Black Domers: The Future of Social Justice

“Recent events in our nation have led to a national reckoning, to soul-searching and a demand for action with regard to racial and social injustice…There is a widespread sense of urgency to come together, to take meaningful action to achieve a more just and equitable society. Accompanying the urgency is a sense of hope that now is the moment for constructive and lasting change.” – Advancing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at Notre Dame: A Strategic Framework, June 2021

As our nation continues to face urgent calls for racial justice, many members of the Notre Dame family are seeking safe spaces for honest dialogue that can advance understanding and become a foundation for action. It is in that spirit that the Black Alumni of Notre Dame and ThinkND invite you to join us for the second season of Black Domers. We’ll explore experiences of Black alumni and students, imagine the future of social justice, convene Black entrepreneurial and business trailblazers, nurture Black well-being, and cultivate Black spirituality. All are welcome!

Join filmmaker Christine Swanson ‘94 and Academy Award nominated actress Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor for a screening and discussion of Swanson’s 2022 short film Fannie, moderated by Scott Barton, assistant professor of race, food, environmental & cultural studies in the department of Africana Studies and inaugural Fellow in Notre Dame’s Initiative for Race and Resilience.

Considered the midwife of the modern American Democratic Party, Mississippi civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer gives her impassioned testimony and a prophetic warning to the country. Fannie is a riveting portrait of the human rights, voting rights, and civil rights icon and her ground-breaking speech in front of the Democratic National Convention’s credentials committee on August 22, 1964.

Moderator:

  • Scott Barton

Speakers:

  • Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor
  • Christine Swanson ’94

The latest virtual conversation from Season Two of “Black Domers,” produced by the Black Alumni of Notre Dame, centered on a dynamic exploration of “The Future of Social Justice”. Kendra Washington-Bass, Chair of the Black Alumni of Notre Dame, hosted this event, welcoming two esteemed guests: filmmaker Christine Swanson ’94 and actress Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor. The conversation, hosted by Professor Scott Barton, delved into critical discussions surrounding the narratives and contributions of African Americans, with a particular spotlight on Christine Swanson’s 2022 short film, “Fannie.” Directed by Swanson, the film brings to life the compelling journey of iconic civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer, portrayed by Ellis-Taylor.

The opening discussion honed in on preserving African American narratives in media. Washington-Bass, Swanson, and Ellis-Taylor provided insightful perspectives on their experiences and approaches in filmmaking and storytelling, emphasizing the indispensable need for authentic portrayals of Black lives and historical events. Their exploration of film’s role in education underscored its power to initiate social change, emphasizing the broader impact of these works on cultural identity.

A key focal point in the conversation revolved around the profound influence of personal histories on social justice movements. Mrs. Hamer’s poignant account of inequity in her quest for voting rights is a stark illustration. The discussion delved into the reflections and analysis of Mrs. Hamer’s trials, utilizing film to convey emotional depth and offer a poignant lens into the human aspect of civil rights advocacy. This portrayal demonstrated the potent ability of storytelling to evoke a visceral response, effectively bridging the gap between historical struggles and contemporary social issues.

The third pillar of the conversation illuminated plans to screen the film about Mrs. Hamer at the Magnolia Film Festival, signifying a commitment to inclusivity and community engagement in storytelling. Emphasis on local involvement and the sharing of personal anecdotes underscored the intrinsic value of capturing regional histories. Washington-Bass and the participants passionately stressed the importance of utilizing artistic platforms for sustainable social change and preserving these invaluable narratives for the enlightenment of future generations.

The episode concluded on an optimistic note, contemplating the potential evolution of Ellis-Taylor’s screenplay on Fannie Lou Hamer into a full-length feature film. Praise for the nuanced portrayal of this civil rights icon underscored a dedicated commitment to recounting the intricate stories of African American women and their historical contributions—a compelling testament to the transformative capacity of independent filmmaking. Washington-Bass, Swanson, and Ellis-Taylor reiterated the urgent need for sustained support to bring such impactful and enriching narratives to a broader and more diverse audience.


Catalysts of Social Justice Through Narratives [23:3032:35]: The episode’s focus on how Fannie Lou Hamer’s narrative catalyzed social justice movements is a poignant reminder that the stories we choose to share and elevate have the power to challenge injustices and shape the social fabric of our times.

