"Resilient Lives" Display Brings African American History To Light at Cheyney University

Patrice Jeppson

March 24, 2016

Research by Cheyney University students, on display at the Black History and Culture Showcase at Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia, PA April 26 and 27, is also on view at the Leslie Pinckney Hill Library. The public is invited to view the display during library hours.

Research by Cheyney University students, on display at the Black History and Culture Showcase at Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia, PA April 26 and 27, is also on view at the Leslie Pinckney Hill Library. The public is invited to view the display during library hours.

"Resilient Lives", a small, temporary, new display in the Cheyney University of Pennsylvania Leslie Pinckney Hill Library, has a two-fold purpose: It provides some new, but largely unknown, inspiring history and it provides an example of how Cheyney educated-citizens are also ‘making history’ -- in this case, by helping bring forth a more complete and truthful narrative about America’s beginnings. 

The display, located just inside the library on the first floor, introduces the long forgotten and suppressed stories of Hercules and Oney Judge, two of nine enslaved African Americans who lived and labored in the U.S. Executive Mansion in Philadelphia during George Washington’s Presidential administration (during the years 1793-1797) – and both of whom took their liberty by running away to their freedom from what was the seat of the Executive Branch of the new U.S. government (prior to the construction of the new capital of Washington D.C.)

Cheyney alumni played a central role in the civic actions that forced Independence National Historical Park (in Philadelphia, PA) to include this omitted history in their public interpretations about the birth of the American nation. The actions of two of these CU alumni are presented in the display: Michael Coard, Esq., who majored in English Education and Political Science, (class of ’82), and Dr. Shirley Parham, who majored in Education (class of ’62) and taught African American history in Cheyney’s Social and Behavioral Sciences Department, were instrumental in the grass-roots activism leading to this ‘institutional history’ change. They served as the Founder/Leader and Historian (respectively) of Avenging the Ancestors Coalition (ATAC), a community group that includes multiple other CU alumni as members and that, along with other concerns, helped to turn this long absent history into public history, and now, public memory.

The display also depicts a resulting memorial, Freedom and Slavery at the Birth of the Nation, that now stands at the site of the President’s House. Included as well are pictures and maps that highlight the archaeological remains discovered at the location prior to the memorial’s construction—foundation walls related to the original ‘ceremonial space symbolizing the Presidency’ (the first Oval Office), the kitchen where Hercules prepared the first State Dinners, and an underground passageway that kept the enslaved persons ‘out of view’ in a socially segregated landscape. (These ruins are now preserved under glass so that the public can see this historical evidence for themselves.)

CU’s 2006 The Harrisburg Internship Semester (THIS) participant, Homer Lane (major: Political Science, class of 2008), prepared a legislative ‘white paper’ related to the memorial as part of his internship duties. A Case Study of Policy Implementation, The President’s House in Philadelphia: The Implications of Marking the Slave Quarters on the Memorial was written for Pennsylvania Senator Shirley Kitchen. An article about Lane’s policy paper is included in the display.

Since 2011, more than 45 Cheyney University anthropology class students have presented the President’s House information to the public at the Black History and Cultural Showcase -- a Black History Expo held annually at the Pennsylvania Convention Center. The library display includes several photographs showing the students from five different anthropology classes partaking in this civic engagement exercise. The new display formed part of a course assignment for this semester’s Anthropology class students, helping them prepare for presenting on the President’s House at this year’s Showcase taking place in Philadelphia on March 26th and 27th.

Their Professor, Dr. Patrice L. Jeppson, put the display together with the assistance of Cheyney’s Archivist and Librarian, Keith Bingham. Bingham suggested the title, “Resilient Lives”, because the subject ties into this year’s campus learning community theme, Resilience: Still We Rise. Dr. Jeppson drew upon her own research for the display’s materials. She studies how different communities make use of archaeological evidence from the past for social identity and nationalism needs in the present. Dr. Jeppson has written several papers on the President’s House site.

“I hope that this display not only provides students with a deeper, more accurate, and more meaningful understanding of this piece of American history but that, by highlighting Cheyney’s connection to the making of this new history, the display provides CU students with an example of what general education is supposed to be accomplishing –such as a tangible ‘end point’ example of our learning outcomes in action,” Jeppson shares. “Gen Ed is important for teaching students how and why to live a meaningful life. It can be hard to lead students to the recognition that education is not, in the end, about grades but, rather, about changing your life and the lives of those around you. My hope is that the display provides CU students with a real-life example of CU education leading to engaged citizens who are changing society.”

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