Welcome to the conversation!

Welcome to the conversation!

Harriet Beecher Stowe's (1811-1896) best-selling anti-slavery novel Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852), made her the most famous American woman of the 19th century and galvanized the abolition movement before the Civil War.

The Stowe Center is a 21st-century museum and program center using Stowe's story to inspire social justice and positive change.

The Salons at Stowe programs are a forum to connect the challenging issues (race, gender and class) that impelled Stowe to write and act with the contemporary face of those same issues. The Salon format is based on a robust level of audience participation, with the explicit goal of promoting civic engagement. Recent topics included: Teaching Acceptance; Is Prison the New Slavery; Traces of the Trade: A Story from the Deep North; Creativity and Change; Race, Gender and Politics Today; How to be an Advocate

This blog will expand the reach of these community conversations to the online audience. Add your posts and comments to keep the conversation going! Commit to action by clicking HERE to stay up to date on Salon and social justice news.

For updates on Stowe Center programs and events, sign up for our enews at http://harrietbeecherstowe.org/email.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Event Recap: Parlors as Subversive Spaces

Parlors as Subversive Spaces:

Where did people gather in the 19th century to discuss problems and and develop plans to take action? In parlors
How has the parlor discussion changed over time and how do women effect social change today?

Guest speaker opening remarks:

Joan Hedrick: Professor of History, Trinity College

During the 19th century their are 2 points to consider about parlor discussions:
  • Gender
    • Traditionally, men were in the public and women remained in the private sphere. Women were to be pious, pure, domestic and submissive. 
    • Men and women gathered in parlors. In parlors, women could influence men and discuss problems such as slavery and temperance. 
    • In Uncle Tom’s Cabin Mrs. Bird influences the Senator in the parlor. A woman has a voice there.
  • Parlor encouraged women’s writing.
    • Women were letter writers. They kept the bonds of family together through letters.
    • Women’s voices reach outside the parlor because the letters were read aloud by the recipients.
    • Literary clubs also encouraged the voice of women. Harriet Beecher Stowe’s involvement in the Semi-colon Club earned her her first publication.
    • When women wrote they often wrote about pressing issues. A political voice developed.
Anna Doroghazi: Director of Public Policy and Communications, Connecticut Sexual Assault Crisis Services
  • Today young women’s groups such as the Permanent Commission on the Status of Women’s Young Women’s Leadership Program encourage and inspire women to cultivate their skills. 
  • Groups like this provide networking opportunities with other women, a speakers bureau, and volunteer work. 
  • Women are marketed ideal images and feel that there are certain expectations they feel they need to uphold. 
  • The Young Women’s Leadership Program has started a House Party program to help women feel empowered and offer a space for discussion. 
    • In the 1960s and 70s women felt isolated and took issues very personally. When a space was opened to talk about issues it was not personal, it was systematic. 
    • Today, media outlets and social networking feel false and impersonal
    • Topics of house parties: leadership, stress, self care, body image. All of the topics come together. 
    • Women come together to express vulnerabilities and issues with balancing home and work. The parties provide a sense of relief.
Group Discussion:

