The Gospel According to James

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The Gospel According to James is a play about the events surrounding the 1930's Marion, Indiana lynching, written by Charles Smith. The play is told from the differing perspectives of Mary Ball, the supposed victim of rape, and James Cameron, one of her alleged rapists. Smith creates a meeting, decades later, between Ball and Cameron. Through their sometimes conflicting accounts of the lynching, the audience is taken back in time to relive their emotions and experiences. The play presents new information, without giving definite answers, leaving the audience with many new questions and the desire to learn more.

The play premiered at the Indiana Repertory Theatre in March 2011.
The Company of The Gospel According to James, Ball and Cameron's meeting. Photo by Julie Curry.

Charles Smith (Playwrite)

"Ultimately the play is about redemption, forgiveness, and the ferocious power that one's memory has to protect the individual." In 2005 Charles Smith was given James Madison's book Lynching In the Heartland. Despite the obstacles that he knew he would undoubtedly face while writing a play on such a controversial issue, Smith decided to rise to the challenge. The Gospel According to James is "based upon the lynching", but is "not about the lynching" Smith claims. His purpose behind writing the play goes beyond pointing out an injustice in the world, and attempts to make the invisible visible.


The majority of the reactions to "The Gospel According to James" are positive. The play presented new ideas to the audience that the Theatre Review Called "powerful, richly layered, surprisingly multi issued" and "exhilerating". Most reviewers agree that the script and plot lines are beautifully written. Even the Inianapolis Business Journal who found the plays twists and different versions of reality to be "overwhelming" at times admitted that Smith's character developments were "borderline genius". Although IBJ found the less than definite stories and perceptions to be confusing, many reviewers found the room for personal opinion to be an endearing aspect of the play. NUVO Newsweekly came to the conclusion that "overall, this production, set against a nearly bare stage with a tree-painted backdrop, is disquieting, and deeply moving."

Not only were the reviews from the professionals positive, but so was the general public's opinion. One individual who saw the play the opening week called it "moving" and extremely "though provoking". Another, found it to be "ingenious" claiming the writing was "superb" and "there was not a weak member in the cast". Another raving review from an audience member went as far as claiming "this has to be one of the best plays I have ever seen in my life. The plot was excellent." The play left the audience "speechless".


Alan Beck was interviewed on May 14th, 2011 at his home by Sulma Martinez. He went to see the play and absolutely loved it. He was intruiged about the play and the actual lynching that took place right here in Marion, Indiana. He also met with André De Shields, who played James Cameron in The Gospel According to James. Beck wanted to expand his knowledge of the lynching, so he he did some research and along with André De Shields he visited some places that were tied in with the Marion Lynching.
Alan and De Shields. Photo provided by Alan Beck

Alan was born and raised in Marion. Alan grew up as a "Proud Giant" at Marion High School. He attended Ball State and obtained a 5-year degree in landscape architecture. He moved to the East Coast for a year-and-a-half after graduating from Ball State. Alan moved back to Marion because he missed being around his family and said, "It's a different world out on the East Coast." He owns Comfort Landscapes in Marion. Alan lives with his wife and two sons; one is 4 years and the other is 6 months.

1.What did you know about the lynching before the play?

"Growing up in Marion you obviously knew about the lynching and knew that it had happened, you would hear people talk about it a little bit now and then or they would do a special on 60 minutes and Marion would be mentioned on one of the big shows." Beck admitted that he did not know much about the lynching. He said, "I was ignorant in that area."

2. How did you hear about the play?

"A friend of ours called us up," said Beck. Alan's friend said that they were doing a play about the Marion Lynching down in Indy and asked if he and his wife wanted to go.

3. Growing up did your family talk much about the Lynching?

Alan said no because his dad was born in the Jay County area, but even people and families that he knew that grew up in Marion did not talk about it. "It just wasn't something people talked about much." He said the "race issue is always kind of delicate for our parents' ages, for us it is not as big a deal because as you go through the younger generations it is not as big a deal." Alan said "It is probably easier for us to talk about it than the generations that got closer to the incident."

4.How did you feel after the play? What questions did it raise?

"I loved the play, I thought it was phenomanally done, like the writing and the way it really made you think about not even really what happened in the play was a fact because I think it really wasn't set up that way, it was just set up to think when we go through any given experience, every single person could take away from a different thing or could see it a different way", said Alan. He thought that was the coolest part because he likes to take everything he sees or does and reflect it into the play, musical, or show and also put it into his life. Alan said that it shows that "our own perception can be so different from someone else's perception of the same exact thing. He said he thought it was a neat way to show us, "who knows what really happend back then? Even the people that were there, everyone sees it a different way." He thought it was interesting to see both points of view.

5. Why did you want to go farther and learn more about the lynching after the play?

"It kind of touched your heart because of the situation, not just from one stand point or another but everyone that was involved was affected quite a bit." Alan felt that "it pulled a lot of ignorance in his knowledge" and when he finds areas that he is ignorant in it makes him want to learn more, "especially when it is something that hit so close to home, and happened right here in Marion." Back at the time period lynching was a National and world wide issue, and Alan just "wanted to learn more, and fill his knowledge."

