June 19, 2020

Gabriel Bey performs “Lift Every Voice and Sing” on his trumpet at the historic Rosson House at Heritage Square in downtown Phoenix. Bey’s performance and a reading are part of this year’s Emancipation Marathon online. Photo: Scottsdale Arts

The 24th Annual Emancipation Marathon — A Literary Tradition

Friday, June 19 – Sunday, June 21, 2020 

There is no national recognition of the victims of American Chattel Slavery. The Emancipation Marathon is an annual literary marathon, which was established in 1997 and continues to present day.  

During The Emancipation Marathon, volunteers read aloud about “that peculiar institution,” American Chattel Slavery, in honor of those African victims. The structure of The Emancipation Marathon reading selections adhere to the following four themes within in the context of American Chattel Slavery: 

Slavery:  the definition 

Slavery:  the law 

Slavery:  the human condition 

Slavery:  the legacy 

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, readings for The Emancipation Marathon were recorded and will be published throughout the weekend, from June 19–21, on the Facebook page of Emancipation Arts LLC as well as the Center’s YouTube channel

Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts is humbled to be a part of the production of The Emancipation Marathon this year—in partnership with Emancipation Arts, The Heritage Square Foundation, Local First Arizona, and the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing—to commemorate the Emancipation from slavery in America, recognized nationally on Juneteenth (June 19). 

Sharla Johnson reads “Aren’t I A Woman?” by Sojourner Truth at Heritage Square for the Emancipation Marathon. Johnson also performed an a cappella rendition of “Lift Every Voice and Sing” for the recordings. Photo: Scottsdale Arts.

This year’s readings were extracted from the following:  

About Emancipation Arts LLC 

The Mission of Emancipation Arts is to raise the profile of Black artists and honor our enslaved African ancestors through Arts practices, dissemination of relevant history and egalitarian collaborations. 

Clottee Hammons, creative director for Emancipation Arts, reads from The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and American Capitalism by Edward Baptist at Heritage Square for the Emancipation Marathon. Photo: Scottsdale Arts.

About Clottee Hammons

Clottee A. Hammons, creative director for Emancipation Arts,  grew up in the segregated downtown Phoenix area and is the granddaughter of a 10th Calvary Buffalo Soldier. She views that legacy with pride and a strong sense of social responsibility. 

Hammons is an artist, writer, poet, activist, educator, and prevention specialist. She views her special call as a “community builder” and works in grateful collaboration with numerous artists, organizations, and individuals while being conscientious and mindful of honoring her ancestors. Hammons is passionate about literature, history, libraries, and librarians. She is the creator and ongoing facilitator of the Emancipation Marathon—a literary tradition that honors the victims of American Chattel Slavery. 

Her essay “Disguised As Nice” was published in Once Upon a Time in a Different World: Issues and Ideas in African American Children’s Literature (Routledge 2007). She has written articles for the Black Voice News, Phoenix Downtown Magazine, The Arizona Informant. 

Hammons recently curated and presented two exhibitions in Phoenix: The Great Migration and The Spillover Effect. Read more about these projects here:  

Jason Landrum Jr. reads from Not All Okies Are White | The Fabric of Black Life by Geta LeSeur at The Great Migration exhibition in the Heritage Gallery at Heritage Square for the Emancipation Marathon. Photo: Scottsdale Arts

The Great Migration included this writing by Hammons: 

“In 1993 an elegant Yoruba priest cast bones on the floor of a pawnshop in San Bernardo, California, and read my past and future. He told me to ‘honor my ancestors,’  His advice was a prescription to cultivate peace in my life. In 1993 I also became a grandmother at age 39.  

“The thought that I could draw to me peace, success, health or whatever might be my heart’s desire was far outside of how I was accustomed to believing the universe worked. I was taught to pray to a designated hitter in the Holy Trinity or all saints lineup and then ‘roll with the punches.’ I found the idea of not getting punched far more appealing, but I had no idea of how to ‘honor my ancestors,’ or even who they were, for the most part. 

“Firsthand knowledge of my ancestors stopped with my great grandmother, Effie Stamps. I could clearly remember that she wore a stocking cap and smoked a tiny pipe. She also kept a solitary cotton plant in our front yard on 11th Street, between Monroe and Washington. A passerby once plucked a tuft of cotton from her plant and kept walking. She looked ancient to me, but she moved swiftly and overtook him and hit him on the back and head until he let go of her cotton. Effie passed through my life as tight lipped as the Sphinx about any of her other relatives. 

“The significance of the cotton plant was not lost on me in grammar school, which is where I first heard the words chattel slavery and studied the weary, direct gaze of Dred Scott. The plant had long since been uprooted or had died out, but the soil was always marked by an uneven place. I’d like to believe that cotton plant was Effie’s way of honoring her ancestors, or maybe a secret sign to other pilgrims from Natchez Mississippi, or a warning to unscrupulous white men, ‘Beware, we’re FREE!’”

— Clottee Hammons

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