Porgy and Bess premiered in New York in 1935 featuring an African American cast of performers. The opera is based on DuBose Heyward’s novel Porgy, which deals with life in Charleston, South Carolina, in the early 1920s.
The gift of a first edition of the novel Porgy led to Kendra Hamilton’s discovery that the fictional hero of America’s beloved folk opera was, in fact, a real person and that Hamilton’s grandmother knew him.
“The Secret Lives of Porgy and Bess” documents Hamilton’s quest to put flesh and bones on the man known on the streets of Charleston as Goat Cart Sammy, an act of historical and cultural sleuthing that draws together the history of jazz, Cold War politics, the Great Migration, Al Jolson, and much more into a story with startling implications for our own time.
“The Secret Lives of Porgy and Bess” is excerpted from Hamilton’s literary history, Romancing the Gullah: The Rage for Racial Authenticity in the Age of Porgy and Bess.
Kendra Hamilton is an independent scholar, a professional writer, and a lecturer in UVA’s Women, Gender, and Sexuality program. The author of The Goddess of Gumbo (2006), she is also widely published in literary journals such as Shenandoah, Callaloo, and the Southern Review while her essays and poetry have appeared in the anthologies Shaping Memories: Reflections of African American Women Writers, Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry, and the forthcoming Angles of Ascent: A Norton Anthology of Contemporary African American Poetry.
Robert F. Kennedy, Race and Politics During the 1960s
No national political figure was more profoundly influenced by African American protests in the 1960s and the conditions they revealed than Robert F. Kennedy. Kennedy’s response to the demands of the civil rights movement, his exposure to urban poverty, and his evolving understanding of race as a formative force in American life shaped his public life and helped define his political leadership. Join historian Patricia Sullivan as she explores the development of Kennedy’s ideas and politics in relationship to the civil rights struggles and racial divisions of the 1960s.
About Patricia Sullivan...
Sullivan is Professor of History at the University of South Carolina and a VFH Fellow. Her books include Lift Every Voice: The NAACP and the Making of the Civil Rights Movement and Days of Hope: Race and Democracy in the New Deal Era. She is co-director of an NEH Summer Institute at Harvard University on African American Struggles for Freedom and Citizenship.
VFH Fellows’ Lunchtime presentations are held monthly at the City Council Chambers. For more information, contact Ann White Spencer, firstname.lastname@example.org.