A musical that examines black identity in the 1901 World’s Fair | Amma Y. Ghartey-Tagoe Kootin

A musical that examines black identity in the 1901 World’s Fair | Amma Y. Ghartey-Tagoe Kootin


The archive. One may envision rooms and shelves stocked with boxes
and cartons of old stuff. And yet, for those who are
patient enough to dig through it, the archive provides
the precious opportunity to touch the past, to feel and learn from the experiences of once-living people who now seem
dead and buried deeply in the archive. But what if there was a way
to bring the archive to life? Jon Michael Reese: “The world
is thinking wrong about race.” Melissa Joyner: “This country insists
upon judging the Negro.” JMR: “Because it does not know.” AYGTK: What if one could make it breathe? MJ: “By his lowest
and most vicious representatives.” AYGTK: Speak. JMR: “An honest, straightforward exhibit.” AYGTK: And even sing to us, so that the archive
becomes accessible to everyone. What would performing
the archive look like? A performance that is not
simply based on a true story but one that allows us
to come face-to-face with things we thought
were once dead and buried. (Piano music) This is what “At Buffalo,”
a new musical we’re developing, is all about. Using collections
from over 30 archival institutions, “At Buffalo” performs the massive archive
of the 1901 Pan-American Exposition, the first World’s Fair
of the 20th century, held in Buffalo, New York. Now, if you’ve heard of this fair, it might be because this is where
then-US president, William McKinley, was assassinated. For nearly 17 years, I’ve stayed inside the gates
and the archive of this fair, not only because of that story but because of a real
life-and-death racial drama that played out on the fairgrounds. Here, in a place that was like
Disney World, the Olympics, carnivals, museums, all in one, there were three conflicting displays
of what it meant to be black in the United States. The archive says white showmen presented a savage black origin in the form of 98 West
and Central Africans, living and performing war dances in a recreated village
called Darkest Africa. And across the street, a happy slave life, in the form of 150 Southern
black performers, picking cotton, singing and dancing minstrel shows in a recreated antebellum attraction
called Old Plantation. As a response, the black Buffalo community championed
the third display of blackness: the Negro Exhibit. Codesigned by African American
scholar W.E.B. Du Bois, it curated photographs,
charts, books and more, to show black Americans
as a high-achieving race, capable of education and progress. When I first encountered this story, I understood from my own life experience what was at stake to have members
of the African diaspora see each other like this. For me, as the child of immigrant parents
from Ghana, West Africa, born in the American South, raised in Manhattan, Kansas, (Laughter) and having attended the same
elite school as Du Bois, I could see that the Buffalo fair
effectively pitted the black Northerner
against the Southerner, the educated against the uneducated, and the African American
against the African. And I wanted to know: How did these three distinct groups
of black folk navigate this experience? Unfortunately, the archive
had answers to questions like this underneath racial caricature, conflicting information
and worse — silence. (Piano music) Still, I could hear musical melodies and see dance numbers and the rhythms of the words coming off the pages
of old newspaper articles. And learning that this World’s Fair had music playing everywhere
on its fairgrounds, I knew that live, immersive,
spectacular musical theater, with the latest technologies of our time, is the closest experience that can bring
the archival story of the 1901 fair out of boxes and into life. Stories, like Tannie and Henrietta, a husband and wife vaudeville duo in love who become at odds over performing
these “coon” minstrel shows while striving for their
five-dollar-a-week dream in the Old Plantation attraction. Like African businessman John Tevi, from present-day Togo, who must outwit the savage rules
of the human zoo in which he has become trapped. And stories like Mary Talbert, a wealthy leader
of the black Buffalo elite, who must come to terms with the racial realities
of her home town. MJ: “The dominant race in this country insists upon judging the Negro by his lowest and most
vicious representatives.” AYGTK: Like Old Plantation
and Darkest Africa. MJ: “… instead of by the more
intelligent and worthy classes.” AYGTK: When fair directors
ignored Mary Talbert and the local black Buffalo community’s
request to participate in the fair, newspapers say that Mary Talbert and her club of educated
African American women held a rousing protest meeting. But the details of that meeting, even down to the fiery speech she gave, were not fully captured in the archive. So, “At Buffalo” takes the essence
of Mary’s speech and turns it into song. (All singing) We must, we are unanimous. We must, we are unanimous. MJ: We’ve got something to show — we’re going to teach a lesson in Buffalo. It would benefit the nation to see our growth since emancipation. Colored people should be represented
in this Pan-American exposition, it would benefit the nation to see our growth since emancipation. (All singing) They made a great mistake not to appoint someone from the race. We must, we are unanimous. We must, we are unanimous. We must, we are unanimous. AYGTK: Mary Talbert successfully demands
that the Negro Exhibit come to the fair. And to have the Negro Exhibit in Buffalo means that the musical must tell the story
behind why Du Bois cocreated it … and why Mary and the black elite
felt it was urgently needed. JMR: “The world is thinking
wrong about race. They killed Sam Hose
for who they thought he was. And more men like him, every day, more Negro men, like him, taken apart. And after that — that red ray … we can never be the same. (Singing) A red ray [A man hunt in Georgia] cut across my desk [Mob after Hose;
he will be lynched if caught] the very day Sam’s hands were laid to rest. Can words alone withstand the laws unjust? [Escape seems impossible] Can words alone withstand the violence? Oh, no, oh. [Burned alive] [Sam Hose is lynched] Oh, no, oh. [His body cut in many pieces] Oh, no, oh. [Burned at the Stake] [Ten Cents Slice Cooked Liver.] [Fight for souvenirs.] (Both singing) Who has read the books? Our numbers and statistics look small against the page. The crisis has multiplied. Our people are lynched and died. Oh, Lord. Something must change. AYGTK: Something must change. “At Buffalo” reveals
how the United States today stands at similar crossroads
as 1901 America. Just as the name of Sam Hose
filled newspapers back then, today’s media carries the names of: JMR: Oscar Grant. MJ: Jacqueline Culp. Pianist: Trayvon Martin. AYGTK: Sandra Bland. And too many others. The 1901 fair’s legacies persist in more ways than we can imagine. MJ: Mary Talbert and the National Association
of Colored Women started movements against lynching and the myth of black criminality just as black women today
started Black Lives Matter. JMR: And some of the same
people who fought for and created the Negro Exhibit, including Du Bois, came to Buffalo,
four years after the fair, to start the Niagara Movement, which set the groundwork
for the creation of the NAACP. AYGTK: It’s not just black folks who had a peculiar experience
at the 1901 fair. An official handbook informed fair-goers: MJ: “Please remember:” JMR: “… once you get inside the gate,” AYGTK: “… you are a part of the show.” Performing the archive in “At Buffalo” allows audiences to ask themselves, “Are we still inside the gates, and are we all still part of the show?” (Music ends) (Applause and cheers)

