African American Heritage Corner

In 2nd AAHH appearance, historian Stan Deaton to discuss race, American history pre-Civil War

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When Stan Deaton first delivered a lecture for the African American Heritage House in 2019, his presentation title was a question:  “What About Those Confederate Monuments?” 

That lecture remains one of the most in-demand program in AAHH’s archives, and at 3:30 p.m. today in the Hall of Philosophy for the Chautauqua Speaker Series, Deaton returns to the grounds with another question: “Can’t We Stop Talking About This? Race and American History (1776-1865).”

“I’ve always been interested in people and their stories, and the connection between people and the past,” Deaton said in 2019. “I see the unchanging past flow into the present.”

Deaton is the senior historian and the Dr. Elaine B. Andrews Distinguished Historian at the Georgia Historical Society, where he has worked since 1998. There, he is a public speaker, teacher and lecturer. He serves as managing editor for the Georgia Historical Quarterly; helps secure materials like the Vince Dooley Papers for the  library and archives; leads teacher training workshops; writes historical markers; and conducts oral history interviews — among myriad other tasks.

His lecture today, with a focus on the years between the start of the Revolutionary War and the end of the Civil War, serves as both a sequel and prequel to his 2019 talk. Then, he focused on the late 19th century and early 20th century, and the installation of Confederate monuments. At the time, it was a question front-of-mind for many, and Deaton asked if such monuments should be considered works of history, or of public art. Ultimately, he said, monuments are history — but an embodied history of the beliefs of the communities in which they were built. He used the Robert E. Lee Monument in New Orleans, constructed in 1884, as an example. The statue was removed by the City of New Orleans in 2017.

“I don’t think a statue of Robert E. Lee has anything to do with Robert E. Lee,” he said in 2019. “A representation put up (14) years after he died has nothing to do with him, and when it’s in a public space it represents the values of the community.”

Deaton holds a Ph.D. in history from the University of Florida, a Masters in history from the University of Georgia, and Bachelors degree in journalism from UGA.  He is the Emmy-winning writer and host of “Today in Georgia History,” produced for TV and radio by GHS and Georgia Public Broadcasting.

In advance of his last lecture at Chautauqua, Deaton said he hoped people would come with an open mind and see history from a different perspective.

“I’m not trying to condemn anyone in the past,” he said. “All I am trying to do is help us all understand the past.”

Focusing on Haitian works, poet-in-residence Georges to give AAHH lecture

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Kaitlyn Finchler
Staff writer

Learning is a two-way street. Professionals can learn from their students, and vice versa. In the world of poetry, there’s myriad topics, cultures and languages that can inform one another.

Chautauqua Writers’ Center Week Six poet-in-residence Danielle Legros Georges will give her lecture, “The Three Leaves from the Tree of Haitian Poetry,” at 3:30 p.m. today in the Hall of Philosophy for the African American Heritage House’s Chautauqua Speaker Series, instead of a traditional Brown Bag. 

“I’m excited to speak about the work of two great Haitian poets who have made important contributions to Haitian letters,” she said. “They both wrote in Haiti and other parts of the world, and are part of a strong Haitian literary tradition that has been flourishing since 1804.”

Both poets are part of a broader Caribbean and African diasporic tradition and letters, she said. As Haiti is experiencing a political and humanitarian crisis, media outlets often report on the nation’s challenges, but not about Haiti’s writers.

“I thought this would be a good opportunity to add an understanding of Haiti beyond the moniker we hear in the news — the poorest nation in the Western hemisphere,” Georges said.

Chautauquans will leave with an idea of the original, Haitian literary tradition, she said, as well as an additional narrative connected to Haiti.

Georges is the author of several books of poetry, including The Dear Remote Nearness of You, which won the New England Poetry Club’s Sheila Margaret Motten Book Prize, and a professor of creative writing at Lesley University. As a professor and poet, the balance for her is a “life of art making” and each one feeds the other.

“I often learn a great deal from my students,” Georges said. “I tried to bring what I’m working through in my own heart to my students … so ideally, there’s a nice synergy between the two areas.”

She also works in translation, specifically from Haitian-French poet Ida Faubert, in her book Island Heart. As a biracial, bicultural and privileged woman, Faubert was a “complex literary figure” who didn’t “fit socially-prescribed categories for women in France or Haiti.”

“(In translating,) I tried to lift from what I understand to be the meaning and then later, this theory, spirit of the original,” Georges said. “I have to do a little bit of homework before that — the writer’s biography, a sense of context (and) sense of priorities.”

She then “renders the original text,” with all of the ideas, implications and connotations into English. Her inspiration for poetry is drawn from a long interest in history and social justice.

“Poetry, for me, is a way to confront and work with language as a system,” Georges said, “language as a carrier of ideas and meaning, and a way to think about how we think and find new ways to do it.”

The Rev. Gary V. Simpson, Senior Pastor of Concord Baptist Church to give AAHH talk


At 3:30 p.m. today in the Hall of Philosophy, the Rev. Gary V. Simpson will deliver the Week Four installment of the Chautauqua Speaker Series for the African American Heritage House.

