Student volunteers and professors held a live reading event on Monday in the Center for Student Diversity and Inclusion to give students a deep interaction with history.
The event was hosted by Black Studies Program Director Kathryn Bentley, Associate Professor of Historical Studies Bryan Jack and four students. Bentley and the students read excerpts of the narratives while Jack facilitated discussion among the audience.
The excerpts featured autobiographical tellings of experiences during and after slavery. One story from Lucy Delaney, read by freshman criminal justice major Neshay Sanders, of Chicago, discussed Delaney’s experiences with her mother, and not knowing what freedom really meant.
Jack’s moderation of the event prompted multiple audience members to take part in discussion of how slaves lost their identities and families, and how the narratives told at the event represented the experiences slaves had gone through.
Jack said the event was important because people don’t often hear the perspectives of slaves.
“I think for far too long the voices of enslaved people have been silenced, and it’s important to actually hear slavery from the voices of the enslaved,” Jack said.
Sanders and senior political science and theater performance major Avalon Palmer, of Chicago, both became interested in reading for the event through their experiences in SIUE’s Black Theater Workshop, and because they felt it was important to do.
Palmer said the event is important because it brings to light issues slaves had that still affect the black community today.
“We have to think about PTSD, and we have to think that slavery was not that far off. So, a lot of people — African Americans — are still suffering from slavery in ways we don’t even necessarily know,” Palmer said.
Junior social work major Victoria Wright, of St. Louis, said she came to the event because she thought it might be interesting, but left with a deeper knowledge of the issues. After the event Wright said it’s important to understand the past to fix today’s problems.
“It’s a part of American history — it’s a huge part of American history — and it’s still living on today. There’s still racism going on today and we need to see the roots of where it came from,” Wright said.
Palmer said she learned new things through reading for the workshop.
“I’ve heard of and read slave narratives before but never had I heard of some of the people that we read today. Even Charles Ball, the person I read for. So, it was a new experience for me,” Palmer said.
When asked how students can continue to inform themselves on slavery, Jack said they should take classes and continue going to events.
Jack also said students should walk away from the event thinking about the link between slavery and today’s issues.
“[The message students should take from the event is] the importance of understanding the connection between slavery and kind of our larger context in understanding the importance of African American history,” Jack said.