APR 7: Join poet and Board Member, Charles Coe, for an evening of poetry, film, and discussion to celebrate Phillis Wheatley Peters.
To mark the 250th anniversary of Wheatley’s baptism, we have teamed with Old South Church to ask four different local black women leaders to reflect on her work and how it has impacted Black people’s fight for liberation in America.
JUNE 15: A panel featuring the producer and director of the new short film series Imagining the Age of Phillis, as well as poet Honorée Fanonne Jeffers, on whose poems the films are based.
We think of the Boston Massacre as the start of the American Revolution. In Jeffers’s hands, it becomes a moment to call out the hypocrisy of white colonists in comfortable circumstances who protested their “enslavement” by the British even as they held Blacks in bondage.
After she had achieved international fame, Phillis Wheatley met and married John Peters, a free Black man. In this deeply romantic pair of poems, Jeffers imagines their relationship.
Elizabeth Freeman helped to end slavery in Massachusetts through a lawsuit she filed in 1781. In this poem, Jeffers imagines her speaking to the profound injustice of being forced to seek her freedom in a system where only white men could argue her case and living in a world in which a Black person’s word was rarely taken as truth on its own terms.
As Phillis Wheatley sought to publish her first book, there were many who doubted that an enslaved Black woman was capable of such an accomplishment. Jeffers here imagines the courage it likely took 20-year-old Wheatley to face down their judgment and manage the balancing act of intellect and subservience that was likely required to secure their approval.
In this pairing of poems, Jeffers imagines a first accidental meeting of Obour Tanner and Phillis Wheatley. The two women shared the traumatic experience of enslavement and the perilous Middle Passage, and the challenge of holding on to their identities as African women even as their masters demanded that they build new lives in New England without reference to their pasts.
Jeffers imagines Wheatley Peters’ thoughts at the moment of her baptism, which might have included a mix of joy at a deepened connection with Christ and frustration at the church’s treatment of African Americans.