Just as Ron Jones was putting the finishing touches on his one-man show spanning the black experience in the half-century since passage of the Voting Rights Act, history pulled a fast one on him.
The South Carolina Legislature voted to banish the Confederate flag from its capitol grounds in response to last month's massacre at a black church in Charleston. Passage had been in doubt until the impassioned plea of Representative Jenny Horne, a descendant of Confederate president Jefferson Davis. Jones rewrote his ending to "The Movement: 50 Years of Love and Struggle."
"To have someone with so much personal investment in maintaining the status quo take in the plight and pain of another — that gives me great hope," said Jones.
"If we as a society are ever going to grow and mature emotionally and spiritually, we have to be willing to listen to that great morality tale that is the story of the other," added the veteran actor and former artistic director of Improv Boston.
Accompanied by new and archival video, Jones plays 10 characters, ranging from a preacher to a Black Panther to a Klansman. Jones describes "The Movement" as "a dramatic show with humor peppered throughout it."
After premiering "The Movement" in Washington, D.C., last week, Jones will bring the show to Hibernian Hall in Roxbury Saturday and Sunday.
Jones charts black progress over the past 50 years as an upward line with wide zigs and zags. After the civil rights victories of the 1960s, he said, the struggle became more complex. Lacking a unifying figure like the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., the movement has splintered into groups with sometimes conflicting goals and tactics.
Jones, 52, fears that ignorance and complacency threaten to undermine all that has been achieved. Young blacks grow up without realizing how much their parents and grandparents accomplished.
"There's a great surge of pushback that we as black people have to be conscious of," Jones said, citing among examples the divisive politics of Donald Trump and the Supreme Court decision in 2013 that diluted the Voting Rights Act.
"The Movement" begins with President Lyndon Johnson signing that landmark legislation, which sought to guarantee blacks access to the polls. Jones presents its significance through William, a black janitor, who expresses his dreams for his son born that day, Aug. 6, 1965.
Returning intermittently over the course of the play, William puts a human face to the historic timeline. In one scene, William questions a teacher at his son's school who decides to move to the suburbs. The teacher views himself as a trailblazer; William sees him as abandoning his community.
Jones hopes "The Movement" jars viewers — of all backgrounds — out of their comfort zones. The two shows will each be followed by audience discussions.
Dillon Bustin, artistic director for Hibernian Hall, said based on feedback he's heard, the venue draws "the most racially mixed audience you will see in Boston." He said typically about half come from the Roxbury area and many others from the suburbs. The combination, he said, makes for animated post-show talks.
Jones has been in the business of promoting conversations between people of different races and creeds since creating "The Black-Jew Dialogues" nearly a decade ago with writer-comic-actor Larry Jay Tish of Cambridge. The two-person show, which has been performed hundreds of times across the country, consists of a frenetic series of sharp-edged, comic skits.
Jones, who grew up in a quiet, working-class black neighborhood in Washington, D.C., got his first real taste of racism his freshman year at Boston College in 1983. As he entered at age 21, he elected to room with upperclassmen. Within the first few weeks, he was startled when he overheard his roommates making casual racist comments.
Matters came to a head at a beer-soaked party, where Jones confronted a guest who was punching holes in the walls of their suite. The guest responded with a racist tirade. Stung at being told he was viewed as an uppity intruder, Jones lost his cool and threw a punch. Three partygoers, including one of his roommates, ganged up on him, punching away as others gawked. Somehow, he managed to scramble to safety.
After an investigation by the campus police and dean's office, no one was punished, and the incident, Jones said, was basically filed under "boys will be boys."
Burnt out from his studies and emotionally drained by his living situation, Jones feared he would explode at the next provocation. As he stood outside, lost in bleak thought, a windswept flier flapped against his foot. It advertised auditions that night for a campus improv group.
Jones tried out, and discovered his calling. Some three decades later, Boston College was among the first campuses to host "The Black-Jew Dialogues." And Jones has been invited back a number of times since.
THE MOVEMENT: 50 Years of Love and Struggle
Written and performed by Ron Jones
At: Hibernian Hall,
184 Dudley St., Roxbury, Saturday at 8 p.m.,
Sunday at 2 p.m.
Tickets: by donation. Reserve at 617-849-6322 or www.hibernianhall.org
Steve Maas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.