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In Relentless, the character Franklin owns a wine company and shares “a robust red with a velvet finish” with his new acquaintance Janet. Here is a list of wine companies with Chicago roots, as well as local restaurants and shops to explore. For a list of other Black-owned wineries, check out this Wine Enthusiast Magazine listing with “A Global Guide to Black-Owned Wine Labels,” as well as this article from Essence Magazine listing the “The 7 Most Sought After Black-Owned Wines In The World.”

Wine Companies (with Chicago roots)

Wine and Dine



A part of the experience when you see Relentless at Theater Wit is being able to take in the collection of framed photos that offer a vivid glimpse into the lives of late 19th and early 20th century Black Americans living robustly after emancipation. We hope you are inspired, seeing these photos, to consider your own history and the ancestors who made a difference in your family’s story over the past 100 or more years.

We’d love for you to share images of your family with all who attend Relentless! If you have family photographs—from generations ago or perhaps more recent, but showing multiple generations in one image—we invite you to share them on social media, using the hashtag #RelentlessFamilyPhoto, and tagging @TimeLineTheatre. You can do this on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook.

Together we’ll build an album of memories, honoring the ancestors who brought us to today and who influence our tomorrow.


Chapters in Relentless are a tribute to authors that playwright Tyla Abercrumbie admired over the years. Abercrumbie states, “I have found the titles and the depth of each work extremely profound and highly recommend them for reading.”

Chapter One: No Place to Be Somebody by Charles Gordone (1969)

Charles Gordone’s 1969 play captures the protest, violence, and chaotic change seen in America’s urban cities throughout the 1960s. The play debuted off-Broadway in 1969, garnering Gordone a Pulitzer in 1970, the first win by an African American playwright. According to Mia Mercer, “Gordone’s 1970 play made history for several reasons. Unlike most plays of the time, No Place to Be Somebody features several characters from different races with different backgrounds and centers its focus on Johnny Williams, an African-American bar owner. Throughout the play, these characters explore the struggles of living in a white-dominated society while also depicting how the characters are influenced by other races and prejudices.”

Chapter Two: We Wear the Mask by Paul Laurence Dunbar (1896)

Paul Laurence Dunbar was born on June 27, 1872, to two formerly enslaved people from Kentucky. He became one of the first influential Black poets in American literature and was internationally acclaimed for his dialectic verse in collections such as Majors and Minors (1895) and Lyrics of Lowly Life (1896). As Dunbar’s friend James Weldon Johnson noted in the preface to his Book of American Poetry: “Paul Laurence Dunbar stands out as the first poet from the Negro race in the United States to show a combined mastery over poetic material and poetic technique, to reveal innate literary distinction in what he wrote, and to maintain a high level of performance. He was the first to rise to a height from which he could take a perspective view of his own race. He was the first to see objectively its humor, its superstitions, its short-comings; the first to feel sympathetically its heart-wounds, its yearnings, its aspirations, and to voice them all in a purely literary form.”

We wear the mask that grins and lies,
It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,—
This debt we pay to human guile;
With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,
And mouth with myriad subtleties.

Why should the world be over-wise,
In counting all our tears and sighs?
Nay, let them only see us, while
We wear the mask.

We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries
To thee from tortured souls arise.
We sing, but oh the clay is vile
Beneath our feet, and long the mile;
But let the world dream otherwise,
We wear the mask!

Chapter Three: A Black Woman Speaks by Beah Richards (1950)

Beulah Elizabeth Richards (1920-2000) known commonly as Beah Richards, is primarily known as an actress on the stage, film, and television. She is perhaps best recognized for acclaimed roles in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967) and Beloved (1998), the film adaptation of Toni Morrison’s 1987 novel.

Excerpt from A Black Woman Speaks
A Black Woman Speaks…
Of White Womanhood
Of White Supremacy
Of Peace
It is right that I a woman
should speak of white womanhood.
My fathers
my brothers
my husbands
my sons
die for it; because of it.
And their blood chilled in electric chairs,
stopped by hangman’s noose,
cooked by lynch mobs’ fire,
spilled by white supremacist mad desire to kill for profit,
gives me that right.

I would that I could speak of white womanhood
as it will and should be
when it stands tall in full equality.
But then, womanhood will be womanhood
void of color and of class,
and all necessity for my speaking thus will be past.
Gladly past.

