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THE BOOK OF NEGROES and U.N. International Day of Remembrance

Documenting Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade

This year's Day of Remembrance pays particular tribute to the many women who suffered and died during the slave trade. ... Women slaves played a key role in maintaining the dignity of their communities. Too often their leadership and brave resistance have been underestimated or forgotten. –Ban Ki-moon, UN Secretary-General

The UN Secretary-General's statement is the backdrop to my Black History Month and Women's History Month experiences this year. It all began when, along with about 300 others, I showed up at the United Nations on February 11 to view the pre-screening of Episode 4 of THE BOOK OF NEGROES, the BET mini-series, based on the acclaimed novel by Lawrence Hill. You may remember TBON was on Oprah's 2010 Summer Reading List (also known in the US as Someone Knows My Name.

Book of Negroes is a historical document that records names and descriptions of 3,000 enslaved African-American who had to work for the British army during the American Revolution so as to qualify for their freedom. Following their service, they were evacuated on a British ship to points in Nova Scotia, Canada. Indeed, according to the author Hill, "Unless you were in Book of Negroes, you couldn't escape to Canada."

The screening was held in the cavernously imposing Economic & Social Council Chambers, at UN headquarters, with dizzying elevated tiers of semi-circular seating, all mounted with banks of mics and hundreds of tabletop monitors, lit up in cobalt blue hashtags -- #REMEMBERSLAVERY and #BOOKOFNEGROES. I noticed a smaller monitor where, with only a click, I could surf through several hundred channels of the world's languages. I figured out how to "program" the slender headphones, delightfully clicking away, first French then Mandarin Chinese, Swahili, Xhosa, Creole, and more. Much more. Tower of Babble, indeed.

Book of Negroes at UN  monitors-with-hashtags-REMEMBERSLAVERY-and-BOOKOFNEGROES Photo by Luvon Roberson 650x487United Nation's Economic and Social Chamber. Photo by Luvon Roberson

Book of Negroes  Book Editor Luvon Roberson at her seat in Economic and Social Council Chamber  at UN Photo by Luvon  Roberson 650x469What's The 411 Book Editor, Luvon Roberson, at her seat at the United Nation's Economic and Social Chamber. Photo Credit: Luvon Roberson

Then, the lights dim, and I was transported from my high-tech 2015 world to Aminata Diallo's world in 1783. When only 11 years old, Aminata is snatched from her parents and village shackled in iron manacles, and beaten, enduring the horrific Middle Passage across the Atlantic. Yet, throughout this amazing woman's life, in the face of fearsome turbulence, adversity, and heartbreak, we see her steadfast determination, independence, and burning ambition for justice for herself – and all enslaved peoples. When the lights come up again, I am so immersed in her world that I feel a bit disconcerted to find myself, blinking, in the bright lights of the United Nations chamber. #REMEMBERSLAVERY #BOOKOFNEGROES.

Following the screening, we are treated to a Q & A with the stars of The Book of Negroes mini-series: Leading actress Aunjanue Ellis who plays Aminata Diallo, the enslaved African woman who wrote down and catalogued Book of Negroes and ultimately won her freedom through that service, and Oscar-award & Emmy-award winning actor Louis Gossett, Jr., as well as the mini-series director, co-writer Clement Virgo.

Book of Negroes Q-and-A Unitd-Nations  Photo by Luvon Roberson cropped-resized 650x557Q and A session with stars of the mini-series, Book of Negroes, and the mini-series writer and co-director. Photo by Luvon Roberson

The preview screening, co-sponsored by the Permanent Mission of Canada, can also be viewed here

Book of Negroes would never have documented – or help set free -- so many of the transatlantic slave trade without Aminata Diallo's shining intelligence, tireless labor, and fiercely courageous efforts. Actor Lyriq Bent plays Chekura Diallo, the loving and brave man she eventually marries but, who, as a child, was among her enslavers in Africa. Oscar-winner Cuba Gooding, Jr., plays Samuel Fraunces, the renowned tavern owner/businessman in New York, who supports Aminato Diallo's efforts, yet caters to slaveholder General George Washington. After returning to Sierre Leone, West Africa, Aminata Diallo later becomes a vocal abolitionist in Britain, who fights to write her own story about the horrors of slavery. Actress Aunjanue Ellis shares her views on Aminata Diallo, here

Every year, on March 25, the UN holds International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade. This year, as I sought to learn more about the contributions of African-Americans to US history -- and the world -- in February: Black History Month, I came to see new and fuller expressions of women's lives and stories for March: Women's History Month.

