Black History: Women’s Suffrage
By Dr. La'Tarvia Parrish
Livingstone College students enrolled in Dr. Da’Tarvia Parrish’s Women and Gender US History course experienced a form of service-learning on Tuesday, February 18, 2020. Dr. Parrish, who serves as Vice President for the Salisbury Branch’s American Association of University Women (AAUW), and who is also a member of New Hope AME Zion Church, led a program to complement AAUW’s 100 Years of Women’s Suffrage Celebration and Moore’s Chapel AME Zion Church’s Black History Programming. The two-fold program included a narrated dramatization with orations, spirituals, dance, and followed with a lecture presentation by professor Dr. Mary Love of Hood Theological Seminary.
The presentation began with junior, Computer Information Systems major Thelma Roberts, an international student from Liberia and Dr. Parrish’s eleven year old daughter, Seven-Hazel Boone, a sixth grader at Gray Stone Day School, portraying African origins in a mother-daughter village chant and dance. The skit shows child is stolen and taken into captivity as the bereaved parent laments a monologue entitled, “Old Captive Way of the Mighty Sea.” Loghan Burkes, a junior Biology major from Columbia, SC and trained dancer ribbon-danced to Mahalia Jackson’s, “Soon I Will Be Done,” as Roberts exited and social work majors Lilmildre Corley of Jacksonville, NC and Shania Scott of Robeson County, NC rendered excerpts from the Library of Congress’s Federal Writers Project Slave Narratives, Fannie Butler and Mary Peters; who both depict slave women’s subjections to white male sexual assault and violence.
Vocalists senior Liberal Studies major Zariah Johnson of Atlanta, Georgia and freshman Business Administration major Savannah Bennett of Wadesboro, NC soothed audience members with the familiar tune, “Wade in the Water” as junior social work major from Columbia, SC Briana Samuel portrayed Harriet Tubman gathering and leading other slaves on the Underground Railroad. The suffrage movement gained momentum as sophomore Criminal Justice major Victorian Adams of Lillington, NC presented Sojourner Truth’s Ain’t I A Woman speech followed by an extensive narration highlighting women such as Helen Nannie Burroughs, Charlotte Rollin, Mary Church Terrell, Mary Ann Shad Cary, Mary B. Talbert, and Charlotte Forten Grimke’ to name a few. Senior Biology major Pearl Cunningham of Spartanburg, SC brought much attention to the internal struggle of the Suffrage Movement as it relates to racial inclusiveness with her portrayal of anti-lynching crusader and social advocate, Ida B. Wells-Barnett. Vocalists Johnson and Bennett sang “Oh Freedom” as the journey to senior Liberal Studies major Briana Bell of Fayetteville, NC as Mary McLeod Bethune showcased how black women could not separate the fight for racial equality and voting rights; whereas Bethune told of the time she went door-to-door raising money for poll taxes and held night classes at the school she founded for girls to instruct all black citizens on how to pass a literacy test, even under the threat of local Ku Klux Klan members.
Junior social work major Tre’Shonda Sanders of Charlotte, NC represented Little Rock, Arkansas leader Daisy Bates who discussed her role in the city’s school integration and work with the Democratic National Convention for President Lyndon B. Johnson’s poverty campaign. Contributing to the work of Bates, Moore’s Chapel member Briana Jackson offered a dramatic rendition of one of Little Rock’s Nine, Elizabeth Eckford who detailed her horrific experience of trying to integrate Central High School. Sophomore, Korrie McEachern of Goldsboro, NC danced to “Eyes on the Prize” as the scene transitioned to sophomore Shanique Brinkley of Charlotte, NC as Mississippi sharecropper, Fannie Lou Hamer. With a digital display of Hamer’s testimony before the Credentials Committee in 1964, Brinkley helped to tell Hamer’s experience through action and concluded in song with “This Little Light of Mine.”
The final speaker of the evening was thirteen years-old Camille Duncan of Charlotte, NC – an eighth grader at Piedmont Open Middle School as Shirley Anita Chisolm, the first African American and first woman to run for President of the US States in one of the two major political parties. The young women concluded their program with a unison march to the tune, “Ain’t Gon’ Let Nobody Turn Me ‘Round” led by vocalists Bennett and Johnson through the aisles of the church until exiting. Their performance lauded a standing ovation as Dr. Mary Love concluded the program with a lecture focusing more on North Carolina (s)heroes and their impact on our society.
The program was sponsored by Livingstone College, Hood Theological Seminary, American Association of University Women’s Salisbury Branch, and Moore’s Chapel AME Zion Church. Dr. Parrish stated, “As a member of AAUW and an instructor of African American History, I know this type of programming is extremely important as we embark upon our centennial celebration of the Suffrage Movement, to highlight all parts of American history. Yes. The 19th Amendment was momentous, but the reality was it did not grant the franchise to all women in the United States because much focus was given to white, middle and upper class women who at times would slander others; in particularly black women, in an effort to gain favor with those who were influential in deciding the vote for women. Also, Native and Chinese Americans were not given consideration until the 1940s, and of course we know the voting struggle of African Americans during the Civil Rights Movement, particularly in the 1960s. Our country has come a long way and with community and awareness, we will continue to grow. ”