68 thoughts on “A musical that examines black identity in the 1901 World’s Fair | Amma Y. Ghartey-Tagoe Kootin”

  1. Idek what's on the video yet, ad is on.. but the first thing I saw was about a 50% dislike where people usually dont even bother to involve themselves

  2. Wow … already negative responses and angry racist bs spewing. More, more & more of this type of historical art needs to be created, then front & center. It never ceases to amaze me how stupid some of the calls for the white equivalent sound!

  3. I love how every time ted talk has a woman or other marginalized voice on, the YouTube comments section is so toxic. 🙄🙄🙄 This was a beautiful and moving performance, try listening to it.

  4. 44% of black babies are @borted, 100 years ago the Democrat Party, descendants of Civil War slave owners, came up with a "soft" genocide for African Americans. The goal? Be like NYC with a 60% black @bortion rate. https://www.bound4life.com/statistics

  5. How the fk is this a TED talk? There used to be physics and science related stuff…. now it’s all SJW complete crap. The invasion of Africans thoughout the western world is a total disaster for the civilized world. As we can clearly see in America, Europe and other places, multiculturalism is a total and complete failure in ever respect. Out of control crime, poverty, ignorance and total mayhem has arrived within US shores. Now everything, including MATH, yes numbers, are now racist. We need to wake the up now.

  6. Thank you. I will never know the reality of living black in America. How I wish that that reality was not so harsh, dangerous and life threatening to African Americans as it is.

  7. Okay this is cool and somewhat enlightening but on the other hand we were ignorant of a lot of things in the past and it's quite easy to judge the past from our current position. I can't find enough info on this to give me a clear perspective tbh. Some Africans belonged to tribes and some Afro Americans owned farms and plantations.

    You might even step back and realize there were THREE black exhibitions and for the time…this could be seen as "progress" but nit from out rose tinted world.

  8. I am going to make a play on Africans killing fellow African albinos because they are white. Albino voices must be heard and remembered.

  9. Only having read the title:

    There is nothing like "black identity". I wish the time comes soon, when we look back on identity politics and ask ourselves "what were we even thinking?" like with wearing bell-bottoms … or actual racism.

  10. Just goes to show that it is only the SJW and identity political types who think that the colour of your skin informs you of your life's experience and show that they are so wrong in that there is no blackness or whiteness and only lots of different people with differing cultures. One set of cultures still trading in slaves in one continent and another set of cultures who have outlawed slavery….. I know the one i would rather live in.

  11. I love musicals and history, and this looks really interesting. My only response to what's in the comment section is that there are solid points on both sides thus far. Yes of course it's important to aknowledge our past mistakes like this, but it could've also just been for show (considering it was the world's fair and part of it is meant for entertainment). As well, I agree with the comments about how if you were to make say a musical about the racism shown towards irish immigrants throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, or the life of a white immigrant coming through Ellis Island, or say a white kid trying to play basketball and other kids being jerks to him because of his race, people would be mad. So, while this is an amazing idea for a musical and I support it, I can see how some people are mad. Just my thoughts

  12. Black people at TED talking about being Black and Blackness and how wonderful Black people are, and how Black people are victims. There hasn't been a TED talk like this since 2 days ago.

