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October 10, 2003

Civil Rights Activism, Then and Now, To be Examined During Otelia Cromwell Day at Smith, Oct. 30

Editor's note: Digital images of speakers are available, as are images from the Civil Rights-era photographs of Maria Varela. Contact Laurie Fenlason at (413) 585-2190 or to request.

NORTHAMPTON, Mass. -- In recognition of the 40th anniversary of a number of key events in the movement for desegregation and civil rights, Smith College's Otelia Cromwell Day celebration will focus this year on themes of civil rights and campus progressive activism.

Otelia Cromwell Day, an annual event honoring the college's first known African-American graduate, will be celebrated on Thursday, Oct. 30. An array of films, concerts, talks, exhibits and presentations during that week will examine the legacy of activists who have devoted their lives to social change.

Commenting on the program's theme, Acting Director of Institutional Diversity Fletcher Blanchard noted that Smith students "regularly -- and passionately -- take up issues of social justice.

"We intend the program this year to acknowledge those commitments and to honor the lifelong commitments of those have worked for change before them."

Kevin Quashie, assistant professor of Afro-American studies, co-chaired the Otelia Cromwell Day planning committee with Blanchard. He hopes the program will bring forth "lessons that were learned in the past that might be of relevance to what people are thinking about in our current national and international political climate."

At 7 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 28, three key figures in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) -- Charles Cobb, Judy Richardson and Maria Varela -- will gather in the Leo Weinstein Auditorium in Wright Hall to reflect on the role of student activism during the Civil Rights Movement and parallels for campus movements today.

Cobb -- currently senior writer and diplomatic correspondent for and co-author of "Radical Equations, Math Literacy and Civil Rights"-- left Howard University in 1962 to work as a field secretary for SNCC in the Mississippi Delta. There he accompanied Mrs. Fannie Lou Hamer on her first attempt to register to vote. He originated the "Freedom School" idea and proposal that became a crucial part of the 1964 Mississippi Summer Project.

Richardson, currently senior producer at Northern Light Productions/Boston, has been associated with the Academy Award-nominated 14-hour PBS series "Eyes on the Prize" since 1979. During the 1960s, she served with SNCC on its projects in Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia. She is part of a group of SNCC women editing "Hands on the Freedom Plow," an anthology chronicling the civil rights work of more than 50 women in the Southern freedom movement.

Varela, a Macarthur fellowship recipient, is an internationally recognized authority on rural economic development. She joined SNCC in 1962 and became interested in capturing images of black people leading change in their communities. Now a noted photographer, she is the first Latina woman to document the struggle for civil rights in the South. A selection of 20 of her Civil Rights-era photographs will be on exhibit during the week of Oct. 20 in the Kahn Institute, located on the third floor of Neilson Library.

At noon on Wednesday, Oct. 29, in Room 208 of the Campus Center, Leigh Raiford, Woodrow Wilson Postdoctoral Fellow at the Institute for Interdisciplinary Studies at Duke University and a specialist in issues of race and ethnicity, will present a slide lecture, discussion and exhibit titled "Photography of the Civil Rights Movement." An historian, Raiford will discuss the meanings of images of the Civil Rights Movement in contemporary culture.

Pioneering civil rights activist Grace Lee Boggs will present the Otelia Cromwell Day keynote address at 1:15 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 30., in Sweeney Concert Hall, Sage Hall.

A longtime activist, writer and speaker, Boggs is the author of the acclaimed 1998 autobiography "Living for Change," which documents her participation in some of the most defining social movements in American history, such as promoting civil rights, women's rights and environmental responsibility. Her autobiography is widely used in college classes on social activism and the recent history of social movements in America.

At 88, Boggs, a tireless protector of social justice, continues to oversee the Boggs Center, a nonprofit community organization in Detroit she founded in 1995 with her late husband, James Boggs. She also remains active in the Detroit Agricultural Network and the Committee for the Political Resurrection of Detroit. Her talk will be preceded by a performance of the Smith College Glee Club and followed by a book signing.

At 3:30 p.m. that day in Neilson Library Browsing Room panelists will discuss Smith College's involvement in 1960s-era civil rights groups and movements. Participants will include former Smith Chaplain Richard Unsworth, Professor of Religion Emeritus Thomas Derr and Smith College alumnae Phoebe A. Haddon and Lillian Louise Hall.

The closing event of the day will be a production of the play "Freedom in the Air!," written by Smith alumna Mistinguette Smith in collaboration with the city of Northampton's Martin Luther King, Jr., Day Committee. A multimedia production, "Freedom," starts at 7 p.m. in John M. Greene Hall and is co-produced by the American Friends Service Committee.

All events are free and open to the public. Information on additional Otelia Cromwell Day events is available at


Office of College Relations
Smith College
Garrison Hall
Northampton, Massachusetts 01063

Marti Hobbes
News Assistant
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F (413) 585-2174

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