A musical that examines black identity in the 1901 World’s Fair | Amma Y. Ghartey-Tagoe Kootin


The archive. One may envision rooms and shelves stocked with boxes
and cartons of old stuff. And yet, for those who are
patient enough to dig through it, the archive provides
the precious opportunity to touch the past, to feel and learn from the experiences of once-living people who now seem
dead and buried deeply in the archive. But what if there was a way
to bring the archive to life? Jon Michael Reese: “The world
is thinking wrong about race.” Melissa Joyner: “This country insists
upon judging the Negro.” JMR: “Because it does not know.” AYGTK: What if one could make it breathe? MJ: “By his lowest
and most vicious representatives.” AYGTK: Speak. JMR: “An honest, straightforward exhibit.” AYGTK: And even sing to us, so that the archive
becomes accessible to everyone. What would performing
the archive look like? A performance that is not
simply based on a true story but one that allows us
to come face-to-face with things we thought
were once dead and buried. (Piano music) This is what “At Buffalo,”
a new musical we’re developing, is all about. Using collections
from over 30 archival institutions, “At Buffalo” performs the massive archive
of the 1901 Pan-American Exposition, the first World’s Fair
of the 20th century, held in Buffalo, New York. Now, if you’ve heard of this fair, it might be because this is where
then-US president, William McKinley, was assassinated. For nearly 17 years, I’ve stayed inside the gates
and the archive of this fair, not only because of that story but because of a real
life-and-death racial drama that played out on the fairgrounds. Here, in a place that was like
Disney World, the Olympics, carnivals, museums, all in one, there were three conflicting displays
of what it meant to be black in the United States. The archive says white showmen presented a savage black origin in the form of 98 West
and Central Africans, living and performing war dances in a recreated village
called Darkest Africa. And across the street, a happy slave life, in the form of 150 Southern
black performers, picking cotton, singing and dancing minstrel shows in a recreated antebellum attraction
called Old Plantation. As a response, the black Buffalo community championed
the third display of blackness: the Negro Exhibit. Codesigned by African American
scholar W.E.B. Du Bois, it curated photographs,
charts, books and more, to show black Americans
as a high-achieving race, capable of education and progress. When I first encountered this story, I understood from my own life experience what was at stake to have members
of the African diaspora see each other like this. For me, as the child of immigrant parents
from Ghana, West Africa, born in the American South, raised in Manhattan, Kansas, (Laughter) and having attended the same
elite school as Du Bois, I could see that the Buffalo fair
effectively pitted the black Northerner
against the Southerner, the educated against the uneducated, and the African American
against the African. And I wanted to know: How did these three distinct groups
of black folk navigate this experience? Unfortunately, the archive
had answers to questions like this underneath racial caricature, conflicting information
and worse — silence. (Piano music) Still, I could hear musical melodies and see dance numbers and the rhythms of the words coming off the pages
of old newspaper articles. And learning that this World’s Fair had music playing everywhere
on its fairgrounds, I knew that live, immersive,
spectacular musical theater, with the latest technologies of our time, is the closest experience that can bring
the archival story of the 1901 fair out of boxes and into life. Stories, like Tannie and Henrietta, a husband and wife vaudeville duo in love who become at odds over performing
these “coon” minstrel shows while striving for their
five-dollar-a-week dream in the Old Plantation attraction. Like African businessman John Tevi, from present-day Togo, who must outwit the savage rules
of the human zoo in which he has become trapped. And stories like Mary Talbert, a wealthy leader
of the black Buffalo elite, who must come to terms with the racial realities
of her home town. MJ: “The dominant race in this country insists upon judging the Negro by his lowest and most
vicious representatives.” AYGTK: Like Old Plantation
and Darkest Africa. MJ: “… instead of by the more
intelligent and worthy classes.” AYGTK: When fair directors
ignored Mary Talbert and the local black Buffalo community’s
request to participate in the fair, newspapers say that Mary Talbert and her club of educated
African American women held a rousing protest meeting. But the details of that meeting, even down to the fiery speech she gave, were not fully captured in the archive. So, “At Buffalo” takes the essence
of Mary’s speech and turns it into song. (All singing) We must, we are unanimous. We must, we are unanimous. MJ: We’ve got something to show — we’re going to teach a lesson in Buffalo. It would benefit the nation to see our growth since emancipation. Colored people should be represented
in this Pan-American exposition, it would benefit the nation to see our growth since emancipation. (All singing) They made a great mistake not to appoint someone from the race. We must, we are unanimous. We must, we are unanimous. We must, we are unanimous. AYGTK: Mary Talbert successfully demands
that the Negro Exhibit come to the fair. And to have the Negro Exhibit in Buffalo means that the musical must tell the story
behind why Du Bois cocreated it … and why Mary and the black elite
felt it was urgently needed. JMR: “The world is thinking
wrong about race. They killed Sam Hose
for who they thought he was. And more men like him, every day, more Negro men, like him, taken apart. And after that — that red ray … we can never be the same. (Singing) A red ray [A man hunt in Georgia] cut across my desk [Mob after Hose;
he will be lynched if caught] the very day Sam’s hands were laid to rest. Can words alone withstand the laws unjust? [Escape seems impossible] Can words alone withstand the violence? Oh, no, oh. [Burned alive] [Sam Hose is lynched] Oh, no, oh. [His body cut in many pieces] Oh, no, oh. [Burned at the Stake] [Ten Cents Slice Cooked Liver.] [Fight for souvenirs.] (Both singing) Who has read the books? Our numbers and statistics look small against the page. The crisis has multiplied. Our people are lynched and died. Oh, Lord. Something must change. AYGTK: Something must change. “At Buffalo” reveals
how the United States today stands at similar crossroads
as 1901 America. Just as the name of Sam Hose
filled newspapers back then, today’s media carries the names of: JMR: Oscar Grant. MJ: Jacqueline Culp. Pianist: Trayvon Martin. AYGTK: Sandra Bland. And too many others. The 1901 fair’s legacies persist in more ways than we can imagine. MJ: Mary Talbert and the National Association
of Colored Women started movements against lynching and the myth of black criminality just as black women today
started Black Lives Matter. JMR: And some of the same
people who fought for and created the Negro Exhibit, including Du Bois, came to Buffalo,
four years after the fair, to start the Niagara Movement, which set the groundwork
for the creation of the NAACP. AYGTK: It’s not just black folks who had a peculiar experience
at the 1901 fair. An official handbook informed fair-goers: MJ: “Please remember:” JMR: “… once you get inside the gate,” AYGTK: “… you are a part of the show.” Performing the archive in “At Buffalo” allows audiences to ask themselves, “Are we still inside the gates, and are we all still part of the show?” (Music ends) (Applause and cheers)