Simpson has served as the senior pastor of Concord Baptist Church of Christ since 1990, and is associate professor of homiletics at Drew Theological Seminary. He has served as Visiting Professor of Preaching, Worship and the Arts at Union Theological Seminary, and has taught at New Brunswick Theological Seminary, Harvard Divinity School, Yale Divinity School, Princeton Theological Seminary and Candler School of Theology.

At Concord Church, Simpson created a formal Pastoral Residency Program in 2002 with the support of the Lilly Endowment; this program has aided a generation of seminary graduates as they transition to congregational ministry. In 2011, again with Lilly Endowment support, that program expanded to three more African American Baptist congregations.

In January 2023, it was announced that the Pro- gressive National Baptist Convention would use a $1 million grant from the Lilly Endowment to fund a five-year training program for ministers of the historically Black denomination as they adapt their preaching in an age changed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Simpson will lead planning.

“Now that we are at this stage in the pandemic’s life with us,” Simpson in a PNBC statement, “we are all facing challenges of hybridity, and so the program will also examine questions like, ‘What shape and form will our preaching take? How do we employ available technology? Are there emerg- ing models of proclama- tion worth studying more diligently?’ ”

Simpson graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Denison University with a Bachelor of Arts in Religion and Black Studies; earned the Master of Divinity from Union Theological Seminary in New York City, and the Doctor of Ministry Degree from United Theological Seminary.

Campain Legal Center’s voting rights expert Lang to give Week 3’s AAHH lecture

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Since Danielle Lang joined Campaign Legal Center in 2015, she’s had her work cut out for her.

As senior director of voting rights, she’s led litigation against Texas’ racially discriminatory voter ID law, Florida’s modern-day poll tax for rights restoration, Arizona’s burdensome registration requirements, North Dakota’s voter ID law targeting Native communities, and numerous successful challenges to signature match policies for absentee ballots.

At 3:30 p.m. today in the Hall of Philosophy, as part of the African American Heritage House’s Chautauqua Speaker Series, Lang will discuss her work leading CLC’s voting rights team as they safeguard the freedom to vote.

At CLC, she litigates in state and federal courts from trial to the Supreme Court, and advocates for equitable and meaningful voter access at all levels of government. She’s been a civil rights litigator her entire career — she’s a 2012 graduate of Yale Law School — and has been a Skadden Fellow in the Employment Rights Project of Bet Tzedek Legal Services in Los Angeles, where she represented low-wage immigrant workers in wage and hour, discrimination, and human trafficking matters. From 2012 to 2013, she clerked for Judge Richard A. Paez on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

Among CLC’s many initiatives is the “Democracy Decoded” podcast, which debuted its second season — focused on the freedom to vote — last fall. For that podcast, Lang outlined how the history of American self-governance has been intertwined with the struggle — generation to generation — to expand the freedom to vote. 

The freedom to vote, first granted just to white, property-owning males, now extends to all eligible citizens. But it was a long, uneven road, Lang wrote in November 2022, and challenges persist. Even after the ratification of the 19th Amendment, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the struggle for equal access to the ballot continues for many — including Latinos, Native Americans, Asian Americans, voters with disabilities and citizens with past convictions, she wrote.

“At Campaign Legal Center, we recognize that preserving the rights so many fought for so long to achieve requires constant vigilance,” she wrote. “Our mission is to ensure that every citizen can vote without barriers, no matter their circumstance. To make every vote count, our elections must be secure and accessible, so everyone’s voice is heard.”

The 2022 elections threw the challenges voters face into stark light. Lang listed them: Fewer opportunities to vote by mail or vote early in some states; outdated and restrictive voter registration policies; and discriminatory voter ID laws, to name a few.

Any one of those roadblocks can lead to not just frustration, but doubt about the inclusiveness of American democracy.

“Every vote should count, and every voice must be heard. Systemic barriers that keep voters from the ballot box must be opposed, and efforts to expand the freedom to vote and make voting more accessible must be encouraged,” Lang wrote. 

At CLC, Lang and her colleagues use litigation, policy analysis, state-based advocacy and public education efforts — like the podcast Lang wrote to introduce — to protect the freedom to vote and build confidence in our election system. 

“Realizing the vision of a more perfect union governed by ‘we the people’ requires nothing less,” Lang wrote.

The African American Heritage Corner Week Nine

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The beauty of Chautauqua rests in its otherworldliness. From the rustling of the oak trees as you sit within the Hall of Philosophy, to the quiet peace of a walk along the lake before the sun has risen, this place holds a special combination of beauty and peace. For thousands of people, over almost 150 years, the Institution has been an escape from the reality of daily life. Imagine a dinner table at any house on the grounds. It is 6 p.m. and the porches are bustling with a steady stream of conversations and laughter. You begin to set the table for a large dinner party placing cutlery, glasses, napkins and plates at every chair. Once the guests begin to arrive, you meet them at the door welcoming them warmly into your foyer. “Make yourself at home,” you say as each person replies with a grateful smile.

