Legacies of American Slavery

  • Why Do We Have a Blog?

    This blog was created to support the larger work of CIC’s Legacies of American Slavery initiative—i.e., to help CIC member colleges and universities; their faculty, staff, and students; and the members of their communities reckon with the multiple legacies of American slavery through research and exploration, teaching and learning, and public-facing programs and engagement.

    The blog offers a mix of background information about the project, updates and highlights from our institutional partners, and curated content about the afterlives of slavery. It is a place to raise questions, to share examples of exemplary work at scores of CIC member colleges (many of which have direct ties to the institution of slavery), and to build a national network of like-minded researchers, teachers, and community members. We hope that visitors will find some useful things in this small corner of the web while learning more about the public contributions of private (independent) colleges and universities.

    We also invite you to contribute to the blog. Please contact us at legaciesproject@cic.edu.

  • The Resource Database
    Decorative image of file cabinets.

    The Legacies of American Slavery network is much bigger than the seven Regional Collaboration Partners. Many CIC member colleges and universities are reckoning with the legacies of slavery through original research, historic or archival preservation, teaching and learning, and public engagement. We have created a resource database to share some of their ongoing work. It is searchable by institution, legacy theme, resource type, and other variables.

    The database was developed in Notion, a multi-function project management platform. The database is displayed as a spreadsheet, which should look familiar to anyone who has used Google Sheets or Microsoft Excel. Each row begins with the name of a CIC member institutions, listed alphabetically. Next to each institution are columns of other relevant information: the resource name, a brief description, the type of resource (e.g., a course syllabus or a digital exhibit), and the primary legacy theme (e.g., “Contested Citizenship” or “Racial Violence”).

    Looking for multiple resources related to a specific legacy of American slavery? Use the filter at the top of the resource database to select any of the legacy themes. (By default the resource database is set to view “ALL.”)

    The database is easy to sort and search!

    The database is not comprehensive. If you know about similar activities at other CIC member institutions, please contact us at LegaciesProject@cic.edu so we can keep adding new resources to the database. Also let us know if you spot any inadvertent errors.

  • Legacies links for April 3, 2023: DNA, ChatGPT, and Historic Preservation

    As always, we encourage you to share this post. A link does not imply agreement or endorsement by the Council of Independent Colleges.

    Historic image of students from Eatonville, Florida.
    Robert Hungerford Preparatory High School in Eatonville, FL, one of the oldest African American communities in the United States. This yearbook photo is from 1965. source: Abandoned FL
    • Cheryl Cashin, “ChatGPT Is Parroting Myths About Slavery,” Politico (March 24, 2023): LINK. A historian asks a few of the popular AI-driven tools about the Founders’ views on slavery and concludes that “[t]he history of slavery in America is too complicated for the likes of ChatGPT and Google,” which tend to amplify simplistic (and, too often, racist) narratives. 
    • Maddie Burakoff, “Their stories were lost to slavery. Now DNA is writing them,” ABC News (March 28, 2023): LINK. An example of preserving the memories and the remains of enslaved African Americans: DNA research in Charleston, South Carolina, is shedding light on the lives of enslaved people whose bodies were found beneath the grounds of an arts venue.
    • “Residents of historically Black Florida town sue to stop land sale,” AP via WWSB-TV (March 29, 2023): LINK. Citizens of Eatonville, Florida, one of the first historically Black towns in the United States, are suing the Orange County School Board to stop the $14.6 million sale of school property to a developer: “If this sale is allowed to proceed, the rich culture and heritage of the town that Zora Neale Hurston popularized around the world…will be erased.”
    • “Preserving Significant Places of Black History: African American Landmarks and Historic Districts in New York City” (March 27, 2023): LINK. An interactive story map created by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission to “provide greater accessibility to New York City landmarks and historic districts that reflect the contributions and achievements of African Americans, against the backdrop of systemic racism.”
    • Arline T. Geronimus, “The Physical Toll Systemic Injustice Takes On the Body,” TIME (March 28, 2023): LINK. “The country is waking up to what Black Americans have known for centuries and what public health statistics have shown us for decades: systemic injustice—not just in the form of racist cops, but in the form of everyday life—takes a physical, too often deadly toll on Black, brown, and working-class or impoverished communities.”
    • Jennifer Ludden, “Cities may be debating reparations, but here’s why most Americans oppose the idea,” NPR (March 27, 2023): LINK. “[A]fter decades of lobbying and three years of a national reckoning over race, Americans overall remain strongly opposed to the idea [of reparations].”
    • Christian Santana, “Episcopal Diocese of New York formally apologizes for the church’s participation in slavery,” Gothamist (March 25, 2023): LINK. As early as 2006, the Episcopal Church issued a resolution declaring slavery a sin and call on its congregations to acknowledge and express regret for the church’s role. Last week the Episcopal Diocese of New York held a service of apology at the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine in Manhattan. (The Diocese has also committed $1.1 million in reparations in the form of scholarships, healthcare, and housing.)   
    • Alyson Klein, “Laws That Limit Teaching About Race and Gender Imperil Music Instruction,” Education Week (March 31, 2023): LINK. “Divisive concept” laws undercut frank discussions about the legacies of slavery in unexpected places—like music classes in public schools. (Try teaching about jazz, the blues, or gospel music without noting the long shadow of slavery.) 
    • Amanda Frost, “Everyone born in the United States is a U.S. citizen. Here’s why,” Washington Post (March 28, 2023): LINK. A legal scholar uses the anniversary of a landmark Supreme Court case—United State v. Wong Kim Ark (1898)—to discuss the history of birthright citizenship in the United States. “By framing citizenship as a relic of feudalism, the court [in this case] overlooked a far more compelling backstory for this constitutional right: the antebellum battles between free and slavery states over the fate of enslaved people who reached free soil.”
    • Christine Hatfield, “Illinois’ history with slavery and its links to the present,” Illinois Public Media (March 27, 2023): LINK. “When Illinois was admitted to the union, it was as a free state, as opposed to a slave state, but that was just one chapter in the long history of slavery and its legacy in Illinois…. [The 21st Show on Illinois public radio] spent the entire hour diving into that history and what it means for the present day with a panel of historical researchers.” Researchers on the panel include sociologist Brian Miller from CIC member institution Wheaton College.  
    • “Carroll Hall Renamed by Board of Trustees,” The Meredith Herald (March 24, 2023): LINK. At CIC member Meredith College, the Board of Trustees has removed Dr. Delia Dixon-Carroll’s name from the Student Health Center due to her engagement in “racist and harmful practices that outweighed her contributions to the College.” (Her brother, by the way, wrote The Clansman, the novel that was the basis for the racist masterpiece Birth of a Nation.) For more about Meredith’s efforts to reckon with (and repair) the racial history of the institution, see Dan Fountain’s recent post about the process.
  • Five Good Books about Colleges and Slavery: A Starting Point

