Memory Projects

Student demonstrators pointing to a segregated business during a march in downtown Chapel Hill. Copyright Jim Wallace.

Many American colleges and universities have become key sites of American public history and memory in the 21st century as they have addressed the central role of enslavement in their institutions. Faculty, students, administrators, and alumni encouraged or conducted research that uncovered records, maps, diaries, images, newspaper articles, and account books, among many other sources, that revealed the ways that their institutions were built upon the labor of the enslaved and from profits of the slave trade.

These sources revealed the ways that the enslaved served the needs of faculty, students, and college presidents. They identified the names and stories of enslaved people who were on campuses, in some cases saving lives of students in danger, as well as creating the physical spaces of the campus. Beyond slavery, some demonstrated how Jim Crow laws were supported and enforced in higher education. Some institutions explored sources on the history of indigenous people and their lands in the creation of colleges.

Brought to light, these histories required institutions to reckon with their pasts. Whose names belonged on the buildings and spaces of a college? What objects, images, and plaques told partial truths or untruths about those they honored? What was memorialized in the sedimented layers of financial gifts, donors’ biographies, and histories of cities, regions, and states? How many voices, narratives, and memories had been erased and how could those memories be captured, presented, and made part of the permanent landscape of campuses?

The consortium of colleges and universities concerned with their institution’s history of slavery continues to inspire projects about higher education. Other universities, many of them public, have created websites devoted to student activism and protests on campuses throughout the United States, particularly in the 1960s. Some draw on campus traditions of activism as far back as the 1930s. The student press, institutional records, alternative newspapers, oral histories, and FBI records are among the remarkable number of sources used to create this history.

The emergence of digital history has offered new forms of writing and transmitting history, as well as making available the very archives, now digitized, that revealed the wide range of sources that were hidden in plain sight. These websites continue to expand as more materials are found, as oral histories are added to them, and as users provide their own memories.

This essay provides an index of extant websites that address higher education projects that deal with enslavement, racism, and activism. Some began as physical exhibits and some were built exclusively for the web. Many of these sites include narratives, bibliographies, and digital archives. We plan to continually update this survey as new projects on higher education emerge.


Projects on Slavery, Racism and the University

Brown University

Brown University President Ruth Simmons appointed a Steering Committee on Slavery and Justice. The committee, which included faculty members, undergraduate and graduate students, and administrators, was charged to investigate and to prepare a report about the University’s historical relationship to slavery and the transatlantic slave trade. It was also asked to organize public programs that might help the campus and the nation reflect on the meaning of this history in the present and on the complex historical, political, legal, and moral questions posed by any present-day confrontation with past injustice. The Committee presented its final report to President Simmons in October 2006. On February 24, 2007, the Brown Corporation endorsed a set of initiatives in response to the Committee’s report.

Date

2003–present

Authors

Committee members: http://brown.edu/Research/Slavery_Justice/members/

Brown University

Brown University President Ruth Simmons appointed a Steering Committee on Slavery and Justice. The committee, which included faculty members, undergraduate and graduate students, and administrators, was charged to investigate and to prepare a report about the University’s historical relationship to slavery and the transatlantic slave trade. It was also asked to organize public programs that might help the campus and the nation reflect on the meaning of this history in the present and on the complex historical, political, legal, and moral questions posed by any present-day confrontation with past injustice. The Committee presented its final report to President Simmons in October 2006. On February 24, 2007, the Brown Corporation endorsed a set of initiatives in response to the Committee’s report.

Date

2015–present

Authors

Karen Baxter, Managing Director, Department of Africana Studies

Bryn Mawr College

Undergraduates Emily Koko and Grace Pussey’s research on Black students at Bryn Mawr College brought them to the papers of the college’s former president Marion Park, who served from 1922–1942. Her 1926 letter set the policies for admission of Black students, which allowed them to attend, but not to live on campus. Her ideas were supported by a past president, among others. The archives yielded examples of “appeasement” of Black students who could earn a degree, but not “progress.”

Date

2015

Authors

Emily Koko and Grace Pussey, students; Monica Mercado, Project Advisor

Columbia University

The Columbia University and Slavery project explores a previously little-known aspect of the university’s history—its connections with slavery and with antislavery movements from the founding of King’s College to the end of the Civil War. Professor Eric Foner led a research course in the