September 28, 2023 @ 4:00 pm – 5:00 pm
Barnard Observatory, Tupelo Room
Afton Thomas

“‘Go Slow, Now’: The Free Southern Theater, Civil Rights, and the Racial Project of Black Patience” presented by Julius Fleming Jr.

This talk considers how theater was vital to the civil rights movement. It explores how Black artists and activists in the U.S. South, namely the Free Southern Theater, used theatrical performance to stage a radical challenge to a violent racial project that Fleming calls “Black patience”—a project that has historically insisted that Black people wait for freedom. Mounting and repurposing plays like Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot and Ossie Davis’s Purlie Victorious, these cultural workers used theatre as a way to demand “freedom now.” Founded on the storied grounds of Mississippi—the United States’ most iconic geography of Black patience—this Black southern theatre transformed theatrical performance into a radical tool of civil rights protest. Taking the back porches of shacks, cotton fields, and even former plantations as their stages, they mounted insurgent embodied performances that unsettled modernity’s historical deferral of Black freedom, while transforming the racial meanings of Mississippi’s material geographies, much like those who were marching, sitting in, and transforming southern space in other ways.

Fleming is an associate professor of English at the University of Maryland, College Park, where he also serves as director of the English Honors Program. Specializing in Afro-Diasporic literatures and cultures, he has particular interests in performance studies and Black political culture, diaspora, and colonialism, especially where they intersect with race, gender, and sexuality. He is the author of Black Patience: Performance, Civil Rights, and the Unfinished Project of Emancipation.

SouthTalks is a series of events (including lectures, performances, film screenings, and panel discussions) that explores the interdisciplinary nature of Southern Studies. This series is free and open to the public, and typically takes place in the Tupelo Room of Barnard Observatory unless otherwise noted. Visit the Center’s website for current information about all Center events. During the 2023–24 academic year, the programming theme is “Creativity in the South.”