6.Why would it be beneficial for other to see the play? Why would it be beneficial to bring the play to Marion?

Alan said that it would be "Neat" to bring the play to Marion because, "Sometimes there is that weird vibe in Marion where you don't want to talk about it and want to hide it under the rug and not talk about it, but good and bad it is something we shouldn't forget about and need to be talking about in our schools and history." He thinks that it would be good for the community to "work on healing that, because in the generations above there is still that racial tension with some people." He said that the more you bring it out the more it will help "bury that hatchet."

7. How did you meet André?

Alan met André at the Meet and Greet, which took place after the play. He and his wife stayed for 40 minutes and talked with the actors, writer, and director. André asked for Alan's phone number because he knew that he was from Marion and André wanted to visit Marion and drive around. Alan gave André his number and offered to be his guide ans said,"it will be the blind leading the blind", because Alan wasn't very familiar with all the places involved in the lynching. After De Shields called Alan to let him know that he was coming to Marion Alan decided to get help from a more experienced and knowledgeable historian, so he asked William Munn for help and information. Munn is a history teacher at Marion High School and as a historian he knows a lot about the events that took place in Marion,Indiana. Munn and Beck drove around Marion to see the most important spots to the lynching so that he could kind of have an idea of where to take André.

8. What did you and Andre do when he came to Marion?

  • Old Jail- took pictures and saw where they were dragged and lynched.
    Old Grant County Jail. Photo provided by Alan Beck
  • Courthouse-looked around.
  • Cameron's house- there are two addresses for his house, nobody is sure which one is the real one. One is on popular and the other one is on Landess, "it's kind of like the play you don't know what is a fact and what isn't."
  • Lover's Lane(past 38th st.)- where the incident initially took place.
  • Weaver's Cemmetery-where Tommy was burried, there are no markings because they were afraid people would go and desecrate it. (Abe was supposedly buried in Muncie)
  • Box Company- got off of work early from the Box Company and went to the church to plot the event. Looking at the Box company and church was kind of "eerie, you could almost put yourself back in that time period."
    De Shields at the Box Company where the victims worked. Provided by Alan Beck
    • It was poruring that day they went around on the town, the rain started making everything "more real because the stuff they were looking and doing isn't something you would do on a nice sunny day."

9. Do you have any future plans to try to bring the play to Marion?

There is such a "mixed emotions" with that topic in town. He said that there is a large group of people that think it is a good idea to bring the play to marion but there are still a lot of people that do not want to bring it out and as business owner Alan finds it hard to "stick out his neck" on controversial issues such as the Marion lynching because you can offend people. Alan doesn't necessarily want to bring the play to Marion but perform the play with local Marion people since the event took place here in Marion. He said "we have so many talented people wether it is Civic Theatre, Indiana Wesleyan, Taylor, Black History Club, or Marion High School students, we have the talent here!" He said,"it was more of the story that made it so phenominal, it was really the writing and story itseld that made it so neat", he would like to see Marion get the right and be able to perform it as a town, he believes it would make it more "powerful" if it was being done by people in Marion. If it is being done by local people it's not like "outsiders are coming in and ramming it down our throats or shoving it in our faces", it is harder for people to complain if it is us performing it rathere than letting people from outside of town do it.


"It was a spur of the moment I was just going to go watch the play but once you really get into the story, you get to the point where you want to learn more", said Beck. It is an interesting issue, "especially for an area like this, where there was obviously racial tension for some people, Marion and the midwest had a lot less tension than some other areas lynching Tommy and Abe without putting them through trial shows us how volatile the situation was." "It is something we don't want to lose, if we're not careful it just gets lost." "The less we talk about it the more the next generatino will be lost." He wants to see all this information gathered and put it into some type of media so that it will come alive and not get lost. Alan believes that, "it is not about exaclty what happened to who and who did what we need to bring the history of the lynching up and make our own chances to learn from it and grow."


  1. Photos by Julie Curry.
  2. Photos provided by Alan Beck.


The introduction paragraph and "Reviews" were written by Rachael Bingham and the interview of Alan Beck was written and conducted by Sulma Martinez. Alan Beck provided information and photos.

Works Cited

"Indy Theatre Habit » Blog Archive » Theatre Review: “The Gospel According to James” at the Indiana Repertory Theatre." Indy Theatre Habit . N.p., n.d. Web. 26 May 2011. <>.

Coyne, Katelyn. "IRT premieres 'Gospel According to James' | Performance Arts | NUVO Newsweekly | Indianapolis, IN." NUVO Newsweekly | Indianapolis, IN. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 May 2011. <>.

"Your Reviews of THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO JAMES |" | Let us know what you think!. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 May 2011. <>.

"LOU'S VIEWS: World premiere tackles Marion lynchings | 2011-04-02 | Indianapolis Business Journal |" Indianapolis Business News - Latest Indiana Headlines, Top Stories, Breaking News - Indianapolis Business Journal - N.p., n.d. Web. 26 May 2011. <

"'The Gospel According to James': Redemption in a dark tale from Indiana's past: IU News Room: Indiana University ." IU News Room: Indiana University . N.p., n.d. Web. 26 May 2011. <