In my role as the program director for the African American Heritage House, I am often asked by extremely well-meaning Chautauquans, “Why don’t more Black people come to Chautauqua?”

I attempt to tactfully reframe that question by suggesting that the question itself is problematic. The question we should be interested in is:

Why is Chautauqua unable to retain African American guests? Why do so few return once they have visited?

These questions, at times, ruffle feathers though they are asked with the same kindness and idealistic curiosity. The point of the questions is to move the onus from Black people to the Institution itself. 

Simply put, it is time for Chautauqua Institution and all Chautauquans to set the table for all who walk through the Main Gate.

So, what does it mean to set the table? 

In crafting a culture of inclusion, we must begin on an interpersonal level. Foundational relationships occur through a cultural shift towards openness and locating similarity before difference. This is central to the work of the AAHH, which is passionate about strengthening Chautauqua by encouraging and welcoming diversity and fostering honest conversations. This season, we have worked to set the table of inclusivity for all through our weekly programs including our speaker series, porch chats and diverse community events. Additionally, our historical archival work, focusing on African Americans’ experiences and contributions to the intellectual, artistic and physical foundation of the Institution, works to center often unheard historical narratives. The AAHH has grown tremendously this season through the continued support of enthusiastic audience members eager to engage in dialogue.

Importantly, the work of creating a better Chautauqua begins in the hearts, minds and actions of our neighbors. It may be hard to know where to begin. The overwhelming pressure and issues of our world lead to stagnation. We have set out three discrete strategies which every Chautauquan can incorporate into their daily lives. These have come from our experiences over the last 10 years, but have been more sharply focused by our experiences this year as we have sought to reach more through our efforts. 

Begin with commonalities: Setting the table for a more diverse Chautauqua begins with how we approach those different from us. When we begin with common connections instead of differences, we create room for authentic connections and dialogue.

Be OK with becoming better informed through correction: No one is perfect, and we all have unconscious bias. Therefore, mistakes and missteps will be made. Be open to listening to ways in which we can show up better, as people with multiple identities in this space is crucial.

Be an active bystander: When the behavior around us does not reflect the shared values of the Institution, it is our responsibility — if you feel comfortable — to prevent, discourage and mitigate behavior of exclusion and othering. 

As we work together as a community moving forward through compassion, honesty and vulnerability, these strategies help to guarantee that everyone has not just a seat at the table, but everything they need to enjoy their dinner in community with each other.

Bon appétit

— Camille “Mimi” Borders, AAHH Program Director

—Erroll Davis, AAHH President 

The African American Heritage Corner Week Eight

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The year was 1885 and the United States temperance movement — a sociopolitical push to limit the use of alcohol across the country — was alive and well. Religious activists, citing moral stain as a side effect of drunkenness, demanded the attention of politicians and layfolks all over the country in a prolonged and coordinated effort which began in the early 1800s and continued through the beginning of the Great Depression. 

While much has been said about the pioneering presence of women in shaping the temperance movement, especially at Chautauqua, African Americans also played a strong role in guiding conversations surrounding alcohol use and abuse, ushering these pertinent discussions to Chautauqua Institution. Historically, temperance was often associated with other progressive movements, including suffrage and abolition. Therefore, the majority of Black abolitionists were also supportive of temperance including Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglass and Booker T. Washington.

The birth of the temperance movement coincided with that of Chautauqua itself. Many of the women who led the charge for the prohibition of alcohol were involved in the Chautauqua Movement. These women would eventually form a powerhouse movement known as the Women’s Christian Temperance Movement, a religiously motivated political organization, of people who felt that moral stain was a natural consequence of drunkenness. From 1874, the year it was founded, Chautauqua Institution prohibited the use and sale of alcohol. The Institution only began offering alcoholic beverages in the 1990s, making clear the impact that the members of the WCTU had on the grounds.  

Over the course of many years, Chautauqua, which has long functioned as a sounding board for contemporary issues and moral questions, attracted many guests who were set on addressing the question of temperance, including several prominent African American thought leaders. 

Three featured speakers took the stage for National Temperance Society Day on Aug. 20, 1885, to discuss the importance of temperance, according to The Chautauqua Assembly Herald (now The Chautauquan Daily). One of them was the Rev. Joseph C. Price, an educator, orator and founder of the Zion Wesley Institute of North Carolina, a historically Black college (now Livingstone College). Standing 6 feet tall with a commanding frame, Price lectured on “The Need of Temperance to the Negro.”

Price was an accomplished and well-known orator, having delivered the commencement address at the famous Tuskegee Institute on multiple occasions; his Chautauqua lecture continued this legacy. He spoke about the condition of African Americans with eloquence while enumerating the logic behind temperance, ultimately making a noted impact on audience members. The newspaper heralded his lecture as a success, stating: “Professor Price … made a wonderful impression of this audience, he held them from the beginning to the end.”

