Chautauqua book discussion: 'Proud Shoes' is story of free Black man fighting with Union Army

Pauli Murray, a devoted advocate for the rights of women and people of color, was a 20th century attorney, ordained minister and social activist. She was a writer as well. Her book, "Proud Shoes," is the intimate story of her grandparents’ lives from pre-Civil War days to the Reconstruction Era after the Civil War.

Murray’s book will be the focus of Ashland Chautauqua’s free virtual book discussion at 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 16, via Zoom. The discussion will be led by Chautauqua scholar Becky Stone, who will portray Murray in the summer 2023 Ashland Chautauqua in-person event at Brookside Park in Ashland. Stone portrayed Rosa Parks in Ashland in 2017.

"Proud Shoes" is primarily the story of Robert Fitzgerald, a free man from Pennsylvania who fought for the Union and then set up schools for former slaves in the South during Reconstruction. He was hard-working, highly principled, patriotic to the Union and visionary, yet he suffered innumerable indignities and deprivations based on his identification as a Black person.

The context of his life and the life of his wife, who was the mixed-race child of a White slave owner and a slave woman, bring to the reader the complexities of personal racial identity, free versus slave status, and racial discrimination in society both North and South.

It is not necessary to read the book to participate, as Stone will summarize it at the beginning of the discussion. However, pre-registration for the discussion is required through Eventbrite,

The "Proud Shoes" book discussion is the third in a series of five virtual discussions based on the theme “History’s Real Action Figures,” Ashland Chautauqua’s theme for the July 11-15 event. The characters to be portrayed in first-person performances at Brookside Park are Meriwether Lewis portrayed by Brian “Fox” Ellis, Jackie Cochran portrayed by Karen Vuranch, Pauli Murray portrayed by Stone, Samuel Bellamy portrayed by Joey Madia and Harry Houdini, portrayed by Larry Bounds.

Each of the scholars also leads a virtual book discussion about their character, held monthly through April. Book discussions begin at 7 p.m. See the Ashland Chautauqua website,, for a listing of dates and book titles.

For more information, call 419-281-4584.

This article originally appeared on Ashland Times Gazette: Chautauqua books discussion about free Black man fighting for Union