DUNWOODY, Ga.—Black women’s and labor history scholar Eshe Sherley will keynote the third annual Mario A.J. Bennekin Black History Symposium at Georgia State University’s Perimeter College Feb. 20-24, 2023.
Sherley’s presentation is scheduled for Monday, Feb. 20 at 3 p.m. in the college’s Dunwoody Campus auditorium.
The symposium theme is “Black Empowerment in America: Organization, Mobilization and the Struggle for Equality,” with Sherley’s talk focusing on a group of black feminists in Atlanta that formed unions in the late 1970s and early ‘80s to address the demands of black women working in the service industry.
Sherley explained that the then-prevailing attitude was that any challenges facing the African American community and workers like black domestics were due to black culture.
“This was a group of women who said ‘No, the issue isn’t our culture, the issue is racism and sexism and poverty,’” Sherley said.
“So, they came together and formed unions—they organized direct actions and they pushed the government and said ‘You guys need to create infrastructures that support our well-being as black people in the city.’”
Sherley’s address will highlight the late Dorothy Bolden, one of the founders of the National Domestic Workers Union of America, which served more than 10,000 members nationwide at its height, according to The New York Times.
Sherley is hoping her presentation will be of special interest to students.
“One of the takeaways from my work is that we shouldn’t dismiss our elders,” she said, noting that Bolden was older when she started her advocacy and activism.
“This was a group of elders who had incredible insight and exceptional political savvy.
“In talking about these women, I want to ask ‘What lessons can they teach us that we can bring into the present?’”
Sherley’s activism started in high school where she rallied around environmental issues. It continued in college where as a student at Yale University she worked as a union organizer for clerical and technical workers and advocated for social justice issues.
Sherley holds a bachelor’s degree in African American history from Yale and a master’s degree in history from the University of Michigan, where she also is now an African American History Ph.D. candidate.
Her work around black women and labor movements has been supported by the National Center for Institutional Diversity and the Institute for Research on Women and Gender at the University of Michigan. She’s also recipient of the 2021 Reed Fink Award in Southern Labor History from Georgia State University and a member of the 2022 Center for Engaged Scholarship dissertation fellowship cohort.
The Bennekin Black History Symposium is named for Mario Bennekin, a beloved history professor at Perimeter who taught for 20 years before passing in 2019 when he chaired the History and Political Science department. Bennekin was instrumental in bringing the African-American Studies, now Africana Studies, curriculum to Perimeter.
Dr. Kimberly Bennekin is a math professor at Perimeter and a co-chair of the event named to honor her late husband.
“The Bennekin family couldn’t be more pleased with the momentum of the Mario A.J. Bennekin Black History Symposium,” she said.
“We’re excited about the upcoming slate of speakers and look forward to extending our fundraising efforts to make the symposium even bigger and better from year to year, as a way to continue honoring Mario’s legacy at Perimeter College.”
Additional Bennekin symposium speakers will be announced over the next few weeks and posted to the event webpage. The Mario A.J. Bennekin Symposium is open to the public.