One hundred years ago, the dazzling all-Black Broadway musical Shuffle Along ushered in the Jazz Age with a syncopated score and tap dancing chorus. One week later, white residents of Tulsa, Oklahoma, murdered hundreds of Black residents and burned down the vibrant Black neighborhood of Greenwood in the Tulsa Race Massacre.
Looking back at these seemingly disparate events, what can we learn about Black success, racial capitalism, and white violence? What can we learn about how journalists and historians document, neglect, or erase certain events? And, how can we now redress the past by “REACTIVATING MEMORY”?
On September 9 and 10, 2021, a remarkable group of artists, journalists, and scholars convened via Zoom to ask these questions and to mark the centennial of these two neglected but pivotal events in U.S. history. The “REACTIVATING MEMORY” virtual symposium, a Princeton Humanities Council Magic Project, traced the legacies of both Shuffle Along and the Tulsa Race Massacre in the contemporary United States, examining gaps and silences in historical archives and the work currently being done to fill those gaps.
The symposium on September 10 included three panel discussions and performances by tap dancers, singers, and musicians examining how we “reactivate” cultural memory through performance, journalism, scholarly research, and programs such as HBO’s Watchmen. On September 9 as an exciting prelude to the symposium, members of the production team and cast of the 2016 meta-musical Shuffle Along gathered for a virtual reunion.
Recordings of this series of events are available to watch below. Closed captions in English are available for each video.
Additional learning resources about these historic events are also available for further in-depth study and classroom use. You can also listen to episode 1 of a new podcast from the Humanities Council, “If Everybody Knew,” featuring author Caseen Gaines, actor Amber Iman, and Princeton lecturer Catherine M. Young diving into the lost history of Shuffle Along. Princeton’s Department of African American Studies also dives into “Reactivating Memory” in an AAS podcast episode with Princeton Arts Fellow Michael J. Love, dramaturg/researcher A.J. Muhammad and Young in discussion about the legacy of Black theatrical practice.