Commonwealth Speakers:The African American Experience


Samuel D. Burris Speaks features Joseph Becton as the 19th century figure who helped many escape slavery. Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

An understanding of the complex history, contributions and tribulations of the African American community in Pennsylvania and the US is vital to a complete understanding of the history and culture of the state and the nation. In this category, and in others, you find a variety of topics and perspectives that illuminate the African American experience.

Great Escapes! F H L P
This interactive presentation brings to life compelling stories of enslaved Africans who escaped to, and away from, Philadelphia and of those who aided them in their search for freedom. Philadelphia was an important station in the Underground Railroad and a safe haven for many fugitives, including Henry Box Brown. Conversely, many enslaved Africans escaped from Philadelphia, such as Oney Judge, a slave held by George Washington. Denise Valentine uses the power of storytelling to interpret these historical subjects and highlight Philadelphia's African American and Underground Railroad heritage sites. Also discussed is the role of storytelling in the continuity of community traditions. Great Escapes may be presented as a storytelling performance with a live musician or as a lecture/demonstration with a slide show.

Equipment: Chair and display table. PA sound system needed for audiences of 25 or more and outdoor venues. For slide show: CD player, laptop computer (with PowerPoint installed), LCD projector and screen.

Denise Valentine, Philadelphia
Professional Storyteller & Historical Re-enactor

Samuel D. Burris Speaks F P
Meet a conductor of the Underground Railroad. In this educational and interpretive program, presenter Joseph Becton appears in 19th century garb as Samuel D. Burris, a free African American who helped many escape slavery through the Underground Railroad. Using first person narration, Burris discusses the origins of the Underground Railroad and Philadelphia's key role in its development. Burris also shares his life story and adventures with the audience, including his decision to migrate to California.

Equipment: Chair and small table.

Joseph Becton, Philadelphia
Director, Becton Tours & Historical Services. Co-founder 3rd Regiment USCT Re-enactors

The Souls of Black Baseball: Barnstorming the Keystone State F L
Get to know the stories of Octavius Catto, Oscar Charleston, Cum Posey, Gus Greenlee, Eddie Bolden and others who contributed to Pennsylvania's rich black baseball history. Journey across Pennsylvania to discover and appreciate the greatness of teams such as the Pythians, the Hilldale Club of Darby, the Philadelphia Stars, the Harrisburg Giants, the Homestead Grays and the Pittsburgh Crawfords. Through video interviews and guest appearances by living players, we follow players and teams as they move from little towns and twilight leagues closer to the national spotlight. The Souls of Black Baseball explores how Pennsylvania players contributed to moving the black leagues, and the nation, out of the shadow of the Jim Crow era.

Equipment: DVD player with remote control and/or a laptop computer with remote control. LCD projector or TV/monitor with sizeable screen for group viewing also requested. If possible, podium.

Bob Allen, State College
Former Philosophy Instructor, Penn State University

The Underground Railroad in Quilts? H L
The Underground Railroad, the secret paths traveled by African Americans who escaped slavery in the South, is well documented by historians. Far more elusive is evidence that slaves used quilts as signals to guide their way to freedom. This hands-on talk and demonstration engages in the ongoing debate between historians and the public—did quilts guide escapes? Authentic 19th century quilts and modern reproductions are used to explore some of the ways in which women may have stitched their politics, history and mythology into quilt designs. A folklorist who specializes in material culture, Cassandra Gunkel has studied African American quilts and textiles to document the lives of women who captured our histories and stories in their creative work.

Equipment: 3 display tables.

Cassandra Stancil Gunkel, Ivyland
History Adjunct Professor, Manor College

Key to Presentations
F Family/Younger Audiences
H Hands-on/Active Participation
L Lectures
P Performances
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