By Scarlett Duffill Haddon and Imogen Sahni
An Evening with Mrs Terrell and Friends was an exciting day in which students visited Manchester Metropolitan University, learning about black women’s activism and the fight for gender and race equality from 1900 – 1960s. The day was sponsored by the British Association for American Studies, the US Embassy and Manchester Metropolitan University. It ran in collaboration with award-winning playwright and historian Pamela Roberts, Dr Marie Molloy and Student Ambassadors from the University.
To begin the day Pamela Roberts presented a screening of her play An Evening With Mrs Terrell and Friends, which was introduced through a monologue delivered by George Ukachukwu. The monologue explored the experience of black male academics at Oxford, whilst the play took on a broader approach. On a surface level, the play focused on the politics of Mrs Mary Church Terrell, who alongside others campaigned for suffrage and racial equality. It was immensely refreshing to see Roberts’ portrayal of the black contribution to the American suffrage movement, which has been largely disregarded in historiography and public memory. There were clear racial divides within the women’s suffrage movement, seen through figures such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton, yet Roberts’ play goes one step further to explore colourism, classism and hierarchy amongst the African American community. The play was a complex response to the history of intersectionality and the hidden victims who live within it, with Roberts’ exploring the themes of colourism, echoing tones from Rebecca Hall’s Passing (2021). Moreover, Roberts took on a relatively progressive approach to teaching history, as she chose to tell black women’s history through a play, rather than through a typically academic format. This is incredibly important as it breaks down the barriers and helps to make history accessible to a wider audience. This was reflected through the students’ responses at the end of the day, and through the Q&A which was hosted after the workshop; students were engaged, and were encouraged to think about privilege, hierarchy, and selective memorialisation.
The afternoon comprised of workshops in which students learned about influential women in the civil rights movement. The Key Stage Three workshops included a short Q and A about studying at university as well as an activity in which students created posters about influential women in the civil rights movement. Students were actively involved, and it was brilliant seeing them exercise their creativity in this task. The Q and A helped challenge some students’ perceptions about learning at university ‘It can show you … it’s not just writing down, copying massive paragraphs, it’s about learning about things with practical examples and real-life stories.’ The Key Stage Five workshop focused on themes of intersectionality and misogynoir. The workshop was centered around primary source analysis focusing on sources from Angela Davis and Audre Lorde. This allowed students to learn more about black women in the civil rights movement whilst enhancing their practical history skills. From student feedback, it was clear they enjoyed this opportunity to learn more about black women in the civil rights movement, a subject largely neglected by school curriculums. ‘I thought it was really educational and brought a lot of light to the civil rights movement and black people in power.’ Not only did this day give students the opportunity to learn more about black women’s activism in the fight for racial and gender equality, as Scarlett, one of our Student Ambassadors articulates, we also learned a lot. ‘Personally, I really enjoyed covering new aspects of black women’s history, and I really enjoyed doing the research behind the preparation for the workshop.’ The day gave all our student ambassadors an opportunity to collaborate, develop our skill sets and gain new experiences.