Other African Americans also came to Chautauqua with firm stances on the issue, advocating for a national prohibition on alcohol sales. On Aug. 10, 1899, Ariel S. Bowen, a writer, musical educator, prominent WCTU member and president of the second Georgia WCTU, appeared as a guest lecturer with the WCTU conference giving a speech on the “Work of the WCTU. No. 2 of Georgia.” 

The words and work of Black temperance activists at Chautauqua contributed to a national conversation surrounding prohibition that proved itself to be efficacious on the legislative front. In 1919, with the passage of the 18th Amendment to the Constitution, alcohol was effectively prohibited from legal sale and consumption in the United States. This remained the case for a total of 13 years until 1933, when the 21st Amendment was passed, repealing the probationary laws and legalizing alcohol sales once again. 

—Mariam Keita, AAHH Program Coordinator 

The African American Heritage Corner Week Seven

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Ariel S. Bowen was born Ariel Serena Hedges on March 3, 1863, in Newark, New Jersey, to Harriet Taylor and Charles Hedges. An “accomplished vocalist and musician,” according to the African American Registry, Bowen was also literate in Greek, Latin and German, and well-versed in piano and pipe organ. Bowen was raised around cultured individuals and settings with the educational advantages of a privileged childhood. As a young girl, she lived in Pittsburgh, attended Avery Institute, and received musical training before relocating with her family to Baltimore around 1873. 

In Baltimore, Bowen received an education from the Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church’s school, and later graduated with honors from Springfield Massachusetts High School in 1885. After high school, Bowen passed the teachers’ course and examination and began teaching in Springfield. She then went on to teach history and English under Booker T. Washington at Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute in Tuskegee, Alabama, and later taught music at Clark University in Atlanta.

On Sep. 14, 1886, Ariel married John Wesley Edward Bowen and subsequently had four children — three of whom survived to adulthood (Irene, Juanita and John Wesley Edward Jr.) and one (Portia Edmonia) who died in early childhood. Bowen and her husband lived in Washington, D.C., and together served the Methodist Episcopal Church. Bowen eventually organized and served as the first president of the Washington Methodist Episcopal Church’s Woman’s Home Missionary Society and assisted in pastoral duties at Asbury Methodist Episcopal Church. During this time, Bowen enrolled in the Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle and graduated as a member of the “Columbia” Class of 1892. The following year, Bowen moved to Atlanta where her husband began teaching at Gammon Theological Seminary. She immersed herself in Atlanta’s community organizations, becoming a member of the Georgia Federation of Colored Women’ Clubs. She served as president of the Women’s Club of Atlanta and Colored Women’s Club of Georgia, and as a committee member at the Atlanta Congress of Colored Women in 1895.

As “one of the foremost and best cultured women of her race,” according to, Bowen often published articles about moral and social reform, and was particularly devoted to the cause of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, serving as president of the second Georgia WCTU, and becoming so well-respected among Black women for her work with the organization that it is said they esteemed her alongside Frances Willard, the WCTU founder. 

In 1876, Willard attended the Chautauqua Assembly to discuss the work of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union as “an interesting and convincing platform speaker,” according to an edition of The Voice of the Negro. Bowen delivered an evening lecture about the “Work of the WCTU No. 2 of Georgia” in August 1899. Five years later, Bowen suddenly died on July 7, 1904, while attending the St. Louis World’s Fair for a meeting of the National Association of Colored Women. Bowen was 41 years old.

—Emálee Sanfilippo, Independent Research Consultant

The African American Heritage Corner Week Six

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Twenty-two years after its inception in 1874, Chautauqua Institution presented its first known Black lecturer: Booker T. Washington, a prominent orator and lecturer, as well as founder and principal of the Normal and Tuskegee Industrial School in Tuskegee, Alabama, now Tuskegee University.

On the morning of Aug. 1, 1896, Washington took to the Amphitheater to give his address, titled “The Negro Problem in the Black Belt of the South.” The 13th Amendment, which outlawed the practice of chattel slavery in the United States, was passed and ratified in 1865. Washington was 9 years old.

In the years that followed, many discussions arose as to what fate should befall the now-emancipated population of Black people who could no longer be exploited as free laborers.

According to an 1896 transcription of his lecture published in The Chautauqua Assembly Herald, Washington began his speech with a note that in 1895, a group of 600 African Americans had boarded a ship in Savannah, Georgia. Its passengers were destined to arrive in Liberia, then a small territory in West Africa nestled between Côte d’Ivoire and Sierra Leone.

The very first group of resettled African Americans arrived in Liberia in 1820, according to National Geographic. An organization known as the American Colonization Society, founded in 1817, was instrumental in resettling African Americans. The society’s mission was to send Black people back to Africa as an alternative to emancipation.  

In his speech, Washington humorously contended that the push to send African Americans back to Africa was not feasible, as the population’s birth rates outpaced those of its emigration rates. He advocated instead for racial uplift in the form of vocational education for African Americans, much like the one he had received.

