More than 60 people braved a winter snowstorm on Sunday, February 12, 2017, at 2:00 pm to 4:00 pm, to enjoy actress and historian Tammy Denease’s portrayal of Belinda, an African woman from the Asanti Kingdom near the Volta River who was enslaved and taken to work for the Royall family on the Island of Antigua on their sugar cane plantation. In 1737 Belinda was brought north by the Royall family to live in their slave quarters and work in their imposing mansion in Medford, Massachusetts. Thanks to a generous grant from the Cummings Foundation, St. Mary’s Peace and Justice Ministry hosted the event which the Network co-sponsored.
Ms. Denease was outfitted in clothing she had commissioned appropriate to the period and station of her character. She also gently adapted her language to phrases typical of the era so attendees easily felt they were in the presence of the woman she was portraying. She also incorporated illuminating references to contemporary United States events of which Belinda would have been aware.
Ms. Denease explained that although Belinda was never allowed to learn to read or write, she was a very intelligent woman. Following the death of Isaac Royall, Belinda successfully petitioned the Massachusetts General Court multiple times for a pension from the Royall estate. She did this by eloquently dictating her petition to the brilliant African American poet Phyllis Wheately.
Following Denease’s portrayal of Belinda, she fielded questions from many audience members interested in learning more about Denease’s research, information about the Royall House , and details about the other seven little-known but important African American women whom women Ms. Denease has chosen for research and portrayal. In her ongoing research, Ms. Denease delights in learning more facts about each of her interesting women, and, even when eagerly questioned, said she did not have one favorite among them but greatly appreciated the different characteristics and abilities of each.