Slavery at Harvard

Faust and Coates

Drew Gilpin Faust and Ta-Nehisi Coates

I just came across this article Lydialyle Gibson’s essay in Harvard Magazine titled “A Vast Slave Society.”  It is a report on a one-day conference at Harvard’s Radcliffe Institute on slavery at America’s first institution of higher education and other colleges and universities.  Speakers included Drew Gilpin Faust, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Lizabeth Cohen, Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, Adam Rothman, James T. Campbell, Craig Steven Wilder, Vincent Brown, Natasha Trethewey, Annette Gordon-Reed, Sven Beckert, Julian Bonder, Daniel Coquillette, Alexandra Rahman, Alejandro de le Fuente, Hilary Beckles, Max Price, Christiane Taubira, and Daniel Carpenter.

Here is a taste:

OTHER SPEAKERS, including Faust, echoed that same sentiment, though with less specificity. “We cannot successfully move forward as a university, as a nation, or as citizens, without acknowledging this history and making it important to the understanding of our present,” said Harvard’s Beckert. “And to be meaningful, that acknowledgement will have to have economic and political consequences; it cannot be purely symbolic or rhetorical.” Stanford historian James T. Campbell, who a decade and a half ago led Brown’s effort to research its own past, said, “There has to be some response in the present to what you know about the history.” Conceding the impossibility of any full remedy, he added, “Nothing you do in the present even approaches the significance and scale and scope of the crime. That doesn’t mean you can’t do anything.” Adam Rothman, a Georgetown historian involved in that university’s archival effort, asked how many in the audience thought his university ought to help subsidize the education of people descended from slaves that it had owned in the early 1800s. Most hands went up.

As schools move forward in their efforts to reckon with centuries-old questions that have suddenly become urgent, Coates offered a few bits of advice. For one thing, he said, “Do not limit the study of enslavement to slavery.…Recognize that the plunder of enslavement does not end with enslavement.”  He also counseled them to “listen, and don’t be self-congratulatory, and don’t get too mad.” People will be angry with them, he warned, and with good reason. “The worst thing you can do is retreat into your shell.…You’ve got to listen. You’ve got to listen, and you’ve got to hear that anger. It comes from a deep, deep place.”

Read the entire article here.

 

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