The Library of Congress reported that in 1867, just two years after the 13th Amendment’s passage and ratification, more than 13,000 people had migrated to Liberia.

Although he had expressed opposition to the emigration to Liberia as a circumvention of just treatment for African Americans in the United States in his speech at Chautauqua, Washington would later prove instrumental in maintaining its sovereignty.

In 1846, at the behest of the American Colonization Society, Liberian settlers from America were asked to declare their national independence, being that it was neither a sovereign power, nor a legitimate U.S. colony. By 1847, they had done just that, writing a constitution and establishing the first known republic within the African continent.

Despite its official independence as a nation, a 1996 article published in the African Studies Review stated that the small nation, one of only two to stave off European colonization, faced the threat of annexation from various powers, including France, England and Germany.

Washington would prove to be a fierce advocate for Liberian sovereignty, placing Liberian affairs onto the Roosevelt administration’s diplomatic radar.

Washington had close ties to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who had famously invited him to dinner which, in 1901, made Washington the first Black man known to receive a dinner invitation to the White House.

Later, in 1907, he would use his political connections in favor of the country, writing a letter to Roosevelt in which he advocated for U.S. support of Liberia’s independence. 

His advocacy continued for several years as he supported and pushed for commissions and delegations to and from Liberia. His efforts ultimately led to a strengthened United States-Liberian diplomatic relationship that would continue into the Taft administration, halting any imminent threat from European colonial powers.

—Mariam Keita

AAHH Program Director

The African American Heritage Corner Week Five

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“… here we are ‘really and truly’ at Chautauqua. … We imagine that we are unknown among these many thousands, but friendly faces greet us at every turn, … and we begin to feel quite at home.” 

—Hallie Quinn Brown at Chautauqua, 1886

Since its inception in 1878, the Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle has welcomed African Americans to its membership, with several individuals — including Theodore F.H. Blackman, Joseph Courtney, and George A. Maston — graduating in 1882 as members of the four-year reading course’s inaugural class. During the course of research into the participation of African Americans in the CLSC on behalf of the African American Heritage House, 21 individuals have thus far been identified as having graduated from the CLSC during its early history and, of those 21 graduates, three are known to have attended Recognition Day ceremonies on the Assembly Grounds. One of these three Recognition Day attendees, originally brought to the attention of the AAHH and the Institution’s archives following the African American Heritage House Speaker Series presentation by the Society of Black Alumni Presidential Professor at Johns Hopkins University Martha S. Jones during Week Five in 2020, is educator, elocutionist, activist and writer Hallie Quinn Brown.

Brown was born to freed slaves Frances Jane Scroggins and Thomas A. Brown in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where she lived during her early adolescence until the family relocated to a farm near Chatham, Ontario, after 1860. The Brown family’s residence in Canada was brief, and they returned to the United States in time for Brown to begin coursework at Wilberforce College (Wilberforce, Ohio) in 1868. After graduating from Wilberforce in 1873, receiving her Bachelor of Science degree as one of six graduates of the school that year, Brown continued her education as a member of the CLSC.

In the summer of 1886, after “four years of patient toil and study” and “hours of severe work,” as described in an article she wrote for The Christian Recorder titled “Chautauqua Cullings,” Brown traveled to Chautauqua to attend Recognition Day festivities with fellow graduates of “The Progressives” class. Brown’s recollections of Recognition Day as they appear in her article, including an evening reception at the Athenaeum Hotel at which John Heyl Vincent, his wife Sarah Elizabeth Dusenbury, James H. Carlisle, Edward Everett Hale, and Mina and Thomas Edison received “with true Chautauquan cordially the many thousands who pass through the spacious parlors,” are largely drawn — and in many instances, including this particular quote, borrowed nearly word for word — from accounts of the day as they were recorded in The Chautauqua Assembly Herald in August 1886. Nevertheless, in recounting the days before and after Recognition Day, Brown’s personal reminiscences of “How vast and beautiful is Chautauqua!” tell of how she spent her time on the grounds “comfortably ensconced at the Spencer Cottage,” meeting and greeting fellow CLSC instructors who had imparted “such rare mental feasts” during her course of study, walking along the streets of Chautauqua “admiring this pretty cottage and that,” visiting Isabella Macdonald Alden’s “Pansy Cottage” on Forest, attending lectures and performances in the Amphitheater and Hall of Philosophy, and visiting the Museum, Oriental House, and model of Jerusalem before ultimately “realizing how utterly useless it is to try and exhaust Chautauqua.”

Following her graduation from the CLSC, Brown began touring and lecturing on behalf of her alma mater with the Wilberforce Grand Concert Company. When Wilberforce offered Brown a teaching position in elocution and literature, she declined to accept instead a position as dean of women at Tuskegee Institute in Tuskegee, Alabama, only to later accept the proffered appointment upon her return at the close of the 1892-1893 school year. When she returned to Wilberforce, Brown served as a professor of elocution and English and traveled extensively throughout Europe, touring as an elocutionist.

