Thursday, January 31, 2013

LIberty, Justice and Civil Rights for One and All

Think of a time when "all" meant "all white males who owned land." That time would have been in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, when the United States was being formed.

Nowadays land is almost a synonym for property, but then property could have been people.  Legally slaves were considered personal property. Owning slaves increased the man's net worth, but also increased taxes and assessment. So having property – both real and personal – indicated wealth, status and power, all things kept for a few instead of shared with many.

Imagine a time when "all" meant "all white males." That time would have been around 1820, when "universal suffrage" meant all white men could vote. The circle enlarged to include the common man, but African Americans, women, Native people and others stood outside.

But justice and passion can not be contained. So think of a time when those standing outside decided everyone should stand together.

I could be talking about today, couldn't I? But I'm talking about the 1830s, when the women and men spoke against oppression by speaking to one and all.

Abby Kelley Foster
I linger on the last few words because I'm thinking of Abby Kelley Foster.

She became an abolitionist in 1837,  after hearing William Loyd Garrison speak. She became a follower and then a prominent organizer and speaker.  She was radical, demanding an immediate end to slavery and equal rights for African Americans and women.

She practiced when she preached before "promiscuous audiences" - the term for a mixed gender crowd. But she went further.

In 1838, she spoke at the Second Anti-Slavery Convention of American Women. She was one of several women who took the podium in newly constructed Pennsylvania Hall, addressing a crowd of white and African American men and women. It was all too much for anti-abolitionists to bear.  They attacked the speakers that night. The next day, a mob surrounded the building and burned it to the ground.

Try to imagine a time when "all" means any one can enjoy privileges and rights shared by every one.
One day. One day

This blog explores issues raised by "If She Stood," a play by Ain Gordon and Nadine Patterson for the Place Philadelphia project. Please subscribe to receive posts in your email.
"If She Stood" will run for six performances:
  • Friday, April 26, 2013 at 8 p.m.
  • Saturday, April 27, 2013 at 8 p.m.
  • Sunday, April 28, 2013 at 3 p.m.
  • Friday, May 3, 2013 at 8 p.m.
  • Saturday, May, 2013 at 8 p.m.
  • Sunday May 5, 2013 at 3 p.m.

Tickets are on sale now - BUY HERE.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

"If She Stood" Official Flyer

If She Stood considers a small band of women who used personal and collective action to upend their world. In 1833 many of these women joined in founding the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society, a self-propelled multi-racial collective whose members fought variously to end slavery, boycott goods produced by the labor of enslaved people, protect newly freed men and women, better education, foster literacy, improve nutrition, promote temperance, and offer women hygienic instruction. Often speaking in public, these women were judged equally for their radical politics and for daring to rise to their feet before a seated gathering of both genders, a woman daring to stand and value her opinion in public.

Commissioned by the Painted Bride Art Center, written and directed by Ain Gordon in collaboration with Nadine Patterson, If She Stood will muse on women of 19th century Philadelphia who decided to take a stand.

Ain Gordon’s If She Stood has been supported by The Pew Center for the Arts & Heritage and is made possible in part by support from the National Performance Network (NPN) Performance Residency Program.

A part of the Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts 2013

Share the If She Stood flyer with your friends with the social toolbar below! 

Monday, January 21, 2013

The 13th Amendment and the Ironies of History

Image from the National Archives

On the cusp of a doubly momentous day – the second inauguration of the nation's first African American president falls on the Martin Luther King Jr., holiday  – our virtual observance should include studying a document partially responsible for these events. That document is, of course, the 13th amendment to the Constitution.

It's an eighth-grade lesson you've probably forgotten: the 13th amendment to the United States Constitution freed the slaves. Did you recite the fact in a monotone or fill the words on a blank during a multiple choice test?

This meticulously written page was a destination in a journey of a thousand steps. Many of them  were taken in Philadelphia by women like the Grimke sisters and members of the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society.

The amendment emancipated slaves, but did not make them citizens. That occurred with passage of the 14th amendment. The 15th amendment gave the vote to African American males

What did society members do when the 13th amendment passed? Interestingly, they kept up the fight. According to the Historical Society of Pennsylvania:
   "Following the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 and passage of the 13th Amendment in 1865, most abolition societies disbanded or remade themselves into freedman’s aid societies. ... But ultimately the group’s members decided that their work as abolitionists was not finished. Echoing Robert Purvis, Lucretia Mott felt that the fraught and violent period of Reconstruction proved particularly dangerous for the free black man. She charged that the PFASS should “sound the alarm” whenever freedmen’s rights were threatened and work to expand those rights. By December 1866, the PFASS committed to holding a festival on Market Street to raise awareness and funds for the cause of black male suffrage."

The irony was clear, even to the society's members. Until the passage of the 13th amendment, the organization was fighting to extend equality: so that Blacks, like Whites, could be free. In 1866, though, they fought to give African American men a right they didn't have themselves – the right to vote. Even more ironically, they were successful. When the 15th amendment passed, all men were able to cast a ballot.

 By the time women won that right in 1920, Jim Crow had effectively disenfranchised most African Americans, regardless of their gender.

This blog explores issues raised by "If She Stood," a play by Ain Gordon and Nadine Patterson for the Place Philadelphia project. Please subscribe to receive posts in your email.