More on Women & Slavery...

From March 25 to March 27, the United Nations is holding a "Women and Slavery" briefing and hosting a global video conference of students living in countries affected by the transatlantic slave trade. For more information, visit Twitter: @rememberslavery, Facebook: www.facebook.com/rememberslavery, and Website: rememberslavery.un.org. You can also watch the events live on the UN webcast. Videos, profiles, historical documents, and more about THE BOOK OF NEGROES is available on the BET website here

CLOSING LINES & SNIPPETS...

The novel by Lawrence Hill is entitled The Book of Negroes (also known as Someone Knows My Name), and was published in 2007, by HarperCollins. The historical document is Book of Negroes. The television miniseries is The Book of Negroes (miniseries).

A Memorable Trip to Bountiful

On Wednesday, August 14th, I had the privilege to attend a showing of the critically acclaimed revival of Horton Foote's masterpiece, The Trip to Bountiful. Starring Cicely Tyson, Vanessa Williams, and Cuba Gooding Jr., it tells the story of Carrie Watts (Cicely Tyson), who is living in a small Houston apartment with her soft-spoken son (Cuba Gooding Jr.) and very out-spoken daughter-in-law (Vanessa Williams).

Carrie dreams of returning to her home in a small gulf coast town called Bountiful where she grew up and raised her family. Sneaking away with her latest pension check, Carrie heads to Bountiful for the journey of a lifetime. The result is an unforgettable play about the idea of home and its power to sustain us.

This being the first Broadway show I have ever attended I was amazed and in awe of the performances, set design and overall experience. From the serious moments to the downright hysterical, I was enchanted by it all. The main cast and ensemble were a sight to behold.

After the show's end, the audience was treated to a special post show talkback with cast members Vanessa Williams, Tom Wopat and Adepero Oduye. The event, moderated by writer and critic Caryn James, gave a behind the scenes look at the creative process of the show. The actors were very candid with both the interviewer and the audience and were open to any questions, which was a real treat for all in attendance.

I highly recommend this show and strongly encourage you to join the list of celebs that have seen the production. They include: Denzel Washington, director Kenny Leon, Whoopi Goldberg, Diahann Carroll, and Harry Belafonte.

Go see it before it ends on October 9th, 2013.

There is currently a 2 for 1 ticket sale going, get tickets while you still can! http://bit.ly/14tzodB

  • Published in Theatre

Moreland's Review: The Trip to Bountiful

On the stage at Stephen Sondheim Theatre, Horton Foote's The Trip to Bountiful tells the story of an elderly woman, Carrie Watts (Cicely Tyson) yearning to return to the days of her young adulthood, where things were happier and simpler. Not being able to actually return to those days, she seeks the next best thing: returning to Bountiful where those days were spent.

At this point in her life she lives in Houston with her son, Ludie (Cuba Gooding, Jr.) and his wife, Jessie Mae (Vanessa Williams). Poor Ludie constantly tries to keep peace between the two women in his life. Jessie Mae hates her mother-in-law's hymn singing and snooping while Carrie finds her son's wife to be demanding and pampered. And Ludie and Jessie Mae will have none of this nonsensical notion of visiting Bountiful.

Knowing that her son and daughter-in-law will never escort her there, Carrie decides to take off on her own, and with the help of kind strangers, she heads to Bountiful with her family in hot pursuit.

The story of an old woman wanting to return to her hometown is not in itself an interesting tale. But with the excellent writing of Horton Foote and the lively characters he creates, this story blossoms into a thoroughly fascinating adventure.

He takes the age-old conflict of the battling mother and daughter-in-law with the son caught in the middle and spins it into something entertaining and almost original. Foote's script would be nothing but words on a page without the exceptional performers to give them life. And Tyson, Williams and Gooding do just that.

In the earlier scene, the three characters interact in their apartment with each participating in the development and telling of this story. But once Carrie takes off to Bountiful this becomes Cicely Tyson's play and she is outstanding! Dancing and singing and carrying this play like Atlas with the world on his shoulders. This production is further enhanced by a superb set, which while modest compared some of the more elaborate Broadway settings, the backdrop serves this story well, supporting but not overwhelming it.

At this point, it's a cliché to say: Take this trip to Bountiful; but it is nevertheless true. It'll be worth your time and money.

The Trip to Bountiful is about two hours in length.

  • Published in Theatre
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