    Colleges and universities across the United States (indeed, around the world) are thinking deeply about their own historical entanglements with slavery. Enslaved labor and the wealth derived from slavery played major roles in the founding and success of higher education institutions throughout the nation. These histories continue to haunt current debates about reparations, legacy admissions, contested curricula, campus memorials, campus protests, real estate development, and more.

    To help ground some of the current debates, we’ve put together a short list of recommended books about slavery and the university with the help of David Blight and Michelle Zacks from the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition at Yale. (Blight is also the director of the CIC Legacies of American Slavery initiative. However, this list is a collective effort of the entire Legacies project team.) The books are listed alphabetically by author. The “purchase” buttons are for convenience only—we don’t make a penny of commission on sales.

    There is a growing bibliography of books, articles, and institutional reports devoted to the topic, so this is just a starting place. We hope it will be especially useful to anyone who wants to explore and address the legacies of slavery on their own college or university campus.

    Book cover image

    Alfred L. Brophy, University, Court, and Slave: Pro-Slavery Thought in Southern Colleges and Courts and the Coming of the Civil War (Oxford University Press, 2016). PURCHASE

    From the publisher: University, Court, and Slave links southern schools to proslavery thought and connects to current interest in universities and race and links southern academics to the increasing extremism of southern politics and law and all of those to the secession movement. Brophy shows the origins of the empirical and historical jurisprudence in the controversy over slavery and shows how slavery shaped southern jurisprudence.”

    Book cover image

    Leslie M. Harris, James T. Campbell, and Alfred L. Brophy, eds., Slavery and the University: Histories and Legacies (University of Georgia Press, 2019). PURCHASE

    From the Publisher: “Slavery and the University is the first edited collection of scholarly essays devoted solely to the histories and legacies of this subject on North American campuses and in their Atlantic contexts. Gathering together contributions from scholars, activists, and administrators, the volume combines two broad bodies of work: (1) historically based interdisciplinary research on the presence of slavery at higher education institutions in terms of the development of proslavery and antislavery thought and the use of slave labor; and (2) analysis on the ways in which the legacies of slavery in institutions of higher education continued in the post-Civil War era to the present day.”

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    Sharon Stein, Unsettling the University: Confronting the Colonial Foundations of US Higher Education (Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 2022). PURCHASE

    From the Publisher:Unsettling the University invites readers to confront universities’ historical and ongoing complicity in colonial violence; to reckon with how the past has shaped contemporary challenges at institutions of higher education; and to accept responsibility for redressing harm and repairing relationships in order to reimagine a future for higher education rooted in social and ecological accountability.”

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    Rhondda Robinson Thomas, Call My Name, Clemson: Documenting the Black Experience in an American University Community (‎University of Iowa Press, 2020). PURCHASE

    From the Publisher: “This book traces ‘Call My Name: African Americans in Early Clemson University History,’ a Clemson English professor’s public history project that helped convince the university to reexamine and reconceptualize the institution’s complete and complex story from the origins of its land as Cherokee territory to its transformation into an increasingly diverse higher-education institution in the twenty-first century. Threading together scenes of communal history and conversation, student protests, white supremacist terrorism, and personal and institutional reckoning with Clemson’s past, this story helps us better understand the inextricable link between the history and legacies of slavery and the development of higher education institutions in America.”