While in Europe, Brown held membership in the British Woman’s Temperance Association and was responsible for helping establish the first British Chautauqua. Upon her return to the United States, Brown served as president of the Ohio State Federation of Woman’s Clubs and helped organize the Colored Women’s League of Washington, D.C., for which she served as president from 1920 until 1924. In addition to her involvement in a number of social and religious organizations and reform movements, Brown was a talented writer and essayist, authoring several books before her death at her residence, Homewood Cottage, in Wilberforce, Ohio, on Sept. 16, 1949.

—Emálee Sanfilippo

Independent Research Consultant, Chautauqua Research Services

The African American Heritage Corner Week Four


“Are Chautauquans afraid of burnt cork?” Written in The Chautauquan Daily on Aug. 6, 1909, the puzzling question captured the reluctance of the Chautauqua public regarding their participation in the annual minstrel show. However apprehensive early Chautauquans were, figures like Arthur E. Bestor (the director of the Chautauqua Institution and later president) stated they were not afraid to “blacken up” for the sake of continuing the show. On the subject of the Daily article, American Studies scholar Elizabeth Lloyd Harvey writes that “community leaders could … (push) the bounds of what they would usually say and do, because they were in blackface.” In short, blackface performances amplified race and class distinctions while offering prominent figures an opportunity for “escapism,” however problematic.

Courtesy of Institution archives A listing in an August 1909 edition of The Chautauquan Daily with the schedule of events for a “Minstrel and Vaudeville Performance.”

Traditional to 19th-century blackface minstrelsy, “burnt cork” was used by white performers as a costuming effect to darken their faces and physically embody exaggerated caricatures of Black enslaved people on Southern plantations. Blackface minstrelsy dominated as the main source of theatrical entertainment for wealthy, white, male audiences throughout the 19th century. After the Civil War, blackface minstrel shows no longer required theater houses, professional actors, or popular touring companies to be staged. Chautauquans — like many other amateur showrunners — took advantage in the rapid commercialization of the performance.

In lieu of a theatrical staging, 20th-century minstrel shows propagated as street or circus acts for quick monetary gain. Due to these varying forms, the act of putting on “blackface” was now deemed a less-acclaimed artistic practice. Chautauquans could have been reluctant to act in the show for a variety of reasons: one, they were aware that it reproduced harmful, derogatory stereotypes; two, it was simply a class issue. The attitude surrounding minstrel shows changed over time, and darkening one’s skin for the performance could ostensibly devalue one’s social or financial position rather than excel it.

The evolution of the blackface minstrel performance in Chautauqua started in 1882, and the forces of racism and anti-racism clashed often in the community’s early years, with racism often winning. After Chautauquans held their very first Recognition Day in honor of the newly graduated class members of the Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle, there was a need for entertainment to lighten up the formalities of the day. Professor Frank Beard, iconically known during this time for his “chalk-talks” — comedic illustrations artistically performed as Bible lessons — had the idea to organize a “mock commencement” of the Recognition Day.

Historian Jesse L. Hurlbut notes in The Story of Chautauqua that the celebration surrounding the annual Recognition Day “finally grew into a ‘mock-commencement’ ceremony organized to make fun of the prominent figures and features of the graduating class.” By the early 1900s, Chautauqua public figure Otto F. Monahan spearheaded the event and it was changed to the “Chautauqua Circus,” an annual gathering organized by what was then the Athletic Club. The circus included acts such as minstrel shows, animal exhibits and vaudeville performances attempting to showcase the “history” and “cultural customs” of Indigenous tribes.

As posted in the Chautauqua Assembly Herald in 1902, figures like Beard even consented to “make an appearance with the minstrels” as the mock commencement evolved. Typically the Chautauqua minstrel performance included an “interlocutor,” and a chorus of “endmen” choreographed in a semi-circle performing a collection of songs and slapstick that made fun of community officials and participants who were willing to wear the “burnt cork.” Black people were the visible punch lines of the parody. Songs like “Mr. Monahan Song’’ emphasized the “tongue-and-cheek” element of the community roast, while the demeaning incorporation of blackface enabled affluent Chautauquans to further distinguish themselves from African Americans and perpetuate derogatory stereotypes about Black people as “loud,” “uneducated,” “poor” and “uncivilized.”

Minstrel shows were indeed violent tactics used to thwart Black progress, and it leaves room for one to ponder on the issue of accountability. Frankly, how might we observe or give voice to issues historically circumvented? These Chautauqua minstrel shows were never listed as official summer events in the Institution’s printed material, and one can speculate as to why that was the case. Perhaps they viewed the annual circus festivities as insignificant? Perhaps there was an understanding that these events were inconsistent with Chautauqua’s image or purpose?

More archival research may shed light on these answers. Either way, I leave you with an irremissible question, and that is: how were Black or even Indigenous community members affected by these annual affairs? What ramifications do these minstrel performances have on our contemporary society and the issues of diversity on the grounds today?

