Lectures focus on Southern Black Women’s activism

Video: Ash-Lee Henderson opens the first Ina Corinne Brown Lecture with singing.

During the fall of 2015, we heard from two powerful women – Ash-Lee Henderson and Nikky Finney.

The annual “Ina Corinne Brown Lecture” series was established at Scarritt Bennett Center to honor Brown, professor of social anthropology and professor emeritus at Scarritt College (1942-1966), and all women who work for racial justice in the U.S. South. The inaugural 2015 lecture was given by Ash-Lee Henderson. Ash-Lee is a long-time activist working around issues of community empowerment and environmental racism in central and southern Appalachia and a supporter of the Movement for Black Lives. She is currently the regional organizer with Project South: Institute for the Elimination of Poverty & Genocide.

Philanthropist Edmund W. Cole, president of Nashville & Chattanooga Railroad and treasurer of the Vanderbilt University Board of Trust, endowed the annual “Cole Lecture” Series at Vanderbilt Divinity School in 1892 “for the defense and advocacy of the Christian religion.” Cole’s gift provided for the first sustained lectureship in the history of Vanderbilt University. The lectures have been delivered by such distinguished scholars as Harry Emerson Fosdick, George Buttrick, Rudolph Bultmann, H. Richard Niebuhr, Paul Tillich, Walter Brueggemann, Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, James Barr, Gustavo Gutierrez, James Cone, Edward Farley, Don Beisswenger, Gene TeSelle, David Buttrick, Jim Wallis, Lamin Sanneh, Mark Noll, Randall Balmer, James Lawson, John O’Malley, R. Scott Appleby and many others.

The 2015 Cole Lecture was entitled, “A Young Black Woman Shimmy & Shakes a Flagpole and Finally Brings the Confederate Flag Down After One Hundred Years: Thoughts on Climbing, Not Waiting on the Calvary, Faith, and Manners, in the Contemporary South.” The lecture was given by Nikky Finney, John H. Bennett, Jr. Endowed Professor of Creative Writing and Southern Letters, University of South Carolina. Nikky Finney helped start the Affrilachian Writers group when she was a professor at the University of Kentucky. She is now teaching at the University of South Carolina and her last book of poetry, Head Off and Split won the National Book Award for Poetry in 2011.

Both lectures were part of the “Transformative Justice” series, a partnership between Scarritt Bennett and Vanderbilt Divinity School. This event took place on September 10 2015.

Be sure to check out what’s coming up for the Spring Lecture on March 22, 2016, “Tearing Hatred from the Sky” featuring community organizer and activist, Bree Newsome. As she watched the funeral of Rev. Clementa Pinkney, following the shootings at Mother Emmanuel Church in Charleston, SC, Bree Newsome recognized the message being communicated by the US flag and the SC state flag at half-mast while the Confederate flag remained fully furled. Refusing to accept the premise of this image—that white supremacy is supreme, untouchable, and invincible—Newsome scaled the 30-ft. flagpole in front of the SC statehouse and removed the “stars and bars” declaring, “This flag comes down today!” Bree’s intention was to create a new image, a new symbol, and a new consciousness of the power inherent in direct action. The iconic picture of her on the pole, flag in hand has become a touchstone of empowerment for disenfranchised people around the world.

This event is free and open to the public.
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marieMarie Campbell is Assistant Director of Education at Scarritt Bennett Center. Marie coordinates the Belle H. Bennett fellowship, a 10-month residential program for young women discerning vocation at the intersection of social justice and spirituality. She earned a Masters of Divinity from Vanderbilt Divinity School and a B.A. in Sociology from Belmont University. Marie is passionate about cultural organizing and intersectional feminism. Contact Marie at