    Book cover image

    Craig Steven Wilder, Ebony & Ivy: Race, Slavery, and the Troubled History of America’s Universities (Bloomsbury Press, 2013). PURCHASE

    If you are going to read just one book on the subject, read this one!

    From the Publisher: “In Ebony and Ivy, Craig Steven Wilder lays bare uncomfortable truths about race, slavery, and the American academy. Many of America’s revered colleges and universities—from Harvard, Yale, and Princeton to Rutgers, Williams College, and UNC—were soaked in the sweat, the tears, and sometimes the blood of people of color. The earliest academies proclaimed their mission to Christianize the savages of North America, and played a key role in white conquest. Later, the slave economy and higher education grew up together, each nurturing the other. Slavery funded colleges, built campuses, and paid the wages of professors. Enslaved Americans waited on faculty and students; academic leaders aggressively courted the support of slave owners and slave traders. Significantly, as Wilder shows, our leading universities, dependent on human bondage, became breeding grounds for the racist ideas that sustained them.

    Some Additional Resources

    This is not meant to be an exhaustive list, just a starting place. Here are a few other helpful resources to start exploring the relationship between slavery and America’s institutions of higher learning:

    Universities Studying Slavery (USS) is a consortium of over 90 different colleges and universities around the world, dedicated to sharing research and best practices for addressing the legacies of slavery on their campuses. Hilary N. Green (University of Alabama) has curated a extensive bibliography for USS of archival sources, books, articles, institutional reports, etc. related to slavery and higher education.

    The Legacies of American Slavery Resource Database: Our own resource database aims to be a one-stop shop for all resources about the legacies of slavery at small and mid-sized independent colleges and universities. It’s constantly being updated with new content from across the membership of the Council of Independent Colleges. We’re always looking for new contributors!

    Finally, here are a few of the institutional reports on slavery prepared by CIC member institutions: Elon University, Furman University, Queens University of Charlotte, Sewanee: University of the South, Washington & Lee University.

  • Legacies links for March 27, 2023: Nature, Historic Preservation, and Benjamin Banneker’s Family Tree

    As always, we encourage you to share this post. A link does not imply agreement or endorsement by the Council of Independent Colleges.

    The Freedman (1863), a sculpture by White artist John Quincy Adams Ward (1830-1910), is featured in a new exhibit at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art in Fort Worth, TX. The exhibit juxtaposes Ward’s statue with modern responses by Black artists. source: Amon Carter Museum of American Art
    • “Reflecting on Religion and the Legacies of Slavery,” Harvard Divinity School (March 20, 2023): LINK. In this podcast, several professors of religion at Harvard wrestle with the following questions: What does the academic study of religion teach us about the complex histories and legacies of slavery? How can a deeper understanding of the roles of religion enhance our commitment to reparative action in our contemporary times?
    • Sara Kaufman and Jean-Charles Zurawicki, “Localities Can Advance Racial Equity through Historic Preservation,” Urban Institute (March 15, 2023): LINK. Historic preservation can be a force for gentrification or a way to engage citizens of color (through financial support, business programs, and community organizations) to help retain the cultural heritage in America’s cities.
    • Erin Sharkey, “More To Be Shaped By: Searching for Black Nature Writing,” Literary Hub (March 22, 2023): LINK. In an excerpt from her new volume of edited essays, A Darker Wilderness, Sharkey explores the complicated relationship between African Americans and the American landscape. “Nature writing is rooted in the American experiment, but who is left out from the canon…? A collection addressing the presence of Black people and their contributions is itself a distinctly American project. Despite efforts to the contrary, Black Americans’ relationship to nature has persisted from the Middle Passage, when our ancestors traveled the westerlies in the bellies of ships, and from our toil in the fields and the intimate domestic spaces of white families.”
    • Ericka Taylor, “‘Benjamin Banneker and Us’ traces generations of descendants of the mathematician,” NPR (March 21, 2023): LINK. When Rachel Jamison Webster discovered that she is related to Banneker—a freedman who helped lay out Washington, DC, among many other accomplishments—it set her off on a genealogical quest. The result is an “unflinchingly self-reflective” memoir/history that explores the legacies of slavery in her own family—including the Black cousins she didn’t know she had—and interrogates the meaning of “Whiteness.”
    • “Emancipation: The Unfinished Project of Liberation,” Patron (March 23, 2023): LINK. To mark the 160th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, the Amon Carter Museum of American Art invited contemporary Black artists to respond to an iconic representation of emancipation sculpted by a White artist in 1863.
    • Ryan Feyre, “Easthampton event to cover history of slavery, emancipation,” The Reminder (March 21, 2023:) LINK. Easthampton, Massachusetts, offers a modest example of a Northern city reckoning with the legacies of slavery: first the city council passed a resolution in support of a national commission on reparations for the descendants of slaves; then the city council invited historian Ian Delahanty, who teaches at nearby CIC member Springfield College, to deliver a public lecture on “Slavery and Emancipation in the Connecticut River Valley.” The lecture draws upon his own scholarship and community-based research on Black lives in the region.
  • Legacies links for March 20, 2023: some recent scholarship illustrating the legacies of slavery

    This week, a selection of recent scholarship related to the legacies of slavery. Access to some of these articles may be limited to subscribers. As always, a link here does not necessarily mean endorsement or agreement by the Council of Independent Colleges. Please share this post — and share with us any relevant articles you may have written (or found).

