“What does it feel like to be a problem?”
W. E. B. Du Bois’s 1903 question regarding African American consciousness in a segregated America resonated more than 100 years later when historian LaKisha Simmons posed it to a standing-room-only audience at the History Department’s Martin Luther King symposium on January 19, 2015.
Cosponsored by the Eisenberg Institute, “The Color Line and the Long Twentieth Century: New Perspectives on Race, Violence, and Segregation” featured three recent University of Michigan history PhDs including Simmons (Transnational Studies, University at Buffalo), Kidada Williams (History, Wayne State University), and Andrew Highsmith (Public Administration, University of Texas at San Antonio).
The panelists connected their research to current issues of discrimination and stereotyping, including recent police shootings of African Americans. Highsmith considered the destructive effects of mismanaged urban development in Flint, Michigan, while Simmons and Williams discussed how African Americans perceived themselves under Jim Crow laws and the devastating trauma of racial violence.
Audience members queried panelists on how to apply historical scholarship to understanding and combatting contemporary racial injustice in America. Professor Matthew Countryman emphasized the importance of examining historical continuity and change to better understand the persistence of social, economic, and racial inequality.
Later that week, on January 22, the History Department and the Eisenberg Institute collaborated with the State Theatre to provide a free screening and discussion of Ava DuVernay’s Oscar-nominated film Selma for University of Michigan community members. The ticket line stretched around the block, and the theater was filled to capacity.
These events inaugurated an annual collaboration between the History Department and the Eisenberg Institute to mount public events in conjunction with the university-wide Martin Luther King Day commemoration.
Thomas Stephenson is an undergraduate student pursuing a dual degree in history and music.
Top: LaKisha Simmons (Transnational Studies, University at Buffalo) at the History Department and Eisenberg Institute's MLK Symposium event, January 19, 2015 (Scott Sodorberg, Michigan Photography).
Bottom: Kidada Williams (History, Wayne State University) addresses a capacity crowd at the History Department and Eisenberg Institute's MLK Symposium event, January 19, 2015 (Scott Sodorberg, Michigan Photography).