But now, since ‘tis deemed a thing apart
I must in searching honesty report
how it seems to me.
White womanhood stands in bloodied skirt
and willing slavery
reaching out adulterous hand
killing mine and crushing me.
What then is this superior thing
that in order to be sustained must needs feed upon my flesh?
How came this horror to be?
Let’s look to history.

They said, the white supremacist said
that you were better than me,
that your fair brow should never know the sweat of slavery.
They lied.
White womanhood too is enslaved,
the difference is degree.
They brought me here in chains.
They brought you here willing slaves to man.
You, shiploads of women each filled with hope
that she might win with ruby lip and saucy curl
and bright and flashing eye
him to wife who had the largest tender.
And they sold you here even as they sold me.
My sisters, there is no room for mockery.
If they counted my teeth
they did appraise your thigh
and sold you to the highest bidder
the same as I.

Chapter Four: To Be Young, Gifted, And Black by Lorraine Hansberry (1964)

Lorraine Hansberry (May 19, 1930 – January 12, 1965) is most notably known as a playwright whose play, A Raisin in the Sun (1959) was the first play by an African American woman to be produced on Broadway. To Be Young, Gifted, and Black is an assemblage of Lorraine Hansberry’s writing from her plays, essays, letters, and speeches accompanied by her drawings and photographs. Created as a memoir-style play, the text was later developed into an autobiography. The play as well as the autobiography (1970) were further developed by Hansberry’s ex-husband and lifelong confidant, Robert Nemiroff, after her death in 1965. The play opened on off-Broadway in 1968.

According to playwright and second wife of Nemiroff, Jewell Handy Gresham-Nemiroff, “YGB was strategically conceived to get [Hansberry’s unfinished] projects underway after it became clear that established producers were not at all interested in either the life or the work of a young, female, and black deceased playwright, whose entire reputation rested on the strength of two plays, one, A Raisin in the Sun, commercially and critically successful, and the other, The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window.” The title, To Be Young Gifted and Black, was taken from Hansberry’s final speech made to young winners of a United Negro College Fund writing contest. Although Hansberry was quite ill, she left her hospital bed on May 1, 1964, to address the winners and began with the memorable words: “I wanted to come here and speak to you on this occasion because you are young, gifted and black.”

Chapter Five: “What Shall I Tell My Children Who Are Black?” by Margaret T.G. Burroughs (1963)

Margaret Taylor Goss Burroughs (1915-2010) was born in St. Rose Louisiana and moved to Chicago with her family as a child during the Great Migration. She would become one of Chicago’s most celebrated figures. As a poet, Burroughs published several highly regarded collections, including For Malcolm: Poems on the Life and the Death of Malcolm X (1967), with Dudley Randall. Other collections include What Shall I Tell My Children Who Are Black? (1968) and Africa, My Africa! (1970). The poem, What Shall I Tell My Children Who Are Black is a story that describes the fear that Black women experienced as they brought children into the world and were mothers during the 1960s.

Excerpt from What Shall I Tell My Children Who Are Black?

What shall I tell my children who are black
Of what it means to be a captive in this dark skin
What shall I tell my dear one, fruit of my womb,
Of how beautiful they are when everywhere they turn
They are faced with abhorrence of everything that is black.
Villains are black with black hearts.
A black cow gives no milk. A black hen lays no eggs.
Bad news comes bordered in black, black is evil
And evil is black and devils’ food is black…

What shall I tell my dear ones raised in a white world
A place where white has been made to represent
All that is good and pure and fine and decent.
Where clouds are white, and dolls, and heaven
Surely is a white, white place with angels
Robed in white, and cotton candy and ice cream
and milk and ruffled Sunday dresses
And dream houses and long sleek cadillacs
And angel’s food is white…all, all…white.

What can I say therefore, when my child
Comes home in tears because a playmate
Has called him black, big lipped, flatnosed
and nappy headed? What will he think
When I dry his tears and whisper, “Yes, that’s true.
But no less beautiful and dear.”
How shall I lift up his head, get him to square
His shoulders, look his adversaries in the eye,
Confident of the knowledge of his worth,
Serene under his sable skin and proud of his own beauty?

What can I do to give him strength
That he may come through life’s adversities
As a whole human being unwarped and human in a world
Of biased laws and inhuman practices, that he might
Survive. And survive he must! For who knows?
Perhaps this black child here bears the genius
To discover the cure for…Cancer
Or to chart the course for exploration of the universe.
So, he must survive for the good of all humanity.
He must and will survive.
I have drunk deeply of late from the foundation
Of my black culture, sat at the knee and learned
From Mother Africa, discovered the truth of my heritage,
The truth, so often obscured and omitted.
And I find I have much to say to my black children.