    Photograph from Negro Education: A Study of the Private and Higher Schools for Colored People in the United States (U.S. Government Printing Office, 1917). source: Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, New York Public Library

    Contested Citizenship and the Law

    As these articles remind us, the histories of slavery, freedom, and American law are deeply intertwined.

    • Valerie Sirenko, “Destroyed Documents and Racial Vulnerability in the Literature of Slavery’s Legal Afterlife,” American Literature 95:1 (March 2023): https://doi.org/10.1215/00029831-10345337 (subscription only).

      From the abstract: “This article argues that Black writers throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries produced a critical knowledge of how legal documentation functions to produce racialized structures of power and Black vulnerability at law. In literature that reckons with slavery’s legal afterlife, particularly antebellum slave narratives, post-Reconstruction novels, and neo-slave narratives, Black authors frequently represent legal documents as pivotal to legal personhood and theorize how these documents produce vulnerability to violence and dispossession.”
    • Bennett Parten, “‘The Science of Human Rights’: American Abolitionism and the Language of Human Rights,” Slavery & Abolition (February 2023): https://doi.org/10.1080/0144039X.2023.2173005 (subscription only).

      From the abstract: “Historians of human rights have not had much to say about America’s anti-slavery movement. Scholars tend to focus instead on the early enlightenment or how ideas of human rights emerged over the twentieth century. This essay, however, makes a case for why American abolitionists should be considered early rights pioneers and progenitors of what we know as human rights. It argues that though different factions of the movement had particular conceptions of rights, the movement itself mobilized around a shared rights vision and made this vision of human rights a center piece of America’s anti-slavery crusade.”
    • Geoffrey Heeren, “Immigration Law and Slavery: Rethinking the Migration or Importation Clause,” Wisconsin Law Review 2023:4 (March 2023): https://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.4378786 (full text).

      From the abstract: “The traditional account of the origins of federal immigration law mostly glosses over its deep connection to slavery. An examination of that connection calls the constitutional foundation for immigration law into question, alters the calculus for judicial review of federal immigration action, reframes our understanding of federalism, and lays bare the nation’s exploitative dependence on immigrant labor. This article makes this paradigm shift by focusing on a long-neglected textual source for federal immigration power: the Migration or Importation Clause [Article I, Section 9 of the Constitution].”

    Mass Incarceration and Policing

    African Americans are dramatically over-represented in America’s prison population; they are also, disproportionately, the victims of police violence. These articles explore the historical and systemic forces behind these facts.

    • Precious Skinner-Osei and Diny Mercedes, “Collateral Consequences: The Impact of Incarceration on African American Fathers and Their Sons,” Journal of Forensic Social Work 7:1 (2023): https://doi.org/10.15763/issn.1936-9298.2023.7.1.1-13 (full text).

      From the abstract: “For decades researchers [have] linked the effects of parental incarceration to adverse childhood outcomes, including increased likelihood of imprisonment, particularly for African American males. Therefore, this study explored the impact of incarceration on African American fathers and their sons. The data revealed four major [areas of impact]: caregiving, stigma, paternal bonds, and reentry.”
    • Courtney M. Echols, “Anti-Blackness is the American Way: Assessing the Relationship Between Chattel Slavery, Lynchings, & Police Violence During the Civil Rights Movement,” Race and Justice (2022): https://doi.org/10.1177/21533687211073299 (subscription only).

      From the abstract: “Research finds that historical anti-Black violence helps to explain the spatial distribution of contemporary conflict, inequality, and violence in the U.S. Building on this research, the current study examined the spatial relationship between chattel slavery in 1860, lynchings of Black individuals between 1882 and 1930, and anti-Black violence during the Civil Rights Movement era in which police or other legal authorities were implicated. I draw on an original dataset of over 300 events of police violence that occurred between 1954 and 1974 in the sample state of Louisiana, and that was compiled from a number of primary and secondary source documents that were themselves culled from archival research conducted in the state.”
    • Aaron Gottlieb and Kalen Flynn, “The Legacy of Slavery and Mass Incarceration: Evidence from Felony Case Outcomes,” Social Service Review 95:1 (March 2021): https://doi.org/10.1086/713922 (full text).

      From the abstract: “One common explanation for mass incarceration is that it is the latest in a series of institutions created to enforce the racial hierarchy in the United States. Despite this perspective’s prominence, it has been rarely tested empirically with extensive quantitative data. … [We found] that a criminal charge in a county with high levels of slavery in 1860 increases the likelihood [now] of pretrial detention, the probability of a sentence of incarceration, and the length of incarceration sentences. These results hold for the full sample and for Black and White individuals separately.”

