This talk by Laurie Woodard (City College, History and Black Studies Program) looks at the life and career of performing artist and civil and human rights activist Fredi Washington, including her work in a little-known film called Drums in the Night aka Ouanga aka The Love Wanga in the context of the New Negro Renaissance, anti-racist activism, and US imperialism. This project places an African American female performing artist at the center of the narrative of the New Negro Renaissance; illuminates the vital influence of performing artists on the movement; and demonstrates the ways in which Washington and the New Negro Renaissance are key components of the Black Freedom Movement and our understanding of the African American quest for civil and human rights. This project further explores some of the challenges, and possible solutions, facing the historian attempting to tell the story of someone else’s life. Within the world of narratives of great men, who left behind troves of words, there is still space for the stories of impactful yet largely forgotten women whose lives were more performative than literary. And, keeping in mind Toni Morrison’s words on the relationship between “fact” and “truth,” even in argument driven, evidenced based historical inquiry, there is still space for imagination.
Laurie Woodard began her professional life as a dancer with the Dance Theater of Harlem. She completed her BA in History at Columbia University and her PhD in History and African American Studies at Yale University. Her teaching interests include 20th Century African American cultural, social, political, and intellectual history; the Atlantic World; 20th Century US history; African American women’s history; and identity formation and representation. Her research focuses upon the intersection between the cultural and political realms and employs interdisciplinary methodologies, drawing from history, performance studies, critical race theory, biography, and women and gender studies. Her work has been supported by the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, the Mellon Foundation, PSC-CUNY, and the NEH. She is currently completing a manuscript on the life and work of performing artist and civil and human rights activist Fredi Washington, which is forthcoming from Oxford University Press.
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