Cleveland State University
Zelma Watson George, left, and Sara Lucy Bagby are two African American women who inspired a recent performance hosted by CSU's Black Studies Program and Mareyjoyce Green Women's Center.

Employing "Cleveland Black Her-Story in Creative Works"

The CSU Black Studies Program and Mareyjoyce Green Women’s Center presented a virtual Ralph Pruitt Lecture and presentation called “Employing Cleveland Black Her-Story in Creative Works."

Two inspirational African American women were the focus of the March 17 Ralph Pruitt Lecture featuring actress, writer and director Sherrie Tolliver and writer and actress Lisa Langford.

Tolliver performed as both Zelma Watson George and Sara Lucy Bagby in “Employing Cleveland Black Her-Story in Creative Works."

Langford gave a presentation on plays she wrote and how African American history helps influence her work.

The CSU Black Studies Program and Mareyjoyce Green Women’s Center sponsored the 90-minute event on Zoom which gave viewers a glimpse into the lives of the two famous women.

Zelma Watson George was a philanthropist who was famous for being an alternate in the United Nations General Assembly. Sara Lucy Bagby was the last person in the United States forced to return to slavery in the South under the Fugitive Slave Act.

Coordinator of the Howard A. Mims African American Cultural Center Prester Pickett put the presentation together to support the black studies program and celebrate the history of African American women as March was women's history month. 

“There is a natural relationship established with the flow of Black History Month in February into Women's History Month in March,” Pickett said. “The program that you experienced was developed to highlight how the HAMAACC supports the academic mission of the Black Studies Program and services the larger community with 'Edutainment'."

To further support women's history month, the presentation was hosted by women. 

“We also strategically established the program with women covering all the main dynamics of that enriching educational experience, ” Pickett said. “Jillian Keller, Assistant Director of the Women's Center served as host, Instructor Yolanda Burt served as the moderator, Q & A was managed by LaDonna Simmons.” 

Pickett was gratified at the outcome of the presentation and the number of people who registered to watch through Zoom. 

“I believe our multidisciplinary approach was very well received as I immediately started receiving emails requesting access to that event through a shared link which could further allow an employment of our work in the development of the curriculum for our CSU students as well as for high school students, ” Pickett said. 

Pickett said he also learned a lot from the presentation. 

“I learned several lessons through that presentation myself as I studied the history that was imparted as well as the artistry in the acting and playwriting techniques that were employed, ” Pickett said.

The Ralph Pruitt Lecture, Arts, and Media Series is a scholarly program that features scholars, professionals and performing and visual artists. The lecture series celebrates the legacy of the late Dr. Ralph Pruitt, the first director of the CSU Black Studies Program and a champion of Black culture and academic excellence.

The program is working to increase the audience for its presentations through social media and other forums. For the month of April, it is putting together a black history puppet show and a virtual basketball competition that will engage basketball teams in Cleveland and the Cleveland Police Department. 

For more information on these events visit