Today’s post was written by library student assistant, Kaylee Tokumi. She is a psychology and English double major from Hawaii.
During the our sixth annual Women’s Voices event, four talented undergraduate actresses brought four historical Black women back to life. The event, titled “With Courage and Responsibility, We Look to the Future: Black Suffragist Voices,” honored women of color who not only fought for voting rights but challenged how the United States treated African Americans in their time. Each speech reenactment was as moving as the next and spurred the audience to think critically about womanhood and race. With an election looming just around the corner and social movements raising awareness for discrimination against Black communities, it’s more important than ever to look back on the history of voting and civil rights in general. The program was directed by Dr. Daphnie Sicre, an assistant professor of theatre arts, and moderated by Dr. Jennifer Williams, an assistant professor of African American studies.
We were first introduced to Sojourner Truth, a black woman born in captivity, who spoke about being a woman, feminism, and intersexuality. Sojourner talked of her hardships, her grueling labor as she farmed, her grief when her children were sold into slavery. Her voice remained strong as she talked of the prejudice she faced as a Black woman and confidently asked in her fight for equality, “Ain’t I a woman?” She ended her speech by underlining the power of women. Women, she said, possessed the ability to right the wrongs of society and the world.
Next, we met Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, a writer, single mother, and leader who helped slaves escaped to Canada through the Underground Railroad. Coolly collected, Harper spoke of the tribulations she endured throughout her life, but she also talked about influential women throughout history who bravely fought for females and people of color. Near her conclusion, she voiced strong criticism of society, particularly of white women, and emphasized how giving white women the right to vote was but a single step in the uphill fight for justice.
The next speaker was Anna Julia Cooper, a Black scholar who spoke of solidarity when fighting for equal rights. She proclaimed, “We take our stand on the solidarity of humanity, the oneness of life, and the unnaturalness and injustice of all special favoritisms, whether of sex, race, country or condition.” Her words sounded of unity and strength for all people.
Mary Eliza Church Terell, a teacher and advocate for issues related to the social welfare of Black women, was our last speaker. Her speech started with a story of triumph, one that highlighted how much women and people of color have progressed, but she also spoke about the challenges that her people still faced. Terell declared, “With courage, born of success achieved in the past, with a keen sense of the responsibility which we shall continue to assume, we look forward to a future large with promise and hope.” Her words stressed how she was fighting for future generations, not just her own. The teachings of Terell and the other women within this program were powerful and will continue to resonate with people for years to come.
The last half of the program was a questions and answers segment, allowing the audience could connect with the speakers, directors, and content in a more intimate way. One of the most reoccurring questions asked what preparations the actresses took to play their historical figures? The answer: research. Each person involved in the performance researched the women they portrayed and the history that surrounded them. Their hard work helped to give their performance life in an accurate, genuine way.
Another question was, “How were the women within the performance chosen?” The answer again was research. The director about researchers learned about and chose Black women from a diverse range of backgrounds who each brought their own interesting perspective about the social issues of their time. They also added that many voices were lost in history, never properly recorded or preserved.
There are still numerous voices from the past and present still yearning to be heard, both famous and not. We should continue to learn from our history to build a strong foundation for the future.