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ayla Rooney

AHIS 110

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Engagement Project 1

 

On November 16th,
a re-enactment of The Trial of Miss Susan B. Anthony was held at the federal courthouse
in Albany. Played out by members of the judiciary and the community, it was a
rewarding educational experience for everyone who attended. The whole ordeal
was an hour and a half long where the elements leading up to the trial, the
trial itself, and the aftermath was played out as if it were actually happening
now. With the re-enactment taking place in a courthouse and all the actors
wearing period costumes, it felt almost real, as if I were watching a real
trial take place. Such a dramatic revisiting may seem somber, but it served as
a platform to reflect on the battles Anthony waged against gender inequalities,
to gain a deeper appreciation for her accomplishments.

After getting to
the courthouse and realizing there wouldn’t be enough seats and I would have to
stand for the entirety of the production, I waged how long I would actually
wind up staying. This turned out, much to my surprise, to be till the end, with
only little dissatisfaction but only for how my legs felt. I would say the
production kept me glued to my seat but I can’t, it rather kept me glued to my
position of standing in the back of a crowded courthouse. I was captivated all
the way till the end, not by the actors or the brilliant portrayal but by the
story I didn’t realize I actually knew so little about. While the trial itself
was about Anthony’s fight for women to be able to vote and the specific case in
which she was prosecuted for acting on what she believed was her own right, it
extended so much further than that. Anthony was determined to see women achieve
their legal status and independence, she was hopeful that over time there would
be an underlying shift in the way men view women and the way women view
themselves. The trial was more than just a case of whether or not she was
acting legally when she voted, it created an opportunity for Anthony to spread
her arguments for women suffrage to a wider audience than ever before. In her
eyes, as well as in many others, Anthony had merely practiced her
Constitutional rights and she wanted to show the public how she had come to
this conclusion. The men in the audience were able to see that logically and
legally, women were supposed to have their rights under the country’s own laws.
Women were able to see that they did have the same rights as men as far as
voting in elections. In addition to trying to show the country that women were
entitled to vote, Anthony attempted to persuade those who would possibly be on
a jury in her trial to dismiss her of the charges she was faced with. It was
not until the trial itself that Anthony discovered all her hard work had not
factored into her trial, as the judge directed the jury to vote she was guilty
before they had the chance to cast their own votes. Her stance had been heard
by many audiences, however, and had left a lasting impression.

With people
involved in the federal court making up the majority of the audience in the
re-enactment, I thought this type of production would’ve been perfect for
anyone wanting to learn more about the women’s suffrage movement, while the
trial itself was a small portion of the movement it served as an example of the
resilience of women during that era and the lengths they would go to gain
equality. I wouldn’t say the entire production was flawless and there were some
grievances I had about how some information about the trial was presented. I
thought that some instances and aspects of the trial could have had more impact
but fell short in actually presenting certain situations clearly. I also
thought that there should have been more about the aftermath of her trial and
her legacy, that was only touched on briefly in the end. I think while the
trial itself was an incredible thing to witness, the impact it had on the
suffrage movement was just as relevant to the story as a whole and would have
been interesting to see. Rather than what was at sometimes just long speeches
that were given by people during the trial that referenced more of the legal
aspects of the trial which became a bit tedious and irrelevant at times.

I attended this
trial because I wanted an experience I couldn’t get from a museum or movie, to
actually feel a part of something even if it’s only a re-enactment. At times,
it felt real, and to actually see history happening in front of you makes the process
of learning and gaining knowledge feel less like a memory game in which you’re
just reciting facts from a reading. I thought The Trial of Susan B. Anthony
tied in perfectly with some of what we’re learning about in class. When reading
about a situation in history, it is very easy to become detached and for it to
feel unreal because of the time that has passed. I think this served as a
reminder that history is reality and it is important to know what happened in
the past to help guide us to this point in time. As a woman watching and
observing this performance, I felt almost guilty of how little I knew before
attending it. Voting is a privilege, it is the heart of democracy, and it is
something that Americans take for granted often. Women fought hard to win the
right to vote and it is still the best way for women to ensure that our elected
leaders support policies that will expand opportunity and strengthen the
economy. Voting is the easiest way to enact change and make a difference in
what you believe in, Susan B. Anthony fought for that simple right.