— Iyanna Hamby

Administrative Coordinator, African American Heritage House

The African American Heritage Corner Week Three

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The intellectual and cultural impact of Chautauqua Institution reverberates through every inch of America. While much has been said about the social progress of the original Chautauqua Institution at the time of its 1874 creation, fewer words have been spoken about its spin-off counterparts, also known as “daughter” Chautauquas, which were founded all across the country.

Existing archival records indicate that the earliest courses at Chautauqua Institution were not segregated. In fact, prominent Black leaders, such as orator and educator Booker T. Washington, was among its first lecturers and African Americans employed on the grounds could earn season tickets for their work.

However, the mere presence of Black Chautauquans did not stop other lecturers who occupied the Institution’s lecterns from espousing harmful and discriminatory racial rhetoric about African Americans. Minstrel shows, a popular genre of performance which featured mostly white actors in blackface acting out harmful stereotypes about African Americans through the use of racist caricature, were a regular occurrence.

Given their unenthusiastic reception in general Chautauqua spaces, some Black scholars who wished to partake in the intellectual movement took it upon themselves to create their own Chautauqua communities.

The African American Chautauqua Circle was founded in September 1913 by Henrietta Curtis Porter in Atlanta’s Old Fourth Ward at the behest of her colleague Ariel Serena Hedges Bowen, providing an invaluable community for Black thinkers. Bowen was a graduate of the Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle. Her husband, Dr. John W.E. Bowen Sr., also lectured at the Institution in 1899.

Although much of the Chautauqua Circle’s programming and goals aligned with that of the larger national Chautauqua movement, the Atlanta club also had its own distinct goals and agenda. For example, while the original Chautauqua Institution campus was co-ed, all of the Chautauqua Circle’s members were African American women. Among the club’s most notable alumni is Shirley Franklin who, in 2002, became the first woman to be elected mayor of Atlanta and the first African American woman to serve as mayor of a major Southern city. The club is still in operation today.

Each month, the women of the Chautauqua Circle would prepare research on issues that transcended geographic borders. Members would meet to discuss a variety of topics, ranging from the Mexican Revolution, to Bolshevism in Russia, the creation of the Panama Canal and the women’s suffrage movement.

There were many challenges that came with operating a Black women’s social club in the segregated South. Since Jim Crow laws and racial discrimination made it difficult to find venues from which to conduct monthly meetings, members would host the sessions out of their homes. This did not stop these women from cultivating an ornate experience each month, complete with expensive silver, fine china and linen tablecloths. At every meeting from 1918 onward, members would also gather to sing a song that is now known as the Black National Anthem: “Lift Every Voice And Sing.”

Social clubs like the Chautauqua Circle were composed of middle- and upper-class African Americans. These clubs served as the backbone of the Black elite. Even today, membership remains exclusive, with no more than 30 members at a time. One article published in a spring 1959 issue of the Journal of Negro Education indicates that the Chautauqua Circle was so exclusive that membership was typically inherited from one’s mother, or was contingent upon one’s proximity to men of wealth and status. This made the club inaccessible to those who were not firmly embedded within the Black elite.

And as for the club’s motto? “Keep moving, a standing pool becomes stagnant.”

Regardless of their class limitations, social clubs like the Chautauqua Circle provided upper-class Southern Black women with a sense of purpose and community at a time when Jim Crow laws made it difficult to navigate life as a Black person. In adapting the Chautauqua curriculum to fit the social club model, the women of Atlanta’s Chautauqua Circle were able to construct an innovative intellectual community beyond the confines of the Jim Crow South.

—Mariam Keita

  AAHH Program Coordinator

The African American Heritage Corner Week Two


Close your eyes and imagine it is the summer of 1880 in Chautauqua, and excited visitors and community members flock to the daily lecture series which features the soon-to-be inaugurated President James A. Garfield. People are teeming with excitement about the arrival of a world-renowned music troupe composed of eight African American singers: Maggie Porter, Patti Malone, Mabel Lewis, Ella Sheppard, Jennie Jackson, Frederick J. Loudin, George Barrett and Richard A. Hall.

 Known as the Fisk Jubilee Singers, their Civil Rights Tours (1879-1882) were assembled just after the completion of the original troupe’s esteemed travels in Europe. These tours sought to continue an important march toward Black suffrage, self-determination and equality. The Chautauqua community became immersed within Black history as the public support of their tours aided in a much longer fight against injustice that was not isolated merely in the South, but operated on a social and systemic level throughout the United States.

 The formation of the Fisk Jubilee Singers and their eventual arrival to Chautauqua was more than a decades-long ordeal. While it did not come easily, eventually the singers secured monumental praise from their sundry audience members, and shortly thereafter, international debuts with regarded acclaim from those like Queen Victoria. The original singers, as well as their subsequent and affiliate formation, made many sacrifices during their touring expeditions. Oftentimes the members would sleep on trains, because they were refused lodging, and go hungry because they were refused dining and had little funds to support their travels.

