"Expressions of Blackness Week" (1972-1978)

"Students participating in a 'Soul Dinner' during Black Weekend at Wilson College November 11-12"

A photo of students and guests participating in a 'Soul Dinner' during Black Weekend at Wilson College in November of 1972.

Beginning in 1972, the Afro-American Society (WAAS) began hosting “Black Weekend.” This weekend was created as celebration of black thought and art. For "Black Weekend" the Afro-Am Society would create a program of events that included meals, dance recitals, music performances, poetry slams, and sponsored speakers. The first "Black Weekend" included a "soul dinner" and a poetry reading by Sonia Sanchez, a prominent poet who taught in the first Black Studies program in the United States at San Francisco State College from 1967-1969. That same weekend, "Black Weekend" showcased Princess Elizabeth Bagaya, then Uganda's ambassador to the United Nations, who gave a lecture entitled "The African's Woman's Emergence."  

This event went on to be called the “Expressions in Blackness” Weekend. Over its tenure, the “Expressions in Blackness” Weekends hosted numerous speakers, such as Ossie Davis in 1973, Vinnie Burrows in 1978, and Dr. Houston A. Baker, Jr in 1975. Weekend’s events also included a Black Arts Festival that was offered free of admission and in Laird Hall.

"Princess Elizabeth Bagaya"

A photograph of Princess Elizabeth Bagaya featured in The Billboard in 1972.

Maya Angelou Orr Forum talk

Angelou speaks to the Wilson community. 1976.

As a result of the Afro-Am’s hard work, Wilson began providing classes relevant to the African-American experience. In the 1971-1972 school year, Wilson offered a course in “Black Protest in Historical and Sociological Perspective” and classes on Black literature were offered throughout the seventies. In 1973 and 1974, a linguistics class entitled “Black English” was taught by visiting professor Colston Westbrook. This class focused on the "origins and development of the Black English dialect" and included an assignment that involved contact with local civic groups and churches. 

WAAS continued to engage with prominent African-American thinkers. In 1975, Nikki Giovanni lectured at Wilson through the Given Foundation. In the 1960s, Nikki Giovanni was a revolutionary poet of the Black Arts Movement that nourished civil rights. She had a famous dialogue with James Baldwin in Paris in 1971. Not much on her talk at Wilson is documented, but one can assume that it was heavily attended by the Afro-Am Society.  

In 1976, poet, writer, Pulitzer Prize nominee, and Medal of Freedom recipient, Maya Angelou, was a guest speaker at the Orr Forum. Faye Wilson ’77, a member of the Afro-American Society, described her visit as a “rich experience for the combined communities of the College and Chambersburg” in the Spring 1976 edition of the Alumnae Quarterly. She gave a lecture on “African Values in American Life” and read from two of her works, Oh Pray My Wings Are Gonna Fit Me Well and Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water ‘Fore I Diiie. She also sang spirituals from her childhood and hosted a small group in Laird Lounge, where she spoke on issues such as her future books and dealing with a family unit. Angelou also met privately with the Afro-American Society to discuss issues that exclusively affected the African-American community.  

In 1978, Afro-Am continued to offer activities that both stimulated and encouraged participation in the Wilson College Community by hosting a disco in the Fall and continuing with the Black Weekend in the Spring. In 1979, during Wilson’s most tumultuous time, the Afro-American Society soldiered on, putting on Black Weekend in April with the traditional dance performances and “Black Dinner” service. 

"Expressions of Blackness Week" (1972-1978)