Integrity in Representation [01:14:55]: The emphasis on accurate and heartfelt representation, particularly of marginalized groups whose stories are often overlooked, calls on us to maintain integrity and diligence in how we depict the experiences of others, ensuring their narratives are conveyed with truth and respect.

Preserving History Against Erasure [48:15, 58:20]: The discussion about archiving and historical preservation serves as a compelling directive to safeguard vulnerable narratives from being erased—especially in an era where cultural memory is imperiled by acts of censorship and historical revisionism.

Depth of Silent Reflection in Storytelling [33:05–35:50]: Adding to the potency of the conversation was the reflection on the role of silence in storytelling, as articulated by Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor in her portrayal of Fannie Lou Hamer. This contemplation encourages us to value introspection and the unvoiced internal struggles that define so much of the human experience.

Art as a Vehicle for Education [01:03:45–01:10]: The recognition of film as an educational medium rather than merely entertainment stresses the importance of integrating artistic expression within educational frameworks, suggesting that our engagement with art should also aim to enlighten and inform.


  • Change Agents in Cultural History of Race and Civil Rights:  Without Black women, we’re nowhere. We are nowhere, because you all are the ones who really light the fire.”
    — Scott Barton [00:22:33 → 00:22:40]

 

  • Celebrating Unsung Civil Rights Leaders: “That happened because of those, you know, those people, those farmers and sharecroppers and maids from Mississippi. The world needs to know about what they did. The Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party and Mrs. Hamer were at the helm of that.”
    — Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor [00:11:04 → 00:12:08]

 

  • The Quotidian Hero: It wasn’t anything that they needed the Presidential Medal of Freedom for. They did it because it was, that’s what they were supposed to do. In the middle of their going to church Four and five times a week, going to visit the sick and shut in feeding people.”
    — Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor [00:19:51 → 00:20:10]

 

  • The Impact of Black Women on Social Justice: “It would not be possible without Black women. And particularly a lot of the Black women, who worked in the civil rights movement… it’s really the women behind the scenes, who kind of made everything happen, but in the era that we were living in, they could not be in the forefront in the way that the men were.”
    — Christine Swanson ‘94 [00:49:58 → 00:50:06]

 

  • Fannie Lou Hamer’s Legacy: “Mrs. Hamer was a miracle before she…sat down in front of that credentials committee in 1964…if none of those things happened to her, she would be considered a hero and a pillar of her community in the same way that so many of our grandmothers and mothers during that time were.”
    — Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor [00:19:02 → 00:19:28]

 

  • Creativity and Social Justice: “How do we as artists use our creativity to assist in a larger framework of social justice? I think it’s applying yourself within your community, within your knowledge sector, or taking time to learn and research what you think is valid.”
    — Scott Barton [00:51:36 → 00:51:45]

 

  • Justice and Racial Dynamics: “I was beat by the first negro prisoner until he was exhausted. And then the state highway patrolman gave the blackjack to the second negro prisoner. The second negro prisoner took the blackjack and began to beat me.”

    Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor as Mrs. Fannie Lou Hamer in Fannie [00:28:22 → 00:28:35]

 

  • The Power of Passion in Storytelling: “I think artists like Aunjanue Ellis make me better because there’s a real passion behind what she’s passionate about and why. And I feel like what we can do in the space that we work in, we can energize audiences to feel that passion that she brings.”
    — Christine Swanson ‘94 [01:14:55 → 01:15:40]

 

  • The Struggle With Still Going Forward: “Claudette Colvin, at the end of an interview I shared with my students, said: “I have full respect for Mrs Taylor and Ms Rosa Parks, but I was a 15 year old pregnant, dark skinned black woman and the movement didn’t want to have me in front of the camera. She was a better choice”— that complicates the story.”
    — Scott Barton [00:41:57 → 00:42:20]

 

  • America’s Crossroads: “I question America. The land of the free and the home of the brave. I really don’t know where we go from here.”
    Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor as Mrs. Fannie Lou Hamer in Fannie [00:30:41 → 00:30:57]

Health and SocietyLeadershipBlack Alumni of Notre DameCivil rightsFannie Lou HamerHuman rightsSocial JusticeUniversity of Notre DameVoting Rights

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