What about finding a voice for colored women?
  • White woman’s voice was heard, but there was no outlet for less privledged, colored women.
  • The Voices of Women of Color (VOWC) became their outlet. 
    • The group did not allow black men, white men, and white women in the first year. Now white women come in. 
    • The organizers of the group travelled through Hartford looking for women. They wanted to focus on the women that weren’t talked about and create a safe space.
    • The group has become effective in moving from house parties to action. 
    • We’re leaving behind a whole bunch of women and need to challenge ourselves to do something. 
How do we create spaces that are comfortable for everyone?
  • This hasn’t happened yet, which shows that there are barriers to creating spaces.
  • Organizations are not doing a great job reaching out to everyone.
  • Religious communities cross certain barriers.
  • Creativity comes from engaging with communities we don’t normally engage with.
  • We NEED to take more risks and we will become more inclusive.
  • Respecting the richness of culture is critical so that one culture doesn’t dominate the other.
  • Everyone has to reach out to other groups, have a dialogue, and invite them to join you for further discussion. Make it your personal mission and set personal goals.
  • We have a fear of bringing other into our lives.  
How do we reach different groups when they are concerned with different issues?
  • Acknowledge your differences and realize what makes other people hurt.
  • There are common goals such as ethics, morals, and character. It is important to educate younger generations about these goals.
  • Families need to talk more and be distracted by technology and busy schedules less.
  • Women can reinforce the negative. Need to come together to support other women.
  • Building a community of support is key; as well as setting short term, intermediate, and long term goals.
  • Problems seem huge when you are alone, but become simple with support.
How do we reengage men the way they were involved in the discussions of the 19th century?
  • Nature of the parlor changed after civil war. It became more formal and the men were not so comfortable in fussy rooms, they went to men’s clubs.
  • Were we to recreate the heterosexual mix today it may be more subversive today than it was in 19th century.
How do we education and engage the next generation?
  • Need to educate women about what the women who came before them fought for.
  • Teaching children to respect the work of those before them because they take for granted what they have.We encourage the disrespect of the younger generation by giving in to their wants.
  • Raise boys and young men to respect women
  • In the past children were to be seen, not heard. Today the youth can have a voice.   
What opportunities are there for engagement today?
  • There are plenty of opportunities for political action.
  • Groups can come together despite class. Agendas are different, but there can be a coalition to come together. 
What is subversive today?

  • Growing your own food and taking the television out of the living room seems subversive.
  • Enriching things have now become subversive
  • Family connections are falling by the wayside.
  • Victorian parlor discussions are superior to the conversations we have today. Sitdown gatherings are deserted for cyber engagement were you pick your own environment.
Inspiration to Action
  • Host a house party
    • Get the conversation started
    • Invite people from diverse backgrounds and explore how to gather creatively
  • Acknowledge privledges to promote inclusion
  • Take the TV out of the living room and interact with each other
  • Women should support each other
  • Organize around the wage gap.
  • Educate younger women about the work women have done before them. 
    • Understand where you are and how you got there
  • Educate each other. No brother or sister should be left behind.
  • Create common spaces for discussion
  • Work together to create change around an issue of common interest
  • Reclaim the living room and live in that room
  • Raise good men
  • Take a risk

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Featured Guest Bios: Parlors as Subversive Spaces

We think of parlors as boring spaces but in the 19th century social change was organized in parlors.  19th century women of all classes met in their parlors around issues and solutions - from abolition to temperance and votes for women - in a time when they had no public voice.  What are women activists doing today to create social change?

Joan D. Hedrick: Professor of History, Trinity College
Joan graduated from Vassar College in 1966 and received her Ph.D. in American Civilization from Brown University in 1974.  She taught at Wesleyan University in English and American Studies from 1972 to 1980.  She is now Charles Dana Professor of History at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, where she has taught since 1980 and where she founded and for fifteen years directed the Women's Studies Program.  Her first book was a critical study of Jack London entitled Solitary Comrade: Jack London and His Work.  Her Harriet Beecher Stowe: A Life was published by Oxford University Press in 1994.  The first full-length biography of Stowe in over fifty years, it won a Christopher Award and the 1995 Pulitzer Prize for Biography.  She is also the author of The Oxford Harriet Beecher Stowe Reader.

Anna Doroghazi: Director of Public Policy and Communications, Connecticut Sexual Assault Crisis Services
Anna is the Director of Public Policy and Communication at Connecticut Sexual Assault Crisis Services (CONNSACS).  She has been at CONNSACS since 2007 and previously served as their Community Relations Coordinator.  Prior to her work at their, Anna worked as a domestic violence victim advocate in Michigan and interned with human rights organizations in Boston and London.  She is a steering committee member of the Connecticut Young Women's Leadership Program, a project of the Permanent Commission on the Status of Women, and volunteers with Foodshare.  She holds a bachelor's degree in European Studies and Spanish from Hillsdale College and a master's degree in Human Rights from the London School of Economics.

March 24, 2011
Reception at 5pm. Conversation from 5:30-7:00 pm.
Additional information at: www.harrietbeecherstowecenter.org

Monday, March 14, 2011

Event Recap: Name-Calling and the Evolution of Uncle Tom

What does it mean to be an Uncle Tom? How has the image of Stowe's Christ-like figure turned into a sell-out?

