Keene Chautauqua 2016 - Activist Athletes: Race and Sports

Traveling, tented “chautauquas” were an immensely popular form of American adult education in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Today’s Chautauquas feature scholars portraying significant historical figures in first-person performances followed by a question-and-answer period with the character and the scholar. New Hampshire Humanities brought the modern Chautauqua movement to New Hampshire in the 1990s with week-long festivals in Portsmouth and Keene. With grant support from New Hampshire Humanities, Keene Public Library, the Horatio Colony House Museum, and the Historical Society of Cheshire County have kept up the tradition, planning and organizing an evening of living history for the public every year since 2006.

This year Keene Chautauqua continues a multi-year exploration of issues of race, equality and Civil Rights with first-person portrayals of activist-athletes Paul Robeson and Wilma Rudolph. The event will take place in Keene Public Library’s Heberton Hall on Thursday, September 15 with pre-show music at 6:00 p.m. and presentations by Marvin Jefferson as Paul Robeson and Gwendolyn Briley-Strand as Wilma Rudolph starting at 6:30 p.m. Their stories raise questions about two timely topics, athletics and race. How do sports in some ways reinforce dominant ideas about race and racial supremacy but at other times become a platform for addressing racial and social injustices?

Paul Robeson, son of a former slave, was one of the most well-known African-Americans of the 20th century. He was a renaissance man: a social activist, singer, scholar, actor, All-American athlete at Rutgers, intellectual, lawyer, linguist, humanist, and advocate for international peace. Marvin Jefferson has portrayed Robeson for the Ohio and Maryland Humanities Councils, the New Jersey Council for the Humanities, as well as the entire Newark, NJ school district for twelve years.

Sprinter Wilma Rudolph won three gold medals in track and field during the 1960 Summer Olympics, making her the first American female to do so in a single year’s games. She is regarded as a civil and women’s rights pioneer. Gwendolyn Briley-Strand has portrayed Rudolph with the Maryland Humanities Council and appeared in an extensive list of theater, film, and television productions.

For more information please click HERE or contact Gail Zachariah at (603) 352-0157 or