Phillis Wheatley is Baptized at Old South Church


 
In Context | Primary Sources | In Phillis’s Words | Artist Insights | Further Reading

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June 15 at 6PM

Poet Honorée Fanonne Jeffers, director John Oluwole ADEkoje, and producer Patrick Gabridge discuss the new short film series based on Jeffers’s work.
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Wheatley was a devout Christian and was admitted to Old South’s congregation when she was about 18 years old. Jeffers imagines her thoughts at a moment of 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. Here, the character of young Phillis speaks to the experiences of Black Christians who somehow carved a pathway to the divine while living in a spiritual community with enslavers who viewed them as lesser people. This short film was shot in the Old South Meeting House, where Phillis Wheatley was a member beginning in 1771.

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In Context

 

Phillis Wheatley was deeply influenced and inspired by the Christian religion, corresponding with and consuming sermons from religious leaders like Reverend Samson Occum and Reverend George Whitefield. Her publishing patroness, the Countess of Huntingdon, was also a devout and trailblazing Methodist.

The Wheatleys were active members of the New South Congregational Church; despite this, Phillis Wheatley joined the congregation of the Old South Meeting House on August 18, 1771 upon her “legal” coming of age. The frontispiece of her 1773 collected works, the only known likeness of the poet, features a display of her religious engagement: a small Bible on the desk in front of her. Much of Wheatley’s poetry is steeped in spiritual contemplation, biblical allegory, and religiously infused lamentations of death.


Primary Sources

Links to documents and artifacts relating to the moment and events referenced in the poem.
 

The Congregational Library and Archives, Admission Records for “Phillis, Servant to Mr. Wheatley” dated August 18, 1771
This day marks Phillis Wheatley’s entry to the Old South Church congregation. To navigate to the record, explore the “Admissions 1669-1855” collection. Phillis Wheatley’s record is found on page 450.
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Massachusetts Historical Society, Frontispiece to “Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral” dated September 1773.
The most famous portrait of Phillis Wheatley is the one that appears on the frontispiece to her collection of poems, the first published by an African-American poet.
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In Phillis’s Words

Excerpts of Phillis Wheatley Peters’s writings that resonate thematically with Jeffers’s poems.
 

“‘Twas mercy brought me from my Pagan land,
Taught my benighted soul to understand
That there’s a God, that there’s a Saviour too:
Once I redemption neither sought nor knew.
Some view our sable race with scornful eye,
‘Their colour is a diabolic die.’
Remember, Christians, Negros, black as Cain,
May be refin’d, and join th’ angelic train.”


Artist Insights


 
SABRINA VICTOR (Phillis Wheatley Peters) currently reigns as Miss Massachusetts USA 2020. She is an artist of many fields - actor, arts activist, model, content creator, social media influencer, and speaker. Theater credits include: The Donkey Show (American Repertory Theatre), School Girls, Or; The African Mean Girls Play (SpeakEasy Stage), and Miss You Like Hell(Company One). Sabrina graduated from the University of Massachusetts Amherst with two undergraduate degrees in Theater and Journalism, a Multicultural Theater Certificate, and Commonwealth Honors. www.sabrinakvictor.com

 
HONORÉE FANONNE JEFFERS (Poet) is the author of five poetry books, including The Age of Phillis (Wesleyan 2020), long-listed for the 2020 National Book Award and winner of the 2021 NAACP Image Award in Poetry. In addition, Jeffers has authored one forthcoming novel, The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois (Harper 2021).  She has received fellowships from the American Antiquarian Society, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Witter Bynner Foundation through the Library of Congress. Currently, she is the 2021 USA Mellon Fellow in Writing.  Jeffers is Professor of English at University of Oklahoma.

JOHN OLUWOLE ADEKOJE (Director) is a national award winner of The Kennedy Center's ACTF Lorraine Hansberry Playwriting Award for the play Street Hawker; as well as a recipient of The Roxbury International Film Festival's Emerging Local Filmmaker Award for the documentary Street Soldiers, which also showed at the Pan African Film Festival in Cannes, France, The World Film Festival-Montreal, and the BronzeLens Film Festival in Atlanta. ADEkoje has received the Brother Thomas Fellowship Award and he is a playwriting Fellow at the Huntington Theater Company. Most recently, he was awarded the Emerging Filmmaker Award for Knockaround Kids, his narrative feature, at the Roxbury International Film Festival which all showed at the Urbanworld Film Festival in New York. Knockaround Kids can be found on Tubi, Amazon prime, Google Play, Apple and other film platforms. ADEkoje is the co-director and director of photography for the digital version of Hype Man (Company One/American Repertory Theatre) as well as the writer, director and projection/art designer for the Triggered Life Project (Portland Playhouse). He teaches film production and theatre at Boston Arts Academy.

PATRICK GABRIDGE (Producer) is a playwright, novelist, and screenwriter whose work has been read and produced around the world. With his company Plays in Place he creates new site-specific plays in partnership with museums and historic sites, including Mount Auburn Cemetery, Boston’s Old State House, Old South Meeting House, and Roosevelt-Campobello International Park.


Further Reading

Links to additional resources.


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