    Persistent Inequalities

    Two (among many) areas still marked by systemic inequalities that have deep roots in slavery: home ownership and the healthcare system.

    • Brenda D. Gibson, “The Heirs’ Property Problem: Racial Caste Origins & Systemic Effects in the Black Community,” City University of New York Law Review (2023): https://ssrn.com/abstract=4339700 (full text).

      From the abstract: “This article enters the conversation about Black poverty in a new way — discussing the phenomenon of the heirs’ property ownership model as an impediment to Black wealth. As discussed in this article, heirs’ property is ‘family-owned land that is jointly owned by descendants of a deceased person’ by intestacy. This model of property ownership is found throughout the United States, usually in places with high poverty and minoritized populations. … [J]uxtaposed with the history of Black people in the United States, particularly through the lens of the South Carolina Low Country, and American systems that have birthed and nurtured incalculable inequities … it becomes clear that heirs’ property ownership … was birthed out of America’s racial caste system … [and continues to promote] Black land loss.”
    • Garssandra Presumey-Leblanc and Megan Sandel, “The Legacy of Slavery and the Socialization of Black Female Health and Human Services Workforce Members in Addressing Social Determinants of Health,” Journal of Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities (2023): https://doi.org/10.1007/s40615-023-01510-y (subscription only).

      From the abstract and conclusions: “One legacy of slavery and colonialist structures is that minority populations, particularly the Black populations, experience higher rates of poverty, disease, job insecurity, and housing instability today — all indicators of poor health or negative social determinants of health (SDOH). … As sufferers of negative social determinants [themselves], Black women [working in health and human services (HHS)] … use their lived experiences and historical trauma to challenge the systems within which they work.”
  • Legacies links for March 13, 2023: networked resources and racialized threats

    As always, we encourage you to share this post. A link does not imply agreement or endorsement by the Council of Independent Colleges.

    The interior of the Robert W. Woodruff Library of the Atlanta University Center, a consortium of four HBCUs (three are CIC members: Clark Atlanta University, Spelman College, and Morehouse College). source: Robert W. Woodruff Library.
    • Joyce Jones, “HBCU Library Alliance and Harvard team up to expand access to Black history,” The Harvard Gazette (March 8, 2023): LINK. Last week, “the HBCU Library Alliance and Harvard [University] Library announced a project to sustain and deepen capacity for the digitization, discovery, and preservation of African American history collections held in HBCU libraries and archives across the U.S.” About two dozen CIC members are part of the HBCU Library Alliance.
    • Michael Friedrich, “A Matter of Truth,” John Jay College of Criminal Justice: Research Blog (2022): LINK. Another example of a collaborative project to recover, digitize, and share resources (in this case, records related to the history of enslaved people in the Northeast). One of the main collaborating institutions is CIC member Monmouth University in New Jersey.
    • “White Supremacist Propaganda Soars to All-Time High in 2022,” The Anti-Defamation League (March 8, 2023): LINK. In 2022, the ADL’s Center on Extremism (COE) tracked a significant expansion in white supremacist propaganda, targeting Blacks, Jews, immigrants, and members of the LGBTQ+ community (usually in some combination).
    • Anissa Durham, “Black Children Deserve to be Children,¨ The Seattle Medium (March 8, 2023): LINK. Anti-Blackness and the adultitification of Black children are a legacy of slavery that directly impacts Black students in the classroom–even in Latin American/Hispanic spaces, the Black teenaged students in this article suggest they have been treated differently because of their race and their mature bodies: “Black youth become so accustomed and, in some ways, normalize the surveillance of their bodies. We are conditioned or trained to limit our expression, to monitor what we do with our bodies, to shrink. Because if we’re too big, if we’re too loud, if we are too outspoken, if we stand out too much, this can come with detrimental and sometimes fatal consequences.” 
    • Adam Bradley, “Building a New Canon of Black Literature,” The New York Times (March 7, 2023): LINK. Bradley, founding director of Laboratory for Race and Popular Culture at UCLA, notes that “[literary] canons may enshrine the past, [but] they are instruments of the present. So what do readers require of Black American literature today? Works that confront the resurgence of white supremacy. Works that challenge orthodoxies of racial representation. Works that unsettle assumptions about gender and sexual identity. Works that expand the frames of formal experimentation. Works that imagine Black futures.”
    • Min Chen, “Artist Josie Williams Trained A.I. Chatbots on the Literary Achievements of Black Authors. The Result? ‘Virtual Poetry’,” Artnet News (March 8, 2023): LINK. In a completely different approach to rethinking the canon of Black cultural creativity, Williams “used the words of radical Black thought leaders in an A.I. dataset, so that was the only thing that a chatbot could use to formulate responses about itself or the world.”
  • Historic photo of lynching victim George Hughes.
    George Hughes (left), shortly before he was lynched by a white mob in Sherman, Texas (1930). Rioters also burned down the county courthouse and a significant portion of the Black business district. source: The Washington Post

    Guest contributor: Felix Harcourt

    Note: Austin College (Sherman, TX) is a Regional Collaboration Partner in the Legacies of American Slavery network.