Opening Remarks

Adena Spingarn: PhD. candidate at Harvard University. Currently writing her doctoral dissertation titled: Uncle Tom in the American Imagination: A Cultural Biography.
  • There is a strange history of Uncle Tom. Tom really isn't an "Uncle Tom" as many know the term to be. He isn't a race traitor; he is submissive to God more than his master.
  • There have been so many uses of "Uncle Tom" in pop culture including: 30 Rock, rap music, The Simpsons, The Little Rascals, and more.
  • The term has become part of what it means to be black.
  • We are still talking about him. There is no other character in literature that has the resonance.
  • Readers, black and white, praise him in the 19th century
  • Three things have changed our perceptions:
    • What does it mean to be a man? (Different in 19th century than 20th century. Ideals for masculinity have changed. He's less appealing in 20th century.)
    • The way we talk about slavery and the Southern nostalgia for the past. As a nation, it was much easier to accept and retell the story of enslaved people living as part of their master's family.
    • Growing black political movement that needs to respond to reconstruction. (New Negro needs to put down an old Negro. It's a part of the black protest movement. They want to change the image of black culture)
Jeffrey Ogbar: Associate Professor of History and Associate Dean for the Humanities in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Connecticut
  • Differences in adaptations of Uncle Tom's Cabin: Novel constructs someone who is anti-slavery. Plays show him quivering to his master.
  • In William Lloyd Garrison's newspaper The Liberator a letter to the editor in 1852 asks what Harriet Beecher Stowe thought of the resistance by the white man? Does Christ justify the whites to take up arms and does Christ expect blacks to wait patiently and be submissive?
  • Malcolm X called Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. an "Uncle Tom"; claiming he led black men to be defenseless.
  • Chicano community used "Uncle Tom": "Tio Taco" (Uncle Taco). Asian-Americans used it as well. There was also Uncle Charlie and Uncle Roy. The term evolved.
  • Jalen Rose played basketball for University of Michigan. In a documentary, which aired on ESPN on March 8, 2011, he says that rival Duke University "only recruited black players that were 'Uncle Tom's'."
  • Muhammad Ali used the term. Sugar Ray Robinson was an old school Negro; Ali calls him as "Uncle Tom". Also calls Joe Frazier and George Foreman "Uncle Tom".
  • In Hip Hop, Ice Cube uses "Uncle Tom" as a sell-out in "True to the Game". 
  • Uncle Tom is one of the most offensive words black people can use against other black folks. 
Group Discussion:
Does the evolution of Uncle Tom have something to do with ageism?
  • The popular image is that Uncle Tom was an old man; in the book he's a young, strong man.
  • A variety of editions of  Uncle Tom's Cabin were published with Tom as an old man.
  • Image of the older generation being weaker, which fit the derogatory "Uncle Tom" figure.
  • The term was political for students in the 20th century, not necessarily age. Young folks were also called "Uncle Toms".
How was it used outside of the novel?
  • In the 20th century the name was given to African Americans from outside the community, not inside. There was an image of a black person as hostile and violent. There was also an image of a black person being passive. It depended on the propaganda.
  • Term "Uncle" and "Aunt" were used to offer some deferential title for older slaves. They are "part of our family". These terms are still a mark of great respect in some parts of the world.
  • In the 1930s, Aunt Jemima was the most popular black woman. Uncle Ben follows in this tradition in the 1940s. They bring a nostalgia to slavery. It was easier for the nation to agree on this happy image, rather than talk about what slavery was really about.
  • Uncle Remus is a reworking of the "Uncle Tom" figure. He is part of the nostalgia.
    • He was a non-threatening image of slavery
    • The difference many saw was the Uncle Remus wasn't a sell-out
    • Others saw the character as demeaning
When does Uncle Tom take on the image of a sell-out?
  • Seems to being around 1883, but in the teens is when it became derogatory.
  • In 1910, the newspaper The Chicago Defender, published an article that said migrants (from the Great Migration) should go back to the South where the "Uncle Toms" and "Topsys" belong.
How has "Uncle Tom" been used in pop culture and entertainment?
  • Many know what "Uncle Tom" means, but they haven't read the book Uncle Tom's Cabin
  • Many teachers shy away from teaching the book because of stereotypes. As the character of Uncle Tom became a bad guy people began to put the book away.
  • Kids use the term because they hear it in popular culture. It begins to have less meaning.
  • Uncle Tom's image changed through entertainment. The silly dancing that black people were doing in entertainment was more acceptable.
  • There were extremely racist versions and dignified versions of Uncle Tom's Cabin. There have always been varieties. Categorically minstrel shows with whites using blackface.
What other factors caused "Uncle Tom" to be derogatory?
  • Immigration and fear. People are afraid to share; if you share there won't be enough for you.
  • This feeling that, "I haven't defined why I'm important, so I'll put you down to define why I exist."
  • So much is based on economics. Immigration, slavery, both are based on economics.
  • When black people speak more educated it's looked down upon. You can be seen as a "wannabe" which can be a modern day "Uncle Tom".
What was the female equivalent?
  • Mammy was a female equivalent.
  • Females could also be called "Uncle Tom". Anyone who was undermining he cause could be an "Uncle Tom".
Is there an international use of the term "Uncle Tom"?
  • He is a symbol of resistance. He's used for a radical, political movement outside the U.S.
  • "Uncle Tom" is associated with the original character.
How do we teach this stereotyping and overcoming the stereotype of "Uncle Tom," especially when some see violence as the only way to resist?
  • You want to inspire children and people are inspired by different things. Sometimes it's naysayers that inspire, but that doesn't work for everybody. We need nurturing.
  • Don't hold back from talking about the hard stuff.
Inspiration to Action Items:
  • Read Uncle Tom's Cabin to understand the real image
  • Nurture and inspire children
  • Talk about the tough stuff

