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Lots of people except Elizabeth Freeman have told her story. In Sheffield, scholars will talk about why that's been a problem

Aug 19 Elizabeth Freeman event

Dr. Sari Edelstein, top center, will be joined at Friday's roundtable by three historians — Dr. Kendra T. Field bottom center; Dr. Kerri Greenidge, top left; and Dr. Frances Jones Sneed, bottom left. To the right is a portrait of Elizabeth Freeman.

SHEFFIELD — A roundtable of Black history scholars will talk next week about the way Elizabeth Freeman’s legacy has been mythologized in a way that confines her story to a narrative that might not be entirely accurate.

Freeman never told it herself, and there might not be enough historical material to work with.

On August 19 the W.E.B. Du Bois Center for Freedom and Democracy will present this first in a series of events to honor Freeman’s journey as a way into a larger conversation about ethical storytelling of African American history. The roundtable will be held at Dewey Hall in Sheffield, with a reception to follow.

Freeman, enslaved in Sheffield and the first to successfully sue for freedom in Massachusetts, is a local hero whose life has been extensively written about and interpreted in the Berkshires and nationwide.

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The Du Bois Center, in a release about the event, explains that there is much texture missing from efforts to honor Freeman and tell her story because she never told it, Dr. Sari Edelstein wrote in the 2019 article, “Good Mother, Farewell: Elizabeth Freeman’s Silence and the Stories of Mumbet,” published in New England Quarterly.

Elizabeth Freeman

Portrait of Elizabeth Freeman by Susan Anne Livingston Ridley Sedgwick, circa 1811.

“Freeman’s story is more complex than such accounts allow, and the instrumentalization of her life narrative raises questions about the stories told in the absence or suppression of archival material and about how narrative serves as one tool among many for the containment of black lives, even those that are celebrated,” Edelstein wrote.

Edelstein, an associate professor of English at the University of Massachusetts Boston, will joined by Kendra T. Field, an associate professor of History and Africana Studies and director of the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy at Tufts University; Dr. Kerri Greenidge, an assistant professor of Race, Colonialism, and Diaspora and co-director of the African American Trail Project at Tufts University; and Dr. Frances Jones Sneed, professor emeritus of history at MCLA.

For a full schedule of events, visit https://sheffieldhistory.weebly.com/elizabeth-freeman-monument.html

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