The recent Universities Studying Slavery Conference brought together scholars and researchers from dozens of higher education institutions to share best practices, offer support, and explore the legacy of slavery, racism, and segregation in the United States.
Entitled “Legacies of Slavery: Landscapes of Segregation,” the semiannual conference was held at the University of Virginia. Discussions and panels were conducted through the lens of the Engaging Descendent Communities rubric created at the 2018 National Summit on Teaching Slavery, which provides a framework for researchers and scholars to tell the story of slavery and its legacy in the U.S.
Conference sessions covered a wide range of topics related to racial inequities following the abolition of slavery, such as disenfranchisement, reconstruction, redlining, racial terrorism, policing and incarceration, and racism in public policy and science. Speakers addressed the role higher education plays in perpetuating systemic racism, the need to reconcile with the descendants of enslaved people, and teaching history accurately.
We walk through this fantasy of reconciliation, and I would argue that you can’t reconcile something that you’ve never really dealt with.”
Providing a full account of historical racial inequities is the only way that systemic barriers can be torn down, says Christy Coleman, executive director of the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation and former president and chief executive officer of the American Civil War Museum, who spoke during a Q&A session.
“What I’ve found is that when people have a reckoning with the nuance and depth of this shared history, they have a better appreciation, more empathy toward, and a greater understanding of the systemic issues that continue to oppress communities, particularly communities of color. Without it, we’re lost. It’s like trying to get a tree to stand when the roots are rotted. …Unless we deal with the roots of that harm and understand the history, then we can’t get right with each other. We walk through this fantasy of reconciliation, and I would argue that you can’t reconcile something that you’ve never really dealt with.”●
This article was published in our November 2022 issue.