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February 6, 1981

“Vassar is indeed very sensitive to the Third World,” said Prof. Norman Hodges, chair of the Africana Studies Program, as the month-long First Annual Festival of Third World Arts and Culture began with the Dinizulu dancers and a speech by the Rev. Ben Chavis. The Dinizulu Dance Company, founded in 1953 by Nana Yao Opore Dinizulu and his wife Alice restored and performed the dancing, singing and drumming of the Ashanti people of Ghana. As part of the observance of National Black History Month, the troupe performed at Vassar in February 1980.

Civil rights activist Chavis, a member of the Wilmington Ten—a group convicted by the state of North Carolina in 1971 of arson and conspiracy— spoke on February 8th about “Human Rights and Political Prisoners in the United States.” Chavis and nine others spent nearly a decade in prison, drawing international concern until a federal appeals court overturned their conviction in 1980. He spoke again at Vassar in November 1981.

Chavis also led a morning chapel service, to which the congregation of Beulah Baptist Church congregation was invited. Assistant Professor of Religion and Africana Studies Lawrence H. Mamiya said that this was “the first time that Vassar college has invited an area church to join in chapel worship. This will mean greater exposure for us to a sector of Poughkeepsie long neglected by the Vassar community. For members of the Beulah Baptist Church, this will be one of the few times that they have felt welcome at Vassar.”

Other events in the festival included a poetry reading by Nikki Giovanni on February 14 and a concernt by the Boys’ Choir of Harlem on February 21.

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