On Saturday October 9th at the Northampton Center for the Arts, a locally produced, short film entitled “A Mother’s Bond” will premiere to the public.
Based on an exhibit at Historic Northampton, the film presents the story of Catherine Linda, an enslaved woman from Georgia who was brought to Massachusetts by her enslavers in 1845. Local students, scholars, and other organizations played a role in producing the film.
“A Mother’s Bond” is part of a growing library of multimedia modules created by Self-Evident Education, a non-profit that equips educators with tools to responsibly teach students about the history and legacy of systemic racism in the US.
Zydalis Bauer poke with Michael Lawrence-Riddell, co-founder and executive director of Self-Evident Education and Gayle Pemberton, co-author of “A Mother’s Bond,” to learn more.
Note: This film was funded in part by a generous grant from the Northampton Education Foundation.
Read the full transcription:
Zydalis Bauer, Connecting Point: On Saturday, October 9th at the Northampton Center for the Arts, a short film entitled “A Mother’s Bond” will premiere to the public. The locally produced film presents the story of Catherine Linda,an enslaved woman from Georgia who was brought to Massachusetts by her enslavers in 1845.
“A Mother’s Bond” is part of a growing library of multimedia modules created by Self-Evident Education, a nonprofit that equips educators with tools to responsibly teach students about the history and legacy of systemic racism in the U.S.
I spoke with Michael Lawrence-Riddell, co-founder and executive director of Self-Evident Education, and Gayle Pemberton, coauthor of “A Mother’s Bond,” to learn more.
Michael Lawrence-Riddell, Self-Evident Education: We have been working for a little over two years to put together history resources for educators to use in their classrooms. And we started telling some stories that were not so locally-based, you know, that were about — we did an episode about Tulsa, we did an episode about Chicago and Elaine and the Red Summers.
But, there was a story locally that I had heard about because my father worked for the Historic Northampton, the historical society in Northampton, and Historic Northampton had done some brilliant research. A woman named Emma Winter Zeig did a bunch of research on this story, this little-known story of this woman Catherine Linda.
And so, then that was the sort of germ of the idea was this fascinating story: it was a hyper-local story, it’s not something you’re going to learn about in a history textbook, right? It took digging into the archives of old newspapers to find this story, but it’s a story that’s so powerful that really cuts to some of the important messages about centering the humanity of the people that we’re studying the history of, that are those bigger themes that we were looking to develop.
And I loved the idea of doing that with a local partner.
Zydalis Bauer: The film presents the story of Catherine Linda, an enslaved woman from Georgia who was brought to Massachusetts, by her enslavers in 1854, I believe.
What themes will this film touch on and what things will we learn locally about the history in this region, in the short film?
Gayle Pemberton, A Mother’s Bond: There are a number of things that are here. First of all, the idea of travel, of the fact that you had Southern people, those who owned others — the enslavers — traveling to other parts of the country for various reasons.
We so frequently forget the nature of family among the enslaved. And while there were efforts to separate parents from their children, children from their siblings, often they knew each other. And in this case, presumably Catherine Linda knew of her children who were there.
It’s also, the film is talking, too, about the fact that we have this…I think too many people have this notion of a hard line between North and South. This is a very permeable set of lines. And there were people who supported slavery in the North and Confederacy. There were those who were anti-slavery.
So it’s a matter of….and also, of course, the big question is what is freedom? How do you define freedom? This woman says, “I want my freedom.” What does that mean and what does it mean to her family?
Zydalis Bauer: Along with working with local scholars and organizations, you also work with students from the Northampton Public Schools for this project.
Why was it important for you to engage these young people, and what were their roles during this project?
Michael Lawrence-Riddell: I’ve been an educator for almost 20 years. Public schools — I taught in Brooklyn, Boston and Amherst, Massachusetts. And so, I left the classroom about two years ago. And so, just selfishly, one of the things that excites me is is working with young people and seeing the way that they work through complicated and complex ideas.
And so, I loved the idea of being able to take this professional curriculum writing work that I was doing, and involve students in the process. And then I had a group of middle school interns, seventh and eighth graders, who were just a phenomenal, phenomenal group of students. A small group, you know, there were there were eight of them, and we worked together first to analyze some of the modules that we had built
So, they watched some of our episodes and then they created a language system to talk about what makes the episodes work. And these are kids for whom often school was not a place that was successful, right? And, they created curriculum for the the module, right?
So, one of the seventh graders was done with his work and he said, Miss, I’m going to go to his teacher, Dr. Holly Graham, who’s brilliant. He said, “Miss, I’m going to go sit over there and I’m going to write a letter to D.W. Hodgson,” who’s the slaver who brought Catherine Linda to Massachusetts. He said, “I’m going to write a letter to him and these are the things that I’m going to tell him.” And that became an activity that now teachers and students across the country are going to have an opportunity.
And this kid, Marcos, a seventh grade student, wrote that piece of curriculum that’s now being used in schools across the country. And I think that it’s just such a powerful model of what students can do when you engage them at their level and then allow them to rise above that, you know?
Zydalis Bauer: And speaking about what students can do in engaging them. Gayle, you were Michael’s professor at Wesleyan University and you have now come full circle and are working together on this story.
What was that experience like co-authoring and co-hosting this short film with Michael, who was once your student?
Gayle Pemberton: Well, it’s in some ways a dream come true. First of all, that once former student is doing such exceptional and important work.
I mean, Michael was just talking about the students, the idea of those fresh eyes of the of the young kids and how they bring a freshness and they don’t bring baggage of having heard all sorts of stereotypical things. They come and they go to the heart of the matter.
Zydalis Bauer: You both have many years of experience as educators and are award-winning educators, I want to note that as well.
What do you hope people get out of this film and the other modular units?
Gayle Pemberton: Well, I think that with storytelling at any level, the best storytelling is, Michael was saying, it reaches into you, you hear a story and you start filtering it through your own experience. But what happens is it comes out a different way. It expands, you expand it in your mind, in your experience.
Everybody has family stories. Everybody knows these things. This is how cultures are built, on storytelling. And what we hope is, that through this process, people begin to understand what they’ve missed and how important what they’ve missed has been for them to understand the present.
Michael Lawrence-Riddell: I fully believe that words and stories have the power to change the world. And they have. They’ve done it, right? And so that’s part off what we’re asking people to do, is to use the work that we’re doing as a model for how to understand different perspectives and to tell different stories and to honor those stories in in ways that are authentic and meaningful and accountable.