Our voices have continually been silenced, absorbed, or disappeared for decades.
Now you will see us, hear us, and value our contributions.
R.S.V.P. firstname.lastname@example.org for the Zoom link
Scotland. 1901. Four African American women gather on the eve of the Women’s World Congress to present their contributions towards racial uplift. The youngest member challenges them for being passive adornments, not progressive advocates, but she learns there is more to these women than originally meets the eye.
An Evening with Mrs Terrell and Friends brings to life my Eccles Centre Visiting Fellowship research. Below are the women the play is based upon.
Discovering the Washington Black elite and Mrs Mary Church Terrell
I came across the Washington black elite during my research for my book about the Antiguan scholar James Arthur Harley (1873 – 1943). Harley was married to Josephine Lawson, whose family was associated with the Washington black elite.
I previously had no knowledge of black elite societies in America. I was fascinated by Josephine’s family and their cohorts which made up the Washington black elite that included Mrs Mary Church Terrell, known as the Grande Dame of Washington.
The Washington Black Elite
A concentration of ‘old families,' bound together
by family background, good breeding, occupation, respectability, and colour, making them an exclusive, elite group known as the Black 400. Washington’s black elite was less than a hundred families out of a black population of 75,000 in 1900. The city was referred to as the centre of ‘negro blueblood and aristocrats. These were families who through their efforts and endeavours had utilised the negativity of segregation as the principal driving force for building and establishing successful black-owned banks, insurance companies, newspapers, social and entertainment businesses and churches.
Washington’s black elite socialised almost exclusively among themselves setting up their clubs, societies, organisations and churches, where their ‘good breeding’, culture and sophistication could be displayed for both black and whites to witness. The black elite saw themselves as a separate group from the run of the mill average black person living in the city.
Background to my Eccles Centre Visiting FellowshipResearch
Many of the Washington black elite luminaries involved with campaigning and advocating for Civil Rights included Frederick Douglas, Senator Blanch Kelso Bruce, John Francis Cooke, Jesse Lawson, Monroe Trotter, John Mercer Langton, Joseph Wormley, Daniel Evans Murray and Robert Terrell. But what about the wives of the Washington black elite – merely passive adornments or progressive advocates? I wanted to explore whether their lives revolved around social parties, events, and indulging in the latest fashions or were they activists behind the scenes.
My Eccles Centre Visiting Fellowship research examined the lives of three African American women. Mrs Mary Church Terrell, activist, suffrage campaigner, and author. Mrs Rosetta Coakley Lawson, pioneer of adult education and the Founder of the Frelinghuysen University; and Mrs Josephine Wilson Bruce, a champion for women's rights.
I wanted to progress from the broad questions into a detailed study of these women, assess their contributions to the Civil Rights Movement and what impact their legacies have had on contemporary black women.
Meet the cast
Meya Brumell is an actress and accent coach from Charlotte, North Carolina- currently based in London, UK.
Meya's love for acting and performing started at a young age and has carried on right through to adulthood.
She has had the privilege of having a well-rounded journey from experiencing and studying drama/performing arts on both sides of the pond.
A British actress based between Hastings and London. Recent credits include The Witcher and Cursed for Netflix.
She has also just finished filming a new sci-fi series for Paramount+ based on the computer game Halo.
Dionne Ward-Anderson has shown her love for music since she was 10 years old. With a musical background, thanks to her dad, she grew up in church singing gospel music.
In addition to voice being her main instrument, she plays the saxophone, guitar, piano and flute. Whilst training Dionne played Ronnette in Little Shop of Horrors. She can be seen in music videos for Emeli Sande, Wretch 32 and Craig David.
A London based actress.
After graduating with a degree in criminology and social psychology, she decide to pursue a professional acting career in 2019.
She has since appeared in projects with the Lyric Hammersmith, Total Insight Theatre and the Damilola Taylor Trust.
The screening and discussion are organised by the Eccles Centre in collaboration with the Society for the History of Women in the Americas (SHAW). This event forms part of the annual Gender and History in the Americas seminar series organized by SHAW.
The development and production of An Evening with Mrs Terrell and Friends is supported by Arts Council England, the Eccles Centre for American Studies at the British Library, the British Association for American Studies and the US Embassy London.
The premiere of An Evening with Mrs Terrell and Friends was an exceptional event. For many years the Centre has provided Fellowships to support research in the Library’s Americas collections by academic researchers. Pamela Roberts was part of the first cohort of creative researchers supported by the Centre. Seeing her work realised was a joy: it was exactly the kind of thoughtful, engaging and exciting work which we hoped the Creative Fellowship programme would produce. With her wonderful eye for relevance and audience engagement, Pamela has filtered her rigorous research into a unique piece of theatre which truly brings to life these fascinating women whilst not shying away from the incredible complexities of race, class and gender that their public and private lives represented. The recorded play was brilliantly performed and produced to an exacting standard. Pamela has set a high bar for our future Creative Fellows!
Dr Cara Rodway, Deputy Director, Eccles Centre for American Studies at the British Library
An Evening with Mrs Terrell and Friends” brings to life the dynamism, passion and power of Black women’s leadership in the way few historical accounts can. Pamela Roberts’ drama grapples with the complex dynamics of anti-racism struggles that continue to shape Black freedom movements in the twenty-first century and shows great empathy in its poignant depiction of class, generational and other divisions wrought by enslavement and its legacies. Anyone wanting to understand why we are where we are today and why restorative justice is necessary should watch this play.
Professor Kate Dossett, Professor of American History, University of Leeds
Pamela Roberts’ new play An Evening with Mrs Terrell and Friends was captivating from the outset. It was expertly crafted to weave together the life stories and vital contributions of black female activist, Mary Church Terrell and of her three black female friends. The play equally informs, educates but also entertained the audience. The actors were incredible and captivating; the responses from the audience illustrated the extent to which these women, their stories and incredible contributions to racial uplift and women’s rights, have for so long been hidden from historical (and popular) memory. Roberts’ play sets this record straight in a powerful and electric performance that needs to be seen by everyone!
Dr Marie Molloy, Senior Lecturer in American History.
Manchester Metropolitan University
Eccles Centre for American Studies
The Eccles Centre is a springboard for developing ideas and advancing research. Our goal is to connect users with the British Library’s North American collections. We work with promising talent to expand their thinking and uncover new inspirations. In doing so we bring together minds spanning the creative and academic disciplines.
Our programme includes a range of events designed to illuminate all aspects of North American literature, history, politics and culture. We nurture our growing community of talented writers, thinkers and creatives through a range of awards which enable great work to happen. Our range of study resources are designed to help inspire those exploring the British Library's Canadian, American and Caribbean collections.
Founded in 2009, SHAW is dedicated to the historical investigation of women and gender in North America, Latin America, and the Caribbean, either within or between nation states/ and or the northern or southern hemispheres. SHAW organizes annual conferences, monthly seminars at the Institute for Historical Research in London, and publishes a journal, History of Women in the Americas.