Luther to host seventh annual Midwest Black History Conference Feb. 25

Jan. 25, 2010

Luther College will host the seventh annual Midwest Black History Conference on Thursday, Feb. 25, featuring outstanding speakers, presentations, panels, discussion groups and entertainment based on the theme “Playing in the Dark: Performing Black Expressive Cultures.”

One of the country’s best-known Black History Month college events, this year’s conference is an expansion of writer Toni Morrison’s 1992 work, “Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination,” which explored how literary criticism in the United States conceals its racial politics.     

To register for one of the classes, visit the website     

The one-day conference on the Luther campus will open with a welcome at 9:15 a.m.  A panel and demonstration titled “Deep Play and Bodies of Tacit Knowledge” will begin at 9:30 a.m. The closing plenary, titled “Fighting in the Dark: Martial Arts as Cultural Practice,” is at 7:30 p.m.

Sandra Shannon, professor of African American literature, criticism and drama at Howard University and an authority on August Wilson, will present “The Century of August Wilson.” Shannon’s book, “The Dramatic Vision of August Wilson,” considers the social and political themes Wilson wove throughout his dramatic works.

Wilson, a playwright from the Hill district of Pittsburgh, used his childhood experiences in a black slum community to inform and inspire his award-winning dramatic writings, including a 10-play cycle chronicling each decade of the black experience in the 20th century.    

The conference will also feature a musical tribute to August Wilson by Tony Guzman, Luther associate professor of music and education and conductor of the Luther Jazz Orchestra. 

“Playing in the Dark” will include master classes in capoeira, 52 Blocks, and a scene study from August Wilson’s play “Piano Lesson.”    

Yoji Senna, the director of the Afro-Brazilian Capoeira Association in the Twin Cities will join the conference.  Mestre Senne, a capoeira master, will conduct the master class on this Afro-Brazilian art form that makes a ritual of movements from martial arts, games and dance.

Daniel Marks and Kawuan Akhenoten, 52 Blocks practitioners, will conduct the master class on this urban Afrocentric martial art that emerged through 200 years of boxing culture in the United States.   

Lou and Sarah Bellamy will present the scene study from August Wilson’s play “Piano Lesson.”  Lou Bellamy is the founder and artistic director of the Penumbra Theatre in Minneapolis, America’s premier theatre dedicated to dramatic exploration of the African American experience.

Lou Bellamy, an accomplished actor and director, has also directed and produced more of August Wilson’s plays than any theatre in the world.

Since 2005, Sarah Bellamy, the education and outreach director at Penumbra, has been commissioned to write the contextual essays that accompany the main-stage productions at Penumbra.

All master classes will take place from 11 a.m.-12:40 p.m. during the one-day conference in the Center for the Arts on the campus of Luther College.  There are 20 spaces available for participation, and others are welcome to watch on a space available basis.  

The conference will host book signings by Shannon and by T.J. Desch-Obi, Baruch College associate professor of African and African diaspora history, City University of New York. Desch-Obi will present his research in “Fighting in the Dark: Martial Arts as Cultural Practice,” exploring cultural transmission between Africa and the American through the lens of African martial arts.

Other “Playing in the Dark” presentations will include “African-American Narratives of Resistance,” presented by Thomas A. Green, Jr., Ph.D., Owen Mordant, Ph.D., and Paul A. Williams, Ph.D.   

Green, associate professor of anthropology at Texas A&M University, will discuss “52s Renaissance: The Re-Framing of a Vernacular Art.” He is currently involved in research on the symbolic dimensions of martial arts, martial arts in African-American cultures, relationships among indigenous martial systems and indigenous dance, and folk history. 

Mordant, a professor at the University of Nebraska-Omaha, will present “A Young African Woman’s Fight for Autonomy and Freedom: Alfred Hutchinson’s ‘Fusane’s Trial’.”

Williams, assistant professor at the University of Nebraska-Omaha, will present “Drumming and Dancing in Post-Colonial African Christian Worship: The Case of the Disciples of Christ in Congo 1960-2009.”  His research includes the history of religion in North America and Central Africa, especially African traditional religion, Christianity and Islam.    

The conference will also feature an artist’s gallery tour, featuring the works of Robert Porter. Porter’s last show opened on Friday, Feb. 4, 2005, the day he died, with four of his 10 paintings exhibited selling during the opening reception.

Emma Graeber Porter, Porter’s wife and a Luther College regent, hopes those who will only meet him through his art will get a glimpse of the depth and breadth of his talent.   

For more information about the conference, call (563) 387-1014 or visit the Luther College Diversity Center website at


Sandra Shannnon
T.J. Desch-Obi