    The Ghanaian concept of sankofa—loosely translated to mean looking back in order to move forward—has been a recurrent theme in the work that faculty, staff, and students at Austin College have taken on in recent years to help our community wrestle with our local history of racial violence and resistance. Our campus sits in north Texas, in the city of Sherman, site of a 1930 riot that began with the lynching of a black farm laborer, George Hughes, and ended with the destruction of the city’s thriving black business district. Our recent efforts are not the first time that those in this area have tried to tell this story, but that history has long been denied, mangled, or actively hidden.

    In the wake of the murder of George Floyd, we witnessed new community efforts to reckon honestly with these past injustices and an insistence on continuing the decades-long tradition of entrenched resistance to facing that historical truth. To this day, there are those in the area who refuse to call the murder of Hughes a lynching, clinging to the tendentious argument that he was killed by fire rather than by hanging. Too many are made too uncomfortable by the idea that the violent legacies of American slavery hang over their own personal histories. We need look no further than the efforts to restrict what students in Texas public schools can learn and understand to know what power such feelings still hold.

    In the last two years, though, there have been real signs of change. After a long and bruising foray into local politics, a community effort to have a marker erected on the county courthouse lawn recognizing the events of 1930 has been approved by the Texas State Historical Commission. As our community has begun to face some of the darkest parts of its history, we have also begun to see again some of the brightest stories of hope and resistance. A walking tour of black history in the city—a Sankofa Journey—has drawn crowds large enough to require a police escort. Efforts are underway to publicly commemorate and celebrate the vibrancy and success of the historic black business district. And planned historical markers include not only the story of George Hughes but also the story of William J. Durham, the local pioneering civil rights attorney who argued landmark desegregation and voting rights cases. 

    While the struggle to bring the whole of these histories to light is ongoing, we at Austin College have been able to forge new relationships with educators across the state and region. We are trying to model and encourage similar struggles with local history in the collaborative effort to see an enduring change in public understanding of such legacies.

    Felix Harcourt is an assistant professor of history at Austin College and the lead faculty member on Austin’s Legacies of American Slavery project team. His research and teaching focus on the history of prejudice, politics, and popular culture in the modern United States, especially the 1920s and New Deal era. He is the author of Ku Klux Kulture: America and the Klan in the 1920s (University of Chicago Press, 2017). The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Austin College or the Council of Independent Colleges. 

  • Legacies links for March 6, 2023: A Weekly Roundup

    As always, we encourage you to share this post. A link does not imply agreement or endorsement by the Council of Independent Colleges.

    An advertisement for an electric-gasoline hybrid car invented by Black inventor Granville Woods (1916).
    Prolific inventor Granville T. Woods (1856–1910) was sometimes called the “Black Thomas Edison.” A company he founded was selling hybrid (gasoline-electric) cars in 1916 — almost a century before the Prius. image source: Wikimedia Commons

    Some general links:

    • Christopher Cicchiello, “How to respond to ‘All lives matter’ and more: An ex-neo-Nazi offers advice,” Today (March 5, 2021): LINK. Some raw (and potentially triggering) insights into the racist mindset.
    • Julian Zelizer, “Uncovering the forgotten history of slavery in the North,” CNN (March 2, 2023): LINK. A new project aims to recover the identities of more than 700 enslaved Black and Native American people at the South Fork of Long Island, New York, piecing together the legacies of the transatlantic slave trade in the North.
    • David Brancaccio and Erika Soderstrom, “The consequences of underestimating the racial wealth gap,” Marketplace (March 2, 2023): LINK. “[Many Americans] underestimate the severity of racial economic inequality in this country — by a lot.”
    • Manann Donoghoe and Andre M. Perry, “The case for climate reparations in the United States,” Brookings Institution (March 2023): LINK. “Because the impacts of climate change are accelerating,” say the authors, “what’s needed is not just a wealth transfer to redress legacies of injustice, but a shift toward a more equitable and antiracist climate change policy.”
    • Michael E. Ruane, “A casket holder, an airship and a list of pioneering Black inventors,” The Washington Post (February 27, 2023): LINK. Celebrating innovation through a list of Black inventors compiled by patent examiner and civil rights activist Henry E. Baker at the end of the nineteenth century.
    • Jack Molmud, “What we can learn from the life and legacy of Prince McLellan, an enslaved Mainer,” News Center Maine (February 21, 2023): LINK. McLellan “escaped enslavement [in Maine] to fight in the Revolutionary War.” Now, a descendant of the family that enslaved him is working with the Atlantic Black Box Project to recover his history.