"If She Stood" will run for six performances:
  • Friday, April 26, 2013 at 8 p.m.
  • Saturday, April 27, 2013 at 8 p.m.
  • Sunday, April 28, 2013 at 3 p.m.
  • Friday, May 3, 2013 at 8 p.m.
  • Saturday, May, 2013 at 8 p.m.
  • Sunday May 5, 2013 at 3 p.m.

Tickets are on sale now - BUY HERE.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

PBS Explores Abolition as an American Experience

Portrait of Angelina Grimke
from Library of Congress
The PBS show, "American Experience" starts a three-part series on abolition. The series, entitled "The Abolitionists," explores the lives and work of five prominent members of the movement: John Brown, Frederick Douglass, William Lloyd Garrison, Angelina Grimke, William Lloyd Garrison and Harriet Beecher Stowe.

Philadelphia is featured in an interactive map displaying archival material and videos. Episodes will be show on Jan. 8, 15, and 22. Check the "American Experience" site to find local broadcast times.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Painted Bride Partners with Women's Way for FREE film screening of "Not My Life"

If She Stood considers a small but vital collection of women who worked to radically upend numerous societal wrongs through personal and collective action. In 1833, many of these women joined in the founding of the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society. Through their work in the Society many of these women individually happened upon what was then called “the women’s question” – issues of women's suffrage, reproductive rights, bodily autonomy, property rights, legal rights, medical right, sexual  freedom, and marriage.  

The Society paved the way for woman-centered organizations of the future, including Women’s Way

January is Human Trafficking Awareness & Prevention Month, and Painted Bride has partnered with Women’s Way for a special screening of “Not My Life” - the first documentary film to depict the horrifying and dangerous practices of human trafficking on a global scale - followed by a discussion on the impact of human trafficking and domestic violence in our region.

Join us on Tuesday, January 8, 2013 at 6:30pm for the screening and discussion, which will include conversation with If She Stood director and playwright, Ain Gordon. Attendance is FREE, but you must RSVP HERE.
About Not My Life:

Filmed on five continents over a period of four years, "Not My Life" unflinchingly, but with enormous dignity and compassion, depicts the unspeakable practices of a multi-billion dollar global industry whose profits, as the film's narration says, "are built on the backs and in the beds of our planet's youth." While acknowledging that trafficking and slavery are universal crimes, affecting millions of human beings all over the world, "Not My Life" zeroes in on the fact that the vast majority of trafficking and slavery victims are indeed children. This fundamental truth, says the film's director, Oscar® nominee Robert Bilheimer, raises profound questions about the very nature of our civilization. "What kind of society cannibalizes its own children?" Bilheimer asks. "Can we do these sorts of things on such a large scale and still call ourselves human in any meaningful sense of the term?"

The film has a running time of 83 minutes. Learn more about "Not My Life" and view the trailer by visiting the film’s website:

About Women’s Way: 

WOMEN’S WAY is the leading education, advocacy and grantmaking organization for women in the greater Philadelphia area. WOMEN’S WAY chairs the advocacy committee of the Philadelphia Anti-Trafficking Coalition, an affiliation of social service, government, and law enforcement agencies dedicated to combating human trafficking in the Philadelphia area.  The coalition aims to create a network of agencies working together to empower victims and hold traffickers accountable.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Free at Last: Reflections on the 150th Anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation

Church-going African Americans have a tradition. On New Year's Eve, we gather in a sanctuary to pray and sing in the new year at a Watch Night service. Being that I'm a gospel musician, the question isn't whether I'll attend a service but which service I'll attend.

So Dec. 31, 2012 found me in a pew at a special service. Our bulletin didn't tell a story from scripture. Instead, we got a lesson from history. Our ancestors weren't watching for God or the Christ Child. They stayed up to watch for freedom. The Emancipation Proclamation was signed on Jan. 1, 1863. This year marks its sesquicentennial.
Page one of the Emancipation Proclamation

There were caveats: freedom depended on a Union victory and slave-holding states that remained in the union, like Maryland, were exempted. The proclamation had no effect in Pennsylvania, which had enacted "An Act for the Gradual Abolition of Slavery" in 1780.

But Pennsylvania, especially Philadelphia was a hotbed of abolitionism. As Professor Edward Raymond Turner noted in 1911,
Nowhere can the early history of abolition be studied to better advantage than Pennsylvania. There was organized the first formal protest ever made against slave-holding in North America. There arose the first In Pennsylvania was founded the first and the greatest of the abolition societies. In Pennsylvania was passed the first law to bring slavery to an end.

During the Watch Night service, I thought about all I've learned since I began blogging for Place Philadelphia and "If She Stood." So many times, the abolition of slavery is presented as the consequence  of the Emancipation Proclamation. But history knows the document resulted from years of advocacy and struggle.  On the sesquicentennial of the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, I raise my voice to praise all those who stood for such a righteous cause.

This blog explores issues raised by If She Stood, a play by Ain Gordon and Nadine Patterson for the Place Philadelphia project. Please subscribe to receive posts in your email.

If She Stood will run for six performances:
  • Friday, April 26, 2013 at 8 p.m.
  • Saturday, April 27, 2013 at 8 p.m.
  • Sunday, April 28, 2013 at 3 p.m.
  • Friday, May 3, 2013 at 8 p.m.
  • Saturday, May, 2013 at 8 p.m.
  • Sunday May 5, 2013 at 3 p.m.
Tickets are on sale for the first weekend - BUY HERE.