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Featured Guest Bios: Name-calling and the Evolution of Uncle Tom

What does it mean to be an Uncle Tom? How did the strong character in Uncle Tom's Cabin morph into the image of a sell-out? Was Stowe's character Tom an Uncle Tom? Is Tom's mis-characterization evidence of racism? What can it tell us about name-calling and other bullying today?

Adena Spingarn: Harvard doctoral student
Adena Spingrarn is a PhD candidate in Harvard University's English Department. Her dissertation, "Uncle Tom in the American Imagination: A Cultural Biography," examines Uncle Tom's transformation in American cultural understanding from a heroic Christ figure in Harriet Beecher Stowe's 1852 anti-slavery novel, Uncle Tom's Cabin, to a submissive race traitor. Taking an interdisciplinary approach that incorporates Uncle Tom's appearances in politics, literature, religion, film, theater, visual art, music, television, and material culture, she argues that Uncle Tom has been a key figure through which Americans have debated issues of racial representation and strategies of protest. Before coming to Harvard, she was on the editorial staff of Vogue magazine, where she wrote about books, health, and music. Her current scholarship and teaching focus is on 19th- and 20th-century American literature and cultural history, with a special emphasis on African-American literature and history. In May 2010, she shared some of her research findings in an article on Uncle Tom's evolution for The Root.

Jeffery Ogbar: Associate Professor of History and Associate Dean for the Humanities in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Connecticut
Dr. Jeffery O.G. Ogbar has been active in activities concerning African American studies and African American students at UConn since his arrival in 1997. A nationally recognized public intellectual, his research interests include the 20th century United States with a focus in African American history. More specifically, Dr. Ogbar studies black nationalism and radical social protest, as well as the intersections of politics and Black popular culture. He has developed courses, lectured and published articles on subjects such as Pan-Africanism, civil rights struggles, black nationalism and hip-hop. In 1999-2000 Dr. Ogbar worked as a research fellow at Harvard University's W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for Afro-American research, while completing his book, Black Power: Radical Politics and African American Identity. In 2001, Dr. Ogbar was a scholar-in-residence at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in New York City, while working on his second book, Hip-Hop Revolution: The Culture and Politics of Rap. His articles have appeared in the "Journal of Religious Thought," the "Journal of Black Studies," "Souls" and other scholarly publications.