Chapter Six: “If We Must Die” by Claude McKay (1919)

Claude McKay (1889-1948), born Festus Claudius McKay in Sunny Ville, Jamaica, was a key figure in the Harlem Renaissance. He is the author of Harlem Shadows (1922), Constab Ballads (1912), and Songs of Jamaica (1912), among many other books of poetry and prose.

In Black Poets of the United States, Jean Wagner noted that “If We Must Die” transcends specifics of race and is widely prized as an inspiration to persecuted people throughout the world. “Along with the will to resistance of black Americans that it expresses,” Wagner wrote, “it voices also the will of oppressed people of every age who, whatever their race and wherever their region, are fighting with their backs against the wall to win their freedom.”

If We Must Die

If we must die—let it not be like hogs
Hunted and penned in an inglorious spot,
While round us bark the mad and hungry dogs,
Making their mock at our accursed lot.
If we must die—oh, let us nobly die,
So that our precious blood may not be shed
In vain; then even the monsters we defy
Shall be constrained to honor us though dead!
Oh, Kinsmen! We must meet the common foe;
Though far outnumbered, let us show us brave,
And for their thousand blows deal one deathblow!
What though before us lies the open grave?
Like men we’ll face the murderous, cowardly pack,
Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back!

Philadelphia’s Black-run Hospitals

The city of Philadelphia was a pioneer in establishing African American-run hospitals. Founded by Dr. Nathan F. Mossell in 1895, the Frederick Douglass Memorial Hospital and School for Nurses was the first Black-run hospital in Philadelphia and the second Black-run hospital in the country. In addition to serving the Black community of Philadelphia, Mossell was deeply invested establishing a training ground for future Black doctors and nurses. The hospital was located between 1512 and 1532 Lombard Street. The hospital was well-equipped to handle many medical crises, from whooping cough to childbirth. In fact, the hospital had a success rate of surgeries during its first few years of operation.

The second Black-run hospital in Philadelphia, Mercy Hospital and School for Nurses, opened in 1907. As the story goes, Dr. Eugene Hinson and several of his Black colleagues left Frederick Douglas Memorial Hospital and began their new hospital on the Northwest Corner of 17th and Fitzwater Streets. The hospital would later move to the South-West Philadelphia region at 50th and Woodland Avenue.

By the midpoint of the century, both Mercy Hospital and Frederick Douglas Hospital struggled financially. However, it is essential to note that a significant reason for the respective hospital’s financial dilemmas is their continued care for Black patients who could not pay their hospital bills. To save both hospitals from financial ruin, Mercy Hospital and Frederick Douglas Hospital joined together in 1948, thus becoming Mercy-Douglass Hospital and residing at the 50th and Woodland Avenue location. Unfortunately, the now merged Mercy-Douglass never recovered financially and closed its doors in 1973.

Philadelphia and The Great Migration

The Great Migration (also known as the Great Northern Migration) was the period at the beginning of the 20th Century when African Americans left the rural South for the “Promised Land” of the North. Accordingly, African Americans who took part in the mass exodus left the cotton and tobacco fields for developing urban cities such as Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Detroit, Chicago, and St. Louis. The Great Migration significantly contributed to the growth of the Black population in the North. According to Fredric Miller, “As of 1910, the 84,459 black Philadelphians comprised 5.5% of the population.” Between 1915 and 1970, among 500,000 to 1 million Black southerners uprooted their lives from the rural south to the urban north (several thousand Black southerners moved west) in search of a better life with opportunities to vote, better wages, slightly better schools, and less exposure to white hostility. According to the National Archives, “Between August and October of 1917, the State of Pennsylvania received 850 requisitions for 246,164 men, including 186,000 Blacks, for unskilled laborers.” In short, jobs at factories, munition plants, docks, sugar mills, and steel mills were a primary reason for Black southerners to uproot from the south and relocate north, subsequently allowing them a sense of full citizenship as they participated in the development of the urban economy. Women took up employment as domestic workers, schoolteachers and administrators, and nurses. For example, Bessie Yancey relocated to Philadelphia in 1918 from Boykins, Virginia, and took up a position as a children’s nurse.