 

 

 

Kayla Rooney

AHIS 110

Engagement Project 2

 

“What is true and right is true and right for all. White and black
alike.”     

 

After watching 12
Years a Slave, it’s easy to say I was moved. While that may be a cliché and
almost lacking response, there are few words that can depict one reaction to
watching something so raw and honest about the horror that was slavery. The
movie tells the story of a free man, Solomon, who is kidnapped into slavery,
abused, and separated from his family. This movie does something that not many
films have the ability to accomplish, it forced me to look at our country honestly.
Regardless of who our nineteenth-century ancestors were, or where and how they
toiled, all of us raised in the United States know something about the history
of slavery in this country. Often, information about slavery is very general or
abstract, perhaps almost cold and sanitized. Further, the history of American
slavery is generally considered to be a closed chapter, so it’s quite painful
to learn about concrete events and to be reminded that they occurred not all
that long ago, not all that far away, and that the story is far from over. You
feel like you know Solomon and that every injustice he is faced with is a harsh
reminder that his story is one of millions of others who lived like him.

Historically-wise,
there’s not a lot I could say I learned from this film, as students in America,
we’re retold this story of slavery in a dulled down, passive way that at times
generalizes a time so dark in human history. We were fed facts and statistics
and while they are the truth they don’t actually teach us a reality that we can
truly understand. Maybe that is something that can’t be grasped in a school
setting as there is no perfect way of learning about a time so terrible and numbers
are easy to become desensitized to. This movie doesn’t teach the history of
slavery, it gives a face to it. Its saddening to admit but I felt I gained more
of an understanding of slavery from watching one person’s story then I ever
have from countless history lessons in school. This isn’t to point out a
problem with the way we teach history but the way this movie tells this story
can’t be taught. There is a scene in the movie where Solomon is near hanging,
it is agonizingly long and uncomfortable but it is memorable. This is an
example of a moment where the movie moves away from the plot to just focus on
the importance of that scene, it makes you uncomfortable because it is supposed
to. It is meant to be a moment that stays with you, a moment you notice because
it’s impossible to miss. Reading about the horrors of plantation slavery is one
thing. It’s a deeper experience to see the system’s brutality in film images. I
don’t think there is an ideal audience for this film, given the graphic and
intense scenes it is definitely meant for mature audiences but I do feel that
while anyone can see this I think it is important for people of my generation
to see the reality of the horrors of such important historical stories. 12
Years a Slave would not have been the film it was without the incredibly
vivid and devastating portraits of violence in America’s slave society. While I
say this I also think it’s important to recognize 12 Years a Slave also
has important messages about the human spirit. Solomon’s only motivation
throughout the movie is his love for his family, he also manages to make
friendships in this world of constant grief speaks to his humanity.

My favorite part
of the movie was when Solomon smashed the fiddle originally given to him by his
first master, William Ford. It showed the growth and development of his
character over the course of the movie and I felt it was one of the most
symbolic scenes. Whereas before Solomon had defended Ford to other slaves as being
a victim of circumstances but a fundamentally good person, he was now destroying
the symbol of their former friendship. This was a moment long coming and which
was foreshadowed by the words of one of Solomon’s fellow slaves and when Ford
“protected” Solomon from lynchers while flatly refusing to acknowledge his
freedom and humanity as Solomon begged him. When Solomon smashes Ford’s
original gift to him from all those years ago, it serves as a moment in the
film where things click for Solomon. He finally understands that anyone who
stands even passively in support of the dehumanizing horrors of slavery and
white supremacy are just as awful as the people who carry out the acts of
terror. I felt this moment was so symbolic and reflective of issues of todays
society because white supremacy still exists and I feel that it is important
that white people and people in positions of privilege recognize that they have
a responsibility to stand up for what is right and denounce hatred,
intolerance, and oppression. It isn’t enough to just acknowledge racism exists,
and that it’s bad. Too many remain silent and that silence is loud, it gives
more power to these people of hatred. Obviously not everyone has the resources
to start movements but calling out white supremacy when you see it and teaching
others to resist and do the same is a small act of using that privilege. When
you ignore the pervasiveness of white supremacy, you become part of the
problem.

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