On Thursday night, the Africana Studies Program, the Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies Program and the history department held a panel entitled “OK, ladies, now let’s get in formation…” to discuss the lives of three prominent black women in the black liberation and black power movements—Anna Arnold Hedgeman, Rosa Parks and Florynce “Flo” Kennedy. 
The panelists included Bowdoin’s Professor of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies Jennifer Scanlon, distinguished Professor of Political Science at Brooklyn College, CUNY Jeanne Theoharis and Associate Professor of History at Georgia Institute of Technology Sherie Randolph. 

The panel was moderated by Bowdoin’s Associate Professor of Africana Studies Judith Casselberry. 

Many students attended the event as part of various Africana Studies courses they are currently taking. 

Lillian Saunders ’20 is currently enrolled in Introduction to Africana Studies. 

“I thought it was great. I had never heard of Flo Kennedy and [Hedgeman] so it was great to learn some new things,” she said. “I think it’s important because so few people know about them and I think we need to be aware of everyone that was involved in such a big movement in our country.” 

Other students came to supplement their classroom education. 

“I love these kinds of things that are learning experiences for me outside of the classroom,” said Kama Jones-El ’17. “This is stuff I don’t get in the classroom. I’m not an Africana Studies major or minor. I take some of the classes. Even some of the classes can’t cover everything so it’s a really cool thing to take advantage of.” 

The panelists have each recently published books on the women they discussed. Scanlon wrote about Hedgeman, Theoharis wrote about Parks and Randolf wrote about Kennedy. 

The panel opened with the professors detailing the lives of the women, each of whom had distinct legacies. 

Hedgeman was involved in civil rights efforts spanning the Jim Crow South and the 1960s. She was the only female organizer for the 1963 March on Washington, and was responsible for getting over 40,000 white people to participate in the march.

Kennedy was a black feminist who used intersectionality in activism and was involved in black and feminist protests throughout the 20th century. She was also a prominent lawyer who assisted activists like Assata Shakur and other Black Panthers.   

Although Rosa Parks is more widely recognized, Theoharis says that most know about only one small chunk of her much longer activist narrative. Theoharis talked about her own book, much of which centered on Parks’ life in Detroit after the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955-1956. 

The panel also focused on the contributions of these women to the current narrative involving issues of race and social justice movements. 

Theoharis and Scanlon said that both Parks and Hedgeman showed an incredible amount of perseverance that can also be seen in modern movements. Randolph said that Kennedy was able to seize media attention and direct the narrative in a manner similar to the current strategies of Black Lives Matter activists. 

The panel was organized by Associate Professor of Africana Studies and History and Director of the Africana Studies Program Brian Purnell, following a panel last year that celebrated the launch of Scanlon’s biography of Hedgeman. 

Purnell shared his though process in an email to the Orient.

“‘Wouldn’t it be exciting,’ I said, ‘to bring together two other historians who, along with Dean Scanlon, have contributed noteworthy biographies to this dynamic field of history?’” he wrote. 

During the question and answer portion, Justin Pearson ’17 asked the panelists how individuals can deal with the erasure of these black women’s stories, which led Scanlon to encourage the audience to become historians. 

Scanlon said that the questions that students ask today differ from those that others have asked before, which creates a fuller picture of important movements.

“It’s about the questions you ask,” Scanlon said. “Keep asking.”