March 10, 2011
Reception at 5pm. Conversation from 5:30-7:00 pm.
Additional information at: www.harrietbeecherstowecenter.org

Friday, March 4, 2011

Event Recap: Training the Next Generation of Social Change Leaders

How do mentorship programs inspire and guide the next generation of social change leaders?

Michelle Cote: Founding Director of The Purpose Project
  • Wanting to make a change in the world, ideal scenarios, lots of energy, and the guidance they needed created the Purpose Project.
  • The Purpose Project identifies those who have wisdom and connects them to the next generation
  • The first Thursday of the month during the academic year, the Hartford Courant publishes their work on inspirational people
  • Face to face dialogue is key. Once a month seasoned and emerging leaders come together to discuss issues of the community in the "Bridge the Gap" discussions.
  • The best way to leave a mark is to equip those who come next. It's a great exchange.
Camilla Marquez: Program Coordinator for Peace Jam Northeast
  • Making connections between youth and nobel laureates all around the world.
  • For younger children it's about character traits of these leaders and inspiring them to take on these traits. Each laureate has a trait to study such as compassion or anger management.
  • For older students it is the steps towards activism
Colleen Kelly Alexander: Program Manager for Peace Jam Northeast
  • Peace Jam is involved in issues such as racism, equal access to health care, and women's issues
  • It's about finding what you are passionate about and how to do something.
How important is it to track how many youth you work with and what they do?
  • For Peace Jam, former participants bring back great success stories to the organization and attribute their impact to their involvement in Peace Jam.
  • The Purpose Project is still a young organization, still building their audience. Keeping track of those involved is the goal.
It takes a lot of courage to take risks. How do we confront that?
  • Most powerful part is highlighting personal examples and making role models human.
  • Change doesn't happen overnight. Michelle stated that, "It's the long arc of effor that yeilds results."
  • Purpose drives you. It's the little wins along the way that make you continue.
  • Sometimes issues seem so grand, we don't know where to start, and it's easier to put it off. It is important to understand the power of the individual.
How do you make your approach?
  • Work in schools, faith based groups, and community organizations. Networking!!
  • Purpose Project's "Bridge the Gap" community discussion puts people of all ages together to encourage the next generation to make change.
How do you teach children to be activists?
  • You look at character traits and methods of real activism to inspire action.
  • Most have never had this experience; it is a learning opportunity. "There is no failure."
  • Purpose Project has a curriculum to give students the opportunity to decide whether activism is what they want to do and find out what their passion is. It takes passion.
  • Exposing children to other backgrounds can be done without travelling the world.
What barriers do you face putting mixed generations together?
  • Stereotypes, differences in language and expectations.
  • Stripping away those divisions and coming together for a common purpose is the goal. 
  • You may have a different approach (social media vs. door-to-door canvassing), but you have a common goal.
How do you connect people from different backgrounds?
  •  Networking and ginding people your work resonates with.
  • Getting your messageout there, asking and providing an outlet opens it up to involvement.
  • It's about embracing differeneces because they shouldn't be ignored, they should be celebrated.
What are young people doing?
  • University of Hartford's class, Designing Global Change, brings art students together iwht social organizations.
  • A non-violence mural project on Albany Avenue in Hartford brought together students, the local community, Hartford Police, and the Urban League.
  • Communicating peace, hope, and community was the goal of the class' mural project.
How do the events occuring now inthe Middle East impact our action here?
  • Some wonder why our country's youth isn't standing up the way they are.
  • There's a  breaking point people have to reach; there's a point where it becomes intolerable.
  • We are too comfortable and our lives are not in jeopardy enough for an uprising.
  • Hopefully it doesn't take hunger or suffering to get us to action.
What are our issues? How do we act?
  • Climate change, oil, and economic instability are concerns we have limited time to address.
  • Poverty is related to all of us. There are deep deep problems that need answers. The answer may be hidden, but we can find it. A national and global movement is needed.
  • Take the risk to have dialogue. We need to make the effort to engage in conversation.
  • Step outside your comfort zone. Start small.
  • Reach out to children when they are young. Children soak up information.
  • It's not dependent on one person, it takes spreading that persons words and actions.
  • Solidarity, not charity. It's not enough to donate and believe you made a difference.
  • Sacrificing some of your comforts and privileges to take action and standing in solidarity makes a difference.