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"Ain't I a Woman?" performance celebrates lives of African-American women
"Ain't I a Woman?" performance celebrates lives of African-American women

"Ain't I a Woman?" Those four famous words spoken by Sojourner Truth inspired a meaningful presentation that moved a room full of Upper School students, faculty, and staff on Wednesday, February 6.

In observation of Black History Month, students enjoyed a performance by actress Shinnerrie Jackson and pianist Byron Sean which honored four African-American women of remarkable achievement and invincible character: ex-slave and abolitionist Sojourner Truth, renowned novelist and anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston, folk artist Clementine Hunter, and civil rights worker Fannie Lou Hamer.

Jackson portrayed each of the four characters in turn by digging deep into their stories. While Byron Sean played piano to accompany her, Jackson acted as Zora Neale Hurston. As Hurston, Jackson acted out a Jim Crow experience Hurston had endured in New York. She had gone to see a white doctor, and when she walked in, the receptionist was noticeably embarrassed. The nurse then Hurston to a private examination room, similar to a closet. The doctor wanted Hurston out as soon as possible, so he gave her a prescription, asked for money, and sent her on her way. Hurston detailed this story to an imaginary room of her fans, who were there to celebrate the release of her first novel.

After a quick interlude, Jackson then appeared as folk artist Clementine Hunter. Hunter was a maid and sharecropper until her 50s. However, Hunter had a passion: painting. She took the leftover paint and brushes from her job at the Melrose Plantation and started painting. She sold her first paintings for as little as a quarter but eventually, they sold for more. Hunter was the first African-American artist to have a solo exhibition at the present-day New Orleans Museum of Art.

For the next two stories, Jackson acted as if she was the character talking to the audience live in the moment of that individual's life. For example, Jackson was Sojourner Truth in the third representation. She delivered a section of the speech "Ain't I a Woman" to the audience and left swiftly to change into her final character. While Jackson left the stage, the audience had a moment to reflect on some of the powerful words in the remarks.

"Then that little man in black there, he says women can't have as much rights as men, 'cause Christ wasn't a woman! Where did your Christ come from? Where did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with Him.

If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back , and get it right side up again! And now they is asking to do it, the men better let them."

The final character Jackson portrayed was Fannie Lou Hamer. Hamer was the co-founder and vice-chair of the Freedom Democratic Party, which she represented at the 1964 Democratic National Convention. In this act, Jackson spoke to the audience as if she was at the Democratic National Convention that year. She explained Hamer's story of being fired from her job, losing her home, and being arrested and beaten for because she simply wanted to vote. Hamer and many others traveled to the convention with hopes of securing several seats, but were only offered two. People told her to take it as a victory, but that was not enough for her. She continued to march on for what she believed in.

One senior remarked, "It was an unusual and interesting way to present an important aspect of American history, and one of the best speaker presentations this year."