Outside of the Greater Boston area or gateways cities, such as Springfield or Pittsfield, few may expect to find large numbers of black people in Massachusetts. It’s surprising, then, to hear that Florence, Mass., a village tucked in the northwest corner of the city of Northampton, had 10 percent black residents in 1850, higher than major hubs like New Bedford and Boston.
On Wednesday, Feb. 20, in light of Black History Month and in partnership with the David Ruggles Center for History and Education, the Malcolm X Cultural Center at the University of Massachusetts Amherst hosted a two-part event on the impact of slavery in the Pioneer Valley.
Ruggles Center director Steve Scrimer was invited to speak at the MXCC, presenting the history of African Americans that arrived to Florence in the middle 19th century via the Underground Railroad, and quickly made the mill town their home and site of radical organizing.
The Indian Classical Arts Society at the University of Massachusetts Amherst performed “Sita Haran” at Bezanson Hall on Saturday, Feb. 23. The show was about retelling an epic story from the ancient Hindu text, Ramayana, about the abduction of Sita by the king of Lanka, Ravana.
The show was a compilation of acts performed in various Indian dance forms—Kathak, Odissi and Bharatanatyam—and music forms that were adapted from different parts of North and South India. The dancers were accompanied by live musicians from UMass Amherst and the Greater Boston area.
Ilina Shah, president of the Indian Classical Arts Society, said, “Sita Haran was a perfect story for this show because it was a short enough excerpt from the Hindu epic Ramayana which has been interpreted by dancers from many Indian classical dance and music forms. Each dancer and musician could develop their own unique take on the character they were playing.”
All of the artists have been trained in their music and dance styles for over five years. The acts that were performed through the evening were self-choreographed and took inspiration from set compositions that have been established in these varied dance forms. The use of live music and different facial expressions helped bring out the story and showed the creativity the artists used to execute the story. Sita Haran represented the diversity and relevance of mythology this is prevalent in Indian society.
This Valentine’s day, the University of Massachusetts Amherst Fine Arts Center was welcome to a special performance by New Orleans trumpeter and composer Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah and his quintet.
Performing in the Bowker Auditorium, Adjuah’s Feb. 14 concert came at the end of a week-long tour across the Pioneer Valley through the Billy Taylor Endowment for Jazz Residencies, teaching and working with local high school and Five College students in masterclass workshops and one-on-one student critiques.
Community members, faculty and students were in attendance for a talk by culinary historian and memoirist Michael W. Twitty. The talk, held Wednesday evening in the Commonwealth Honors College Events Hall, was based off of Twitty’s 2017 personal memoir, “The Cooking Gene: A Journey Through African American Culinary History in the Old South.”
For well over a decade, Twitty has worked with living history museums to recreate the cooking practices of black people, dating back to the Transatlantic slave trade. What began as his love of culinary history and cooking grew into a desire to learn and teach others the ways enslaved people raised, harvested and cultivated their crops during the 18th and 19th century.
University of Massachusetts Amherst faculty, students and community members were in full attendance Sunday evening for a special film screening of If Beale Street Could Talk, hosted by the W.E.B. Du Bois Department of Afro-American Studies in partnership with local movie theater Amherst Cinema.
Afro-American Studies department chair Stephanie Shonekan introduced the evening’s screening, anticipating that Barry Jenkins’s (director of Moonlight and Medicine for Melancholy) film adaptation of the 1974 novel by James Baldwin would allow present-day audiences to “pause and think about what messages [Baldwin] is still sending us decades later.”