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Mothers of the revolution: Reading highlights black women in civil rights fight

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Call them the women of their words.

The words of the black women who led the civil rights movement of the 1960s will ring out at the Weeksville Heritage Center in Crown Heights on March 16. The reading event “The Black Woman: She Does Exist,” co-sponsored by the National Black Theatre and the historic Center, pays tribute to the often-overlooked women who pressed for progress during a pivotal period of history, said the show’s director.

“Knowing that the ’60s were such a time of social revolution, we wanted to look at, who are the mothers of that revolution? The mothers are never given homage or acknowledgement, especially the black women,” said Jonathan McCrory.

The show features four pieces written by black women in the 1960s, each dealing with the stereotypes, prejudice, and resistance the authors faced. And all of the works rings true nearly six decades after they were written, said the show’s co-curator.

“What surprised me most about reading these women thinkers from the ’60s is the outlook that they had,” said ChelseaDee Harrison, who lives in Cypress Hills. “It’s going to amaze people to see how relevant the conversations still are.”

The event takes its name from the first reading, a 1967 essay published in the New York Times by National Black Theatre founder Dr. Barbara Teer about the stereotypes facing black actresses. Other historic readings will include an article on preservation by the first director of the Weeksville Society, Dr. Joan Maynard; activist Ella Baker’s “Address at the Hattiesburg Freedom Day Rally,” which she read at a 1964 protest in Mississippi against voter suppression; and a manifesto by anonymous members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee decrying the poor treatment of women in the civil rights movement.

The event will also feature a trio of younger black women giving a modern response to those readings, with a re-imagined “to be or not to be” speech highlighting black female tropes, a poem discussing the #MeToo movement, and a monologue — performed by Harrison — about Juneteenth, the holiday celebrating the abolition of slavery across the United States.

A final discussion between the performers and the audience will close out the evening, and hopefully help build links among the crowd, said Harrison.

“Jonathan and I were interested in an inter-generational conversation, and we wanted to bring that into the audience,” she said. “There are going to be a lot of age ranges in the audience, and hopefully this post-show conversation will get them to talk to each other and realize that we do need to have this link across time.”

“The Black Woman: She Does Exist” at the Weeksville Heritage Center (158 Buffalo Ave. at St. Marks Avenue in Crown Heights, www.weeksvillesociety.org). March 16 at 6 pm. $10.

Reach reporter Julianne McShane at (718) 260–2523 or by e-mail at jmcshane@schnepsmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @juliannemcshane.
Posted 12:00 am, March 15, 2019
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