporated fiction to tell Cameron’s story Friday night in the Lory Student Center. Black Definition put on the event in honor of Black History Month.

Sims began the play as an elderly James Cameron and then flashed back to his past, playing 18 characters along the way, using sound effects, a chair, a podium and a few pictures displayed on a projection screen as his only props.

He incorporated some creative license into the story, but the play was based on a documentary of Cameron Sims had seen when he was in college.

The night before Cameron was lynched, his friends gave him a gun to rob a couple they caught making out in a car. But when Cameron saw the man was his No. 1 shoe-shining customer, he fled the scene and heard gunshots as he ran.

Headlines the next day read: “Three blacks raped white woman and killed white man.”

A mob of angry citizens hunted down the three men that night and lynched them the next day. While Sims attended graduate school in Wisconsin in 1998, he saw a sign advertising the Black Holocaust Museum, which Cameron had founded in 1988. After passing that sign for a year, Sims finally decided to go in.

“I bawled like a baby,” he said. “I thought, ‘How the hell did I make it this far without hearing this story?’”
He went back to the museum every day for a few weeks and was able to meet Cameron.

“I felt like we had a connection,” he said. “Our relationship created the back drop for the play.”
Sims began writing the play that year and continued talking to Cameron for eight years. The play debuted on Nov. 11, 2006 –– six months after Cameron’s death at age 92.

Although Sims plays almost 20 characters, he said he has never forgotten names or mixed up the characters, but he has forgotten lines. He said not one show has followed the script exactly, so every performance is slightly different.

“That’s part of what makes live theater so magical,” he said. “I just trust the story. What needs to be shared will be shared.”

Dominique Oliver, a junior finance major, said Sims’ performance left her speechless.

“I’m really appreciative that he came to CSU,” she said. “It wasn’t the typical history we learn in school every day.”

Shameika Ejiasi, a junior marketing major, said she thinks CSU has brought a wide variety of speakers to campus for Black History Month and was grateful for Sims’ performance.

“I’m glad I went to know what my fellow African Americans have gone through,” she said. “It means a lot to hear an actual story.”

Sims said the most powerful feedback he’s gotten from anyone was from Cameron’s son, Virgil. He told Sims that if his dad were still here, he’d be proud.

“I really take that to heart,” Sims said. “My whole intention was to make a man proud.”

_Staff writer Courtney Riley can be reached at news@collegian.com. _

About the Event

* One-man play written and performed by Patrick Sims
* Told the story of lynching survivor James Cameron
* Last Friday in the Lory Student Center
* Put on by Black Definition

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