Poet and playwright Marcus Gardley grew up in West Oakland, but his relatives (who were also his neighbors), came from New Orleans, which influenced him as much as the Bay Area did. He's always been interested in his ancestry, taking French in college and reading whatever he can find about New Orleans.
That's how he found the subject for his new play at the Berkeley Repertory Theater, The House that will not Stand, about free women of color in 1836 New Orleans, women who lived as spouses of wealthy white men. Gardley was fascinated by this little-known history.
“These African American women were millionaires,” he said. “The best they could they made the system work for them – they owned houses, and they were involved in politics. Many scholars consider them the first real civil rights activists. They were majorly influential in getting people freed from slavery, including their own relatives.”