Panelists for the discussion on the historical backdrop of Things of Dry Hours
Saturday, May 30, at 5:30, following the 3:00 matinee.

Click here to hear the recorded conversation

Esther Cooper Jackson founded and led the Southern Negro Youth Congress (SNYC) in Birmingham, Alabama, with her late husband, James Jackson. From 1937 to 1948, they led this communist popular front organization to national prominence, with Ms. Cooper Jackson serving as Executive Secretary. She joined the Communist Party in 1939, the same year she met her husband (They married in 1941.).
SNYC adopted the slogan of “Freedom, Equality, Opportunity” and was devoted to fighting for African-Americans’ civil, economic, political, and social rights. The group was very active in labor organizing, including the organizing of domestic workers. SNYC also campaigned against lynching, police brutality, and the poll tax, among many other causes. The anti-communist climate of the day forced the organization to disband in 1948.

In 1947, the Jacksons moved to Detroit where Ms. Cooper Jackson became active in the Progressive Party and the Civil Rights Congress. Later, they moved to New York City. In New York, Ms. Cooper Jackson worked for the National Committee to Defend Negro Leadership and the Families of Smith Act Victims, an organization that fought the Smith Act, a blank check (eventually ruled to be unconstitutional by the Supreme Court) that allowed for the improper imprisonment of a number of left-wing activists. In 1961, Ms. Cooper Jackson helped found Freedomways, the influential quarterly of African-American politics and culture, with W.E.B. Du Bois, a longtime associate. She served as the managing editor of Freedomways until publication ceased in 1986. Ms. Cooper Jackson has also co-edited both W.E.B. Du Bois: Black Titan and Paul Robeson: The Great Forerunner.

Diane McWhorter won the 2002 Pulitzer Prize in general non-fiction for her book Carry Me Home: Birmingham, Alabama: the Climactic Battle of the Civil Rights Revolution. Carry Me Home is a comprehensive account covering more than half a century of both the segregationist and integrationist sides of Birmingham’s struggle. It also won the J. Anthony Lukas Book Prize, the Southern Book Award for Non-fiction, the Sidney Hillman Foundation Award, the Clarence Cason Award, the Horace Mann Bond Book Award from Harvard University’s Du Bois Institute, and the Union Ambassador Award. Carry Me Home was featured on best book of 2001 lists by Time Magazine, Washington Monthly, The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, Newsday, Publishers’ Weekly, and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, among others.

Her other work includes A Dream of Freedom: The Civil Rights Movement from 1954 to 1968, a history for young adults. A Dream of Freedom was featured on best children’s book of 2004 lists by The New York Times, USA Today, the American Library Association, and the New York Public Library, among others. Ms. McWhorter’s writing has also been featured in The Washington Post, The Nation, Slate, People, The American Scholar, My Generation, and the op-ed pages of USA Today. She is also a longtime contributor to The New York Times and a former managing editor of Boston Magazine. Ms. McWhorter has served as a fellow at the American Academy in Berlin and on the adjunct faculty of Columbia University’s graduate School of the Arts. She is a native of Birmingham, Alabama.

Douglas Turner Ward co-founded the Negro Ensemble Company (NEC) in 1966 and served as its longtime artistic director. On August 14, 1966, he published the influential article “American Theatre: For Whites Only?” in The New York Times. The article served as the blueprint for the founding of the NEC.

Productions at the NEC have won Tony awards, a Pulitzer Prize, and numerous other awards. Company members have included Angela Bassett, Laurence Fishburne, David Alan Grier, Sherman Hemsley, Samuel L. Jackson, S. Epatha Merkerson, James Pickens, Phylicia Rashad, and Denzel Washington. Delroy Lindo and Roslyn Ruff, both currently starring in NYTW’s Things of Dry Hours have also worked with the NEC. The Signature Theatre recently dedicated its 2008-2009 season to a retrospective of the NEC’s vast body of work.

Mr. Turner Ward is also an accomplished actor, writer and theatre director. He was nominated for a 1974 Tony Award for featured actor for his role in The River Niger and appeared in the original Broadway cast of Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun. He also won a 1970 Obie award for his role in The Reckoning. As a writer he is well known for his two 1966 one-act comedies, Happy Ending and Day of Absence. These two plays received Drama Desk and Obie awards in 1966 and a special Tony Award in 1969.

Mr. Turner Ward wrote for the Daily Worker, a leftist newspaper in New York, from 1948-1951. He first became involved in left-wing political organizing while an undergraduate at Wilberforce University in Ohio. Later, it was James Jackson and Esther Cooper Jackson who introduced him to the Communist Party while he was studying at the University of Michigan. He was born in Burnside, Louisiana, and raised in New Orleans.

Samuel Roberts (MA, PhD) is Associate Professor of History (Columbia University) and Assistant Professor of Sociomedical Sciences (the Mailman School of Public Health). He writes, teaches, and lectures widely on historical perspectives in African-American health and medical history, urban history, and the history of social movements. His recently-published book, Infectious Fear: Politics and the Health Effects of Segregation in the Jim Crow Urban South (University of North Carolina Press, 2009), is Roberts’s examination of the political and economic context of one of the worst health crises in African American history, infectious tuberculosis between the late nineteenth century and the mid-twentieth century, arguing that among the wages of inequality in the United States must be counted the poor health fortunes of the nation’s disenfranchised.

Dr. Roberts is currently researching a book project, titled, Crisis and Controversy: Ethnic Politics, Addiction Rehabilitation, and Public Health during New York City’s Heroin Addiction Crisis, a history of race and the politics of addiction treatment and research in New York City between 1950 and the mid 1980s, for which in 2009 he was awarded a seed grant by the Institute for Social and Economic Research and Policy. Another ongoing project researches the development of late nineteenth- and twentieth-century patterns of labor and West Indian migration in the Republic of Panamá, focusing specifically on the context of economies of health and illness and cooperative health efforts between the government of the United States and of Panamá.

At Columbia University he has faculty affiliations with the Institute for Research in African-American Studies (IRAAS), and the Institute for Social and Economic Research and Policy’s (ISERP) Robert Wood Johnson Health and Society Scholars Program (H&SS), where he is Coordinator of the Working Group in African-American History and the Health and Social Sciences (AAHHSS). He is also the Director of the Harlem Health History Project (HHHP), a teaching and research program which focuses on the history of health policy, politics, and social and professional movements in Harlem, New York City.

Dr. Roberts has held several fellowships, including the Thurgood Marshall Dissertation Fellowship (Dartmouth College, 2000-2001); the Schomburg Center for Black History and Culture (New York Public Library) Scholar in Residence Fellowship (2001-2002); a fellowship at the Dorothy and Lewis Cullman Center for Writers and Scholars (New York Public Library); and a Career Development Fellowship from the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation. Roberts received his AB in History at the University of Virginia, his MA in History at Princeton University, and his Ph.D. in History at Princeton University. Internationally, he has delivered lectures and presentations at meetings in Italy, Germany, Scotland, and England.

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