    News about CIC member institutions:

    • Liam Knox, “A law school’s ‘denaming’ evokes donor family’s ire,” Inside Higher Education (March 1, 2023): LINK. In another theater of the culture wars, when CIC member University of Richmond voted to remove a slaveholding donor’s name from its law school, his descendants (and others) launched a legal and digital campaign against the institution.
    • “St. Olaf offers trip that traces the history of the civil rights movement,” St. Olaf College (February 28, 2023): LINK. Even alumni programs can be opportunities to teach about the legacies of slavery: Prof. David Booth leads alumni from CIC member St. Olaf College on study tours through the landscape of the Civil Rights Movement.
    • “Center for Anti-Slavery Studies Collection gifted to Weinberg Memorial Library,”University of Scranton (February 23, 2023): LINK. The University of Scranton, a CIC member, has received a gift of teaching and research materials from the community-based Center for Anti-Slavery Studies. The collection includes materials related to Black Pennsylvanians, the Underground Railroad, the abolition movement, and the Civil Rights Movement.
  • We are thrilled to share the news about an exciting new digital history site from Shenandoah University (an Institutional Affiliate of the Legacies of American Slavery network) — “The Spirit of Freedom”: Preserving Emancipation’s Legacy in the Shenandoah Valley.

    Students and faculty from Shenandoah University, CIC member Bridgewater College, Mary Baldwin College, and the Winchester City (Va.) Public Schools all contributed to the creation of this site, which contains primary sources, biographical sketches, classroom activities aligned with Virginia’s Standards of Learning (SOLs), timeline, and suggested reading. Here is the official announcement:

    Banner image from the "Spirit of Freedom" project at Shenandoah University.

    After more than two years of research, writing, and site-building, Shenandoah University’s McCormick Civil War Institute, an affiliate member of CIC’s Legacies of American Slavery Project, debuted its digital history site “The Spirit of Freedom”: Preserving Emancipation’s Legacy in the Shenandoah Valley on February 22. The site currently contains more than 100 primary sources that illuminate the ways African Americans in the Shenandoah Valley celebrated Emancipation in the decades after the conflict and the various obstacles they confronted.

    While documents reveal that Emancipation day was celebrated at different times of the year, not something unique to the Shenandoah Valley, and in various localities throughout the Shenandoah, no community in the Valley became a more powerful place to celebrate slavery’s end and challenge the Lost Cause’s distortion of slavery’s reality than Harpers Ferry. The scene of John Brown’s raid in the autumn of 1859, Harpers Ferry, as the documents on the site reveal, proved a critical location for annual Emancipation day gatherings and became a magnet for various groups devoted to African American social and political equality including the National League of Colored Women, the Niagara Movement, and NAACP. Documents on the site reveal the power of John Brown’s fort as an important symbol in the fight for equality and justice. 

    Additionally, the site contains biographical sketches of individuals who played important roles in commemorating Emancipation and challenging the Lost Cause. Among the personalities explored on the site are:

    ➢Jasper Thompson, a veteran of the 23rd United States Colored Troops from Charles Town, West Virginia, who became a prominent fixture at Emancipation day celebrations in the northern Shenandoah Valley and

    ➢Pearl Tatten, a Yale-educated music instructor at Storer College who delivered an impromptu address at the dedication of the Heyward Shepherd monument in Harpers Ferry in 1931 condemning the perpetuation of lies promulgated by the United Daughters of the Confederacy.

    The site also contains classroom activities aligned with Virginia’s Standards of Learning, suggested reading, and timeline. 

    Prof. Jonathan A. Noyalas, director of Shenandoah University’s McCormick Civil War Institute supervised the project and received critical support from the following individuals in developing the site: Alana Gill (student, Mary Baldwin College); Caitlyn Graulau (student, Shenandoah University); Jamie Hunstad (student, Shenandoah University); Douglas Jackson (student, Shenandoah University); Brennan Komelasky (student, Shenandoah University); Stephen Longenecker, Ph.D (professor emeritus Bridgewater College); Anne Marchant, PhD (Division of Applied Technology, Shenandoah University); Callista Maybery (student, Shenandoah University); Emily Mullen (student, Shenandoah University); Chris Nelson (independent researcher); Brandy N. Noyalas (social studies teacher, Winchester City Public Schools), and Steven Stabler (student, Shenandoah University). Technical support was provided by the Omeka team. The Community Foundation of the Northern Shenandoah Valley, Boxley-Fox Endowment Fund provided additional financial support.

    The site, which will continue to grow in the coming months and years, can be accessed at mcwi.omeka.net.

    Contact Jonathan Noyalas for more details.

  • Legacies links for February 27, 2023: Black history is everywhere—and in very specific places

    As always, we encourage you to share this post. A link does not imply agreement or endorsement by the Council of Independent Colleges.