  13. I am regularly amazed by people free of a the cultural chains of the past who then focus radically on past events that are now meaningless in order to project delusional beliefs about things that are not happening or do not matter.

  14. @yvettecarnell “?” @tonetalks
    So now to get white people to understand their own atrocities against ADOS we got to sing their SINS to them 🤷🏾‍♀️
    Another troupe about how people don’t care about black people unless we dancing or singing 🤦🏾‍♀️

  15. The recollection of history is never for nothing.
    Allowing a version of history to domination our thoughts about how we came to the present isn't always right.
    There is of course more than one side to any account ever told by a human.
    When I hear students at the school where I work say, "This that or the other thing is so because my ancestors were slaves." I'll always ask, "Which ones of your ancestors were slaves?" To this day I've of yet not had a student answer with a specific relative in a particular situation. Not surprising is this situation, because most of these students were born 150 years after slavery was abolished. That would make any potential slave relative a great, great, great grandparent. Most people can not readily identify a specific thing in their life that is directly a result of how and what their great, great, great grandparent experienced in life.
    I know how my life has been influenced by being the second generation born of Jewish German immigrants to the US. I can see somewhere between zero and nil influence of the great, great grandparents on my grandchildren. I would not however suggest they forget how the Holocaust cause by certain German people ravaged generations. For them however it is more of a general history than something that cause direct manifestations in their own life.
    BTW 1/4 of grandparents were black American.

  16. Look at the old gritty successful blacks back in the day! Now pleeez pleez give me some reparation dollaz, cus in the age where nobody dares to touch the 13 52 or the massive tax burden of us, really we cen't be bothad to do what they were alredy doin over 100 years ago. Me no choice, y'all just be oppressin poor me.

  17. TED, You Rock! 🔥Oh Yeah! This Topic Sounds Interesting and Scary at the Same Time 🔥Love your video content – Looking forward to watching your next video

  18. nobody here realizes that this is a preview of a musical….part of the TED mission is to expose its audience to sneak peeks of new developments, like Detroit Become Human was previewed on the TED stage last year.

  19. What a wonderful play, it was very informative. The last three minutes gave me goosebumps. African Americans are VERY Talented.

  20. Racism is still present. E.g. zwarte piet in the Netherlands. Look it up, black pete, zwarte piet, blackface.
    Then there is the subconscious racsim almost all of us have, it's disturbing.. Blacks distrusting and hating each other without even knowing it.

    In the end it's all just a scheme by the real elite. Divide and conquer, divide and rule. Like they separated blacks within the black community, so they do it to the whole of humanity. Put blacks against whites, fat against skinny, blue collar against white collar, etc. etc.
    We need to realize that we are one! It's all just one big illusion.

    One of the best ways I find is to raise your consciousness so that you feel that we are one.
    The two ways I've found to work the best are a raw vegan diet and spiritual practice, mainly yoga, meditation.
    I suggest everyone to do a juicefeast so you will experience the benefits of a raw vegan diet very fast. Including an expansion of love just as a result of that.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qD966PN531s&list=PLIWo2dGh9fzlyWqjurCLq-BUAqXAjZXe3&index=1

    Only Love!!! <3 😀

  21. This is why Youtube allows supremacy praise – otherwise they would have to purge all the blacks reinventing their identity. Free speech is great.

  22. Nothing more vocal than White Men afraid POC might get a f●cking voice. These comments here? Expected, typical, & heartbreaking…
    #BLM
    ✊🏼🌍❤☮

  23. I think this in this TED performance they missed the slogan "ideas worth spreading" because there wasn't even any idea presented here. The question in the end "Are we all just part of the show?" also doesn't seem scientific, because how can such a claim ever be disproven? (Which is a criteria for being scientific).

  24. I don't know why people are so triggered by this. I think the story of the World's Fair sounds so interesting and would make a great musical. It's important to understand our history (I don't think people were this upset about Hamilton) so that we can learn from our mistakes and so that we can understand today's events in a broader social/cultural context. And if you don't care about learning from our mistakes or cultivating a better understanding, then why are you even watching TED?

  25. Instead of feeling attacked or threaten by the history of "black identity", why not try to understand what's being shared? This is actually a challenge African-Americans still face today, within ourselves and within society.

  26. I'll tell you one thing…there will never be another world fair…not on this side of the dark age, anyways. And, on the other side, they'll be too busy doing awesome things that are too big for us mere mortals to dream of.

  27. Trumpist propaganda do its work on weak near-sighted minds.
    History still matters, big numbers matters, as well as culture and creative approach.

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