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After 50 years, cast members of “In White America” reunite

Phyllis Lawhorn, a student at Rufus King High School, along with Joe McCarty and Linda Plutchak from Kaukauna High School, were among the cast of the 1966 production of "In White America." Joanne Williams photo
Phyllis Lawhorn, who was a student at Rufus King High School, along with Joe McCarty and Linda Plutchak from Kaukauna High School, were among the cast of the 1966 production of “In White America.” Joanne Williams photo

MILWAUKEE — Three of the original exchange students from 1966 Kaukauna High School and Rufus King High School production of “In White America” gathered for a reunion this past weekend in Milwaukee.

The reunion, held at the Milwaukee School of Engineering, was organized by Joanne Williams, a producer and filmmaker from Milwaukee, who currently is working on a documentary about the groundbreaking performance called “Kaukauna and King: 50 years later.

The group had not seen each other in 50 years. Phyllis Lawhorn, a student at Rufus King High School at the time joined Joe McCarty and Linda Plutchak from Kaukauna High School, who gathered to meet again and talk about their experience.

Plutchak said it was a wonderful experience to see Lawhorn, who stayed at Plutchak’s home during the Kaukauna run of the play.

“Looking back on it, we were really invested in the play,” Plutchak said. “We knew it was a big deal.”

Current Rufus King High School students, who will perform the play “In White America” in November for what is probably the first time in Wisconsin since 1966, got to meet them.

In 1966 two Wisconsin high school teachers decided to do something about racial understanding in their communities.

Ruth Thomas, an English teacher from Rufus King High School in Milwaukee and Thomas Schaffer an English teacher at Kaukauna High School arranged an exchange of students.

The students lived in each other’s homes and presented a controversial play in each community.

Williams, host of “Black Nouveau” on Milwaukee Public Television, was a student at King and the time and has been tracking down the students and the people who helped in the exchange to see what impact it had on them as high school students and who they have become 50 years later and look at their perspectives on race relations in America in 2016.

Rufus King High School cast members along with original members of the 1966 production of "In White America." Joanne Williams photo.
Rufus King High School cast members along with original members of the 1966 production of “In White America.” Joanne Williams photo.

 

 

 Phyllis Lawhorn, a student at Rufus King High School, center, an exchange student at the home of Kaukauna High School senior Linda Plutchak, right, during the 1966 performance of "In White America." She was photographed with Linda's siblings Carrie, Scott, Dan an Beth.
Phyllis Lawhorn, a student at Rufus King High School, center, an exchange student at the home of Kaukauna High School senior Linda Plutchak, right, during the 1966 performance of “In White America.” She was photographed with Linda’s siblings Carrie, Scott, Dan an Beth. Herb Plutchak/photo

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Dan Plutchak
Dan Plutchak, born and raised in Kaukauna, is cofounder of Kaukauna Community News.
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