Vassar Professors to Speak at Desmond-Fish Library on Civil Rights and Social Movements

Two Bringing the Dream Home programs at Desmond-Fish; one for adults, the other for children

The Desmond-Fish Library will present its 16th annual Martin Luther King Day (MLKD) observances, “Bringing the Dream Home:  Civil Rights and the Hudson Valley,” with an adult program Sunday evening, Jan. 15 at 5 p.m., and a children’s program Monday afternoon, Jan. 16 at 2 p.m.

This year, the Library’s MLKD programs feature Dr. Sarita Gregory, assistant professor of political science, and Dr. Quincy Mills, assistant professor of history, both at Vassar CollegeThrough original scholarship, stories, poetry and music, they will present historical case studies of African American New Yorkers who engaged the social networks and social movements of their time, shedding light on civil rights issues and social movements of our time, from labor and voting rights to Occupy Wall Street.

On Sunday, Jan. 15 at 5 p.m., the Bringing the Dream Home adult program features presentations by Gregory and Mills and discussion. (Due to damage to the Library’s kitchen from Hurricane Irene, there is no potluck supper this year, though snacks will be served.)

Dr. Sarita Gregory

Dr. Gregory’s will present work from her manuscript in progress, Improvising Politics:  Black Women’s Activism in an Age of Democratic Disappointment.  It explores the life, writings and recordings of Nancy DuPree, an African American civil rights activist, teacher, and community organizer who moved to Rochester, New York in 1964, months before an explosion of racial tension in that city following an incident of police brutality during a street dance.   In her classroom,  DuPree helped her students process their reaction through discussion, cultural expression and creative engagement.  She used spoken word and musical improvisation as pedagogy, and impacted Rochester politics through anthem called Ghetto Reality improvised by children from the ghetto.  She later documented this work on a Smithsonian Folkways Recording. “Improvisation is more than an approach to musical performance,” said Gregory,  “it is an approach, a spirit, embraced by some black women for survival.

Dr. Quincy Mills

Dr. Mills will discuss the work and abolitionist politics of Uriah Boston, an African American barber in 19th century Poughkeepsie – a case study from his forthcoming book, Shaving Men, Grooming Race: A History of Black Barbers and Barber Shops. Boston engaged in a heated debate with Frederick Douglass over the value of service work, particularly barbering, as a measurement of racial progress. In ways that Martin Luther King Jr. argued a century later, Boston and Douglass connected labor rights with civil rights to centralize economic security in the definition of citizenship.  “Boston’s work as a barber and abolitionist offer wonderful insights into how black barbers used their positions to fight for freedom,” Mills said.

On Monday, Jan. 16 at 2 p.m., the Library presents its MLKD program for school-age children, with Dr. Mills and Dr. Gregory reading stories and presenting music that explore similar themes in an age-appropriate way — black barbers and service work, the power of improvisation and the sacrifices, love and dreams that animate civil rights engagement.  Storyteller Jonathan Kruk will emcee.  The 2011 MLKD program is made possible with support from the Friends of Desmond-Fish Library. Both programs are free and open to the public.  For more information, contact the  library at 845-424-3020 or email library director Carol Donick at [email protected].

Photos courtesy of DFL

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