The recent killings of George Floyd, Breona Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and so many other unarmed people of color cannot be understood in isolation. What happened in each of these localized contexts stands well within our national tradition of systematic, racialized violence. This sordid history stretches back many centuries, from Columbus’s arrival and Virginia’s first slavery legislation through emancipation, reconstruction, and beyond. As a nation, we’ve shown a reluctance not only to learn the basic tenets of our own history, but also to learn from this history, which helps to explain why we continue to witness—and set aside as exceptional—egregious forms of human-rights abuses in case after case. Even as we mourn these recent murders, we must confront this nation’s past; history must inform our actions as we work to create a more just society in our present moment.

In an effort both to understand our past and change our future, the University of Michigan History Department encourages historically minded activism across the world. More locally, we seek to strengthen our own commitments to creating intellectual spaces that contribute to the vital fight against racism. We will be tested by our ability to rise to the challenge of making real change possible, but in the weeks and months to come we will work collectively on a plan of action, so that our own department better supports the movement for racial justice inside and outside the academy. We encourage you to be a part of this process with us. Please share any thoughts or suggestions at We also encourage you to read this longer statement from our national organization, the American Historical Association, as well as the many resources available through the University of Michigan National Center of Institutional Diversity.