    Oakwood University’s Slave Cemetery in Huntsville, Alabama. Oakwood, a former plantation, was also the home of Dred Scott for at least a decade. source: Huntsville Real-Time News
    • Lee Roop, “Remembering Dred Scott, an Alabama slave who made American history,” Huntsville Real-Time News (February 22, 2023): LINK. Dred Scott, the enslaved man who unsuccessfully sued for freedom in the infamous Dred Scott v. Sandford case (1857), lived in Alabama between 1821 and 1831. The plantation where Scott lived is the site of CIC member Oakwood University, an HBCU in the Seventh-day Adventist tradition.
    • Melanie Mullen, “Freedom Flows Along the Coasts: Environmental History is Black History,” The Episcopal Church (February 16, 2023): LINK. In a thoughtful piece linking the legacies of slavery to modern conservation efforts and enduring spiritual concerns, Rev. Mullen describes the forgotten sacrifices of courageous Black men and women who tended to the nation’s barrier islands in North Carolina.
    • Asher Lehrer-Small, “Slave Money Paved the Streets. Now This Posh RI City Strives to Teach Its Past,” The 74 (July 20, 2022): LINK. Efforts to highlight Newport’s (and New England’s) forgotten links to slaveholding are facing push-back from community members who are wary of anything resembling CRT.
    • Jenna Russell, “In Vermont, a School and Artist Fight Over Murals of Slavery,” The New York Times (February 21, 2023): LINK. The ongoing legal battle between the painter of a 30-year-old mural depicting slavery (and abolitionism) in Vermont and the students and administrators at Vermont Law School.
    • Jared Council, “Tennessee Council Considers Using Federal Covid Dollars for Reparations Programs,” Forbes (February 22, 2023): LINK. In an effort to reckon with the legacy of slavery in a very specific 785 square miles, lawmakers in Shelby County, Tennessee, are considering “a proposal that would use $5 million [in federal pandemic aid] to help reduce disparities between Black and white residents in wealth, healthcare outcomes and homeownership.”
    • “How American educators can better teach the history of slavery,” WBUR (February 22, 2023): LINK. In a conversation with the hosts of NPR’s “On Point,” historian David Blight (Yale University) and political theorist Danielle Allen (Harvard University) discuss teaching strategies and professional development for teachers—and their parental allies—who want to teach the history of slavery more effectively and honestly. Blight is director of the CIC Legacies of American Slavery initiative.
    • Gregory Pardlo, “The Battle for the Black Soul: On the Poetic Embodiment of the Black Preacher,” Literary Hub (February 21, 2023): LINK. A thoughtful introduction to a new edition of poet James Weldon Johnson’s 1927 work, God’s Trombones. “No text is perfect, but every text reflects something of the historical moment that shaped it,” says Parlo, as he contextualizes a work that does not always conform to current notions of progressive Black thought.
  • Image of a calas vendor in New Orleans (c. 1886)

    To help celebrate Mardi Gras we asked Zella Palmer, director of Dillard University’s Ray Charles Program in African American Material Culture and a leading scholar of African American foodways, to recommend a distinctly New Orleans recipe. She selected a recipe for calas (KAH-luhs) — sweet, deep-fried fritters made from leftover rice that were typically sold in the 19th century by female African American street vendors, both before and after emancipation.

    This particular recipe was provided by New Orleans historian and social worker Madame Barbara Trevigne. It appears in Palmer’s 2019 compilation, Recipes and Remembrances of Fair Dillard, 1869-2019 (University of Louisiana Press).

    To learn more about Dillard’s work as a Partner in the Legacies of American Slavery initiative, visit the Ray Charles Program’s website and YouTube channel.

    This image of a calas vendor accompanied an article by George W. Cable in the February 1886 issue of Century Magazine.

    The text is transcribed below or you can download a PDF copy.


    • 2 cups of mushy cold rice
    • 6 teaspoons of flour
    • 3 heaping tablespoons of sugar
    • 2 teaspoons of baking powder
    • 1/4 teaspoon of salt
    • 1/4 teaspoon of vanilla
    • 1/2 teaspoon of fresh nutmeg
    • Powdered sugar
    • 3 eggs
    • Peanut oil or vegetable oil


    Mix the cold mushy rice and dry ingredients together thoroughly. Add the eggs and when thoroughly mixed, drop by spoonful into hot deep oil in 360 degree temperature. Fry until golden brown and drain on brown paper bag. Sprinkle literally with powdered sugar. Serve hot. Calas should never be eaten cold.

    Overcook the rice the day before and keep in refrigerator. Maintain mixture below 70 degrees because the batter will separate when dropped in the hot oil. If you are planning on cooking lots of Calas, be sure to keep the ingredients in the refrigerator. If not, the consistency of the mixture will become watery and separate. It has to remain cold.


    Tout chaud calas, Tout chaud calas
    Belle calas, Belle calas
    Tout Chaud Calas, donnez moi un picayune
    Belle Calas, Monsieur et Madame. Pour vous.


    Merchants in New Orleans frequently called and sang out their items for sale to attract customers. One popular vendor was the calas lady. The calas lady could be found selling her delicious calas near the St. Louis Catholic Church, or walking along the levee by the Mississippi River. Each merchant sang a catchy tune about their item to attract the housewife. When the call of the vendor was heard, women do-popped (peeping through their shutters) and came out to inspect and purchase the goods. Not only were there food merchants, there was the rag man, the fruit man, and the Cowan man who traveled first by mule-drawn carts, which graduated to trucks. It was the cadence of their songs and the freshness of their food that made a good dinner. Calas was breakfast Mardi Gras morning and after First Communion (Little Communion), with hot chocolate.

    The memory of my maternal grandmother Emily Broyard Trevigne making calas, and the smell of her calas, fill my heart with joy. The simplicity of food makes a family gathering a treasure trove of love.