Home Madison Upper House delves into Black history with “Conviction, Perseverance, Hope” reading group...

Upper House delves into Black history with “Conviction, Perseverance, Hope” reading group on Black intellectual leaders


“Conviction, Perseverance, Hope” is a biweekly discussion that opens the floor to critical discussion of Black history in the United States. The discussion follows The Black Intellectual Tradition by Angel Adams Parham and Anika Prather through four meetings. The final meeting will be facilitated by Parham herself.

The first meeting already happened this past Wednesday evening, where the group discussed letters between Thomas Jefferson, Frederick Douglass, Benjamin Barlow and Benjamin Banneker.

“Through the various themes over the next couple of weeks, it’d be amazing for us to glean some wisdom from the words of these people, because that’s something that we would still love to pursue today that we could engage in justice or just difficult environments, and do so in a winsome persevering way,” said Rebecca Cooks, facilitator for the discussion group with Upper House.

Cooks started off the discussion with an excerpt from Douglass’ “An Address to the Colored People,” from 1848. The theme from the first discussion was slavery and humanity.

Attendees analyzed the letters, reflected on the historical context and then their own personal experiences around race. The group angled their insights into the discussions’ themes on slavery and humanity as Cooks facilitated.

“Well, it’s enlightening — and not a surprise,” Leanne Benjamin said. “It’s just his description of Blacks in general, in some ways, was unsettling.”

Benjamin referred to a letter from Thomas Jefferson on his views of African Americans during slavery. Her reaction, and that of most of the attendees, were not particularly surprised about what they had read, but had felt a level of discomfort analyzing the realities of history.

Cooks prodded the group with questions before leading into the next readings on a series of letters between Jefferson and Benjamin Banneker.

“If you are a contemporary with Jefferson in his day, and you’re seeing some of these thought patterns and arguments come forward, how would you try to tackle that,” Cooks said.  “So out of what he’s arguing, what might you what might you first address? If you were hoping to speak to your conviction if you were hoping to see change? How would you go about it?”

Largely, the group answered the question from Cooks through evidence-based observations. The letter from Jefferson, falsely characterized slaves as a subhuman race through personal anecdotal observations.

While the first session happened already, it is not too late to join in. Three more meetings remain. Registration can be found on Upper House’s website. “Conviction, Perseverance, Hope” is free to attend. All reading materials will be provided. Readings will be sent out at least a week and a half prior to each session.

The next discussion will be held on Wednesday, Oct. 4 from 4:00-5:15 pm at Upper House, 365 E. Campus Mall Suite 200.