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The Village Trip Lecture: Ruth Feldstein – Performing Politics in the Village: Black Women Entertainers and the Civil Rights Movement

September 18 @ 6:00 pm - 8:00 pm EDT

Ruth Feldstein and Nina Simone record cover

The third annual Village Trip lecture will be given by Ruth Feldstein, Professor of History and American Studies at Rutgers University and award-winning author of How It Feels To Be Free, which provided the basis for a 2020 PBS documentary produced by Alicia Keys that examined Black women performers who played critical roles in political and social activism.

As she looked back on the years when her career was first taking off, Nina Simone would recall that at the Village Gate in the late 1950s, “politics was so mixed in with what went on… that I remember it now as two sides of the same coin, politics and jazz.” Simone was one of many entertainers who felt that the Village offered something special: a path into interracial communities in which civil rights activism and creativity not only intermingled but reinforced each other and flourished.

Professor Feldstein’s talk will consider the critical role that Black women performers played in these communities of activist-entertainers. Simone, Abbey Lincoln, Miriam Makeba, Diahann Carroll, Maya Angelou, Cicely Tyson, Lorraine Hansberry, Odetta were just some of the Black women who made the most of this unique time and place, as they simultaneously forged careers and supported Black freedom. They did so in cultural and political spaces largely dominated by men, where they seized opportunities but also faced constraints, and where they made choices about how to perform Black womanhood.

This loosely connected cohort of Black women did not necessarily call themselves feminists. Still, they insisted that the liberation they desired could not separate race from sex. Years before “intersectionality” became the buzzword that it is in social justice circles today, Black women entertainers lived and performed a politics of intersectionality – at Village hot spots and subsequently, around the world. More than talented performers (which they were!), they were activists and role models, central to what were arguably the two most transformative social movements of the twentieth century: civil rights and women’s liberation.

Professor Feldstein will discuss the ways in which Harlem and Greenwich Village provided artistic and political possibilities for so many women whose names are now writ large in the history of our times.

This event is FREE to attend, but tickets should be booked in advance.


September 18
6:00 pm - 8:00 pm EDT
Event Category:


Jefferson Market Library
425 6th Avenue NY NY 10011 United States + Google Map