Janet Langhart Cohen's one-act play "Anne & Emmett" imagines the intertwined lives of Anne Frank and Emmett Till – two children worlds apart, but whose struggles were vastly similar.
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Recently showcased at the National Museum of African American History and Culture, Cohen's play is an imaginary conversation between the two children: Frank, a 13-year-old Jewish girl sent by Nazis to die at Bergen-Belsen concentration camp after years of suffering during World War II, and Till, a black boy, who at age 14 was brutally murdered for whistling at a white woman while visiting Mississippi in 1955. His death became a rallying point for the Civil Rights Movement.
"They were both the same age, the tactics that each of their oppressors used was the same, they were segregated and lived in ghettos," Cohen explained on "The Takeout" podcast. "The Jewish people had to wear yellow patches to identify them from the other whites. Blacks here didn't have to wear patches. Pigmentation was enough… The Jewish people had to sit up in the balconies at cinemas. We blacks had to sit up in the balcony of theaters here in my youth – called the crow's nest."
Cohen feels the children's stories serve as a particularly stark reminder today of the pain caused by hate. She says she was deeply saddened to see hate-fueled violence in Charlottesville earlier this month. But despite this dark spot in America's history, she feels the country has come a long way in the right direction.
"I love this country with all of its warts and flaws. And yes, we are in a better situation – it looks dark now," she said. "It's a little bit dark before it gets bright again. What happened in Charlottesville is unfortunate, but we have to remember this country's original sin is slavery."
"We're not enslaved anymore. We have to remember there used to be signs up – not only just for black people but for those were black but those who were Jewish and those who are Irish."
Janet Langhart Cohen's career has spanned from model to TV personality to the "first lady of the Pentagon." The wife of former Secretary of Defense William Cohen has throughout, however, been an advocate for social justice.
For more from Major and Steve's conversation with Janet Langhart Cohen, download this week's podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play, or Spotify. Also, you can watch this week's episode on CBSN FridayandSaturday nights at 9pm ET/PT. New episodes are available via podcast everyFriday morning.
Produced by: Arden Farhi and Katiana Krawchenko