 Throughout August 1880, the Fisk Jubilee Singers drew a diverse crowd. Public intellectuals, politicians and civil rights orators, such as the Rev. Joseph Cook and President Garfield, supported and were inspired by their efforts. As contextualized in a historical survey by scholar Doug Seroff, the New York Tribune highlighted these momentous scenes.

Cook took to the pulpit the day of their performance on Aug. 12, 1880, to condemn the South for their escalation of the Civil War and their “monstrous crime of slavery.” Political figures, such as President Garfield, would recite lyrics of the spirituals, such as the song “March On” to allude to the ongoing political struggles of the singers who must continue and “march… to gain the victory” of equality. In the midst of such support, others were adamantly against their cause. 

 In the Grand Concert Hall on Aug. 18, 1880, an anonymous party who referred to themselves as a “Georgian” interrupted the Jubilee Singers’ final performance to rebuke Cook’s progressive claims and question the singers’ decision to live in the South. The singers wrote a response in the Chautauqua Assembly Herald the following day to address such sentiments. 

Their final point reads:

“Our homes continue in the South simply because we believe that the unexceptional advantages we have enjoyed can be better employed for the elevation or less fortunate people in the South by living among them.” 

 As evident in their response, the Jubilee Singers knew the impact of these performances and what they might yield in terms of national progress, especially for those Black people who were more socially and politically disregarded. The Jubilee Singers offer contemporary Chautauqua community members and visitors a story of Black resilience. In the face of adversity and scrutiny from both the North and the South, the Jubilee Singers were given an incredibly hard task. I ask, how do we continue this legacy here and now? Can our current mobilizations in Chautauqua elevate the voices of those silenced? What victories are still to be gained?

— Iyanna Hamby

AAHH Administrative Coordinator

The African American Heritage Corner Week One

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Welcome to The African American Heritage Corner. Chautauqua Institution has been described as an American utopia. In Jeffrey Simpson’s 1999 book, Chautauqua: An American Utopia, he writes “Chautauqua could be the perfect small town. It reflected that wonderful American curiosity. It is contained in this picture-perfect place.” Despite this idyllic description, for the majority of its almost 150-year existence, the Institution has had no consistent community of Black visitors. However, African Americans have impacted the very fabric of the Chautauqua experience — from arriving on the grounds as performers, musicians, scholars and religious speakers, to providing vital services through labor as drivers, housekeepers and nannies, to the benefit of the overwhelmingly white community. The names of African American luminaries, such as Booker T. Washington, Marian Anderson and Thurgood Marshall, as well as more recent leaders, including Wes Moore and Imani Perry, loom large.

The African American Heritage House was founded 10 years ago for the purpose of making the grounds resemble the diversity of our world while centering African American voices and experiences. Originally founded as the African American Denominational House, it would take on several different forms until becoming AAHH. Currently, we host a weekly speaker series throughout the summer that explores how the weekly theme intersects with the experiences of People of Color. Additionally, we engage the community through candid Porch Chats, where thinking is challenged and vulnerability is cherished. The AAHH is dedicated to enriching the Chautauqua community through the inclusion of African American history and culture, and the contributions of African American intellectuals. In support of AAHH’s mission, every Wednesday this column will explore different elements of Black history at Chautauqua, drawing on resources from the Institution’s archives — often notices buried in the Daily, or ads, or the minutiae of  lines in building reports. This history is complex, multifaceted and, at some points, painful. The Civil War and the ensuing Reconstruction caused the colliding of tectonic plates, ultimately creating new boundaries and fault lines. In this moment of transformation, Chautauqua was established, only 11 years after the Emancipation Proclamation. Originally formed as a Methodist summer school, it quickly transformed into an intellectual and cultural hub. African Americans have been vital to the growth of Chautauqua since its beginning. Since the start, the grounds have been open to African Americans; however, de facto segregation was rampant. Importantly, throughout various moments in history, the Institution reflected the racism and prejudice of the time. For example, in the 1930s and ’40s, visitors enjoyed minstrel shows which included blackface and the popular racist caricatures of Amos & Andy. During this time, the all-Black boarding house named the Phillis Wheatley Cottage was built and in use, though there is no evidence that Wheatley ever spoke at or attended a summer season. Though there was no official administrative policy on segregation, the cultural and societal environment was not conducive to racial equity. Currently, the AAHH House, at 40 Scott, has historical storyboards, written and developed by Emálee Sanfilippo, which tell the story of the African American experience during the first 25 years of the Institution. This period was marked by racial inclusion, though paternalistic, which would change at the turn of the century.

 As a 15-year-old Black girl, I visited the Institution for the first time in 2013. I was excited by the vibrant intellectual community and plethora of mental stimulation. I attended the Chautauqua Opera, talks in the Amphitheater, and an Interfaith Lecture. I vividly remember visiting the Wes Moore lecture in the Amp and feeling inspired by his vulnerability and passion. Five years later, I would become a Rhodes Scholar, joining Mr. Moore in the honor. I firmly believe in the power of stories, history and vulnerability to transform our world. I welcome you to join me.  

— Camille “Mimi” Borders

African American Heritage House Program Director