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30 thoughts on “A musical that examines black identity in the 1901 World’s Fair | Amma Y. Ghartey-Tagoe Kootin”

  1. Blood Guy says:

    Chicken stripS

  2. subscribe for no reason please says:

    Wowwwww this a life changing ❤️thank you Ted

  3. ans ur rehman rao says:

    How is there a like and 2 dislikes when nobody even watched this video yet 🤔

  4. Jason Kelly says:

    New least interesting ted talk ever

  5. thatguy dill says:

    They weren’t forced to preform right??? Shut up with this poor me stuff

  6. Zarif Hussein says:

    I thought TED was about science and logic. This is just leftist SJW propaganda.

  7. Crystal Elk says:

    Bravo! Fantastic lesson.🇨🇦📽️⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐🌅🌏💚🌍💜🌎🌄✌🏻💗☁️🎬

  8. Shweta Mahindrakar says:

    Amazing…. 👍

  9. Red Ghost says:

    Can't wait for the white identity version.

  10. Otter Pop says:

    Idek what's on the video yet, ad is on.. but the first thing I saw was about a 50% dislike where people usually dont even bother to involve themselves

  11. kulik03 says:

    Must've subscribed to Ted Africa by accident

  12. Jamie-Lynn Murray says:

    Wow … already negative responses and angry racist bs spewing. More, more & more of this type of historical art needs to be created, then front & center. It never ceases to amaze me how stupid some of the calls for the white equivalent sound!

  13. Som Thing says:

    WOW! Bravo!

  14. Edwin Brown says:

    I love how every time ted talk has a woman or other marginalized voice on, the YouTube comments section is so toxic. 🙄🙄🙄 This was a beautiful and moving performance, try listening to it.

  15. 92bagder says:

    how about recovering old and forgotten slave songs to preform and archive them?

  16. Hayden H says:

    44% of black babies are @borted, 100 years ago the Democrat Party, descendants of Civil War slave owners, came up with a "soft" genocide for African Americans. The goal? Be like NYC with a 60% black @bortion rate.

  17. do one says:


  18. TriumphOverDeath says:

    So why is this on TED exactly?

  19. Mike Maloney says:

    Watch as we pretend to face the same racism that we imagine our great great great grandparents did…wheee!

  20. Mike Maloney says:

    Can I see this in Mexican?

  21. Jack Long says:

    How the fk is this a TED talk? There used to be physics and science related stuff…. now it’s all SJW complete crap. The invasion of Africans thoughout the western world is a total disaster for the civilized world. As we can clearly see in America, Europe and other places, multiculturalism is a total and complete failure in ever respect. Out of control crime, poverty, ignorance and total mayhem has arrived within US shores. Now everything, including MATH, yes numbers, are now racist. We need to wake the up now.

  22. Stephanie Elizabeth Mann says:

    Thank you. I will never know the reality of living black in America. How I wish that that reality was not so harsh, dangerous and life threatening to African Americans as it is.

  23. Staci Schuhmann says:

    Thank you for working to bring these stories to the stage and to the forefront. They are important. This is a great way to examine history and apply its lessons to how we can make our present better for all.

  24. Hax Tsu says:

    Ted talk now is all about tokenism

  25. chocomalk says:

    Okay this is cool and somewhat enlightening but on the other hand we were ignorant of a lot of things in the past and it's quite easy to judge the past from our current position. I can't find enough info on this to give me a clear perspective tbh. Some Africans belonged to tribes and some Afro Americans owned farms and plantations.

    You might even step back and realize there were THREE black exhibitions and for the time…this could be seen as "progress" but nit from out rose tinted world.

  26. YawnGod says:

    I am going to make a play on Africans killing fellow African albinos because they are white. Albino voices must be heard and remembered.

  27. Sol Yens says:

    The alt-right got their own TED talk. Interesting.

  28. Bob Frog says:

    Your Race Card has been declined and the White Guilt ATM is offline…FOR GOOD! Have a nice day. MAGA!

  29. txcwt says:

    Only having read the title:

    There is nothing like "black identity". I wish the time, when we look back on identity politics and ask ourselves "what were we even thinking?" like with wearing bell-bottoms, comes soon.

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