Man in front of Rouge Plant Forgotten:
The Murder at the Ford Rouge Plant
A Jazz Opera

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"Forgotten", a musical production that celebrates Detroit history and tells the story of a Depression-era minister's efforts to help workers, will have its world premiere March 5-7 at Marygrove College Theatre in Detroit, sponsored by the Michigan Labor History Society and others. The premiere coincides with the 72nd anniversary of the Ford Hunger March.

Through 30 songs based in blues and jazz, "Forgotten" tells a moving story -- sometimes comic, often dramatic, and always gripping -- of friends, family, and the fight to overcome racism in order to build a union. It focuses particularly on the life of the Rev. Lewis Bradford, a Methodist minister who hosted a radio show, "The Forgotten Man's Hour", broadcast on WXYZ from Detroit's Howard Street Mission. Bradford interviewed workers on breadlines and in soup kitchens to help tell the public about their problems.

Taking a job at the Ford River Rouge plant to earn money for his daughter's medical needs, Bradford sought to interest Henry Ford in developing better relationships between workers and management. Ford rejected his overtures, then one night in November, 1937, Bradford was found unconscious in a remote part of the River Rouge plant. He died three days later and a funeral was held at Central Methodist Church, where he had regularly worshipped.


Some sixty years later, jazz musician Steve Jones, a grandson of Bradford's wife's cousin, began looking into this family tragedy. A worker at the Wayne County Medical Examiner's office unearthed Bradford's autopsy report after a two-month search, and the Medical Examiner's office reviewed it. The conclusion: Bradford's injuries were not consistent with a fall and should probably have been labeled a homicide. "That discovery propelled me to tell Lewis Bradford's story so that his efforts for a better world would never be forgotten," Jones said.

When "Forgotten" was previewed at the George Meany Center near Washington, D.C. last May, the show was sold out two weeks before opening night, and won wide acclaim.

Native Detroiter Elise Bryant, whose father worked at the Rouge plant, will direct the performances here. Although set in the 1930s, the production uses the music of today (Bryant calls it a "jazz opera") and a professional cast of Detroit artists. It is being presented in cooperation with the Matrix Theatre Co. Veteran Detroit jazz artist Bill Meyer is music director. Co-sponsors include the labor studies programs at Wayne State University, the University of Michigan, and Michigan State University, as well as the Washington, D.C.-based Labor Heritage Foundation.

Marygrove College Theatre is located on W. McNichols at Wyoming in Detroit. Performances are at 8 p.m. on Friday, March 5, and Saturday, March 6, and at 3 p.m. on Sunday, March 7. Tickets are $25 with group discounts available. For reservations and information, please call the Michigan Labor History Society, producer of the event, at 313-577-4003.

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