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Slavery and Its Aftermath

The Slavery Initiative 

William Faulkner wrote, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” Historians increasingly recognize that the legacy of slavery in the United States remains with us today, with effects large and small. The Center’s Slavery Initiative rigorously explores that history and its ongoing reverberations to the present day.

History of Slavery and Its Aftermath

This project aims to tackle America’s original sin—slavery. Next year our country confronts a 400th anniversary. The first people of African descent appeared in colonial Virginia in 1619. Their arrival triggered the introduction of the system of chattel slavery, a system that defined nearly all aspects of life for more than two centuries. Slavery and its aftermath resonate today; be it on college campuses whose current health stems from its early investment in the institution; be it in casual conversation, when verbal adversaries retreat to the refrain, “my people owned your people”; be it in the names on buildings, streets and monuments, slavery and its aftermath cast a long shadow.

As presently conceived, this project will attempt two things: 1) with the aid of professional historians, produce a 15-20 point precis on what everyone should know about slavery; and 2) create new pairings of museums, public sites, theaters, media, civil organizations, colleges and universities to coordinate the presentation of programming on and about slavery for a five-year period. By bringing together, for example, the Public Theater in New York, with the new Civil War Museum in Richmond and the Equal Justice Institute in Birmingham, we have the possibility of connecting unlike audiences to discuss and confront a long chapter in American history. The work would be curated and a culminating series of festivals may be a tangible product.  As important, at the outset we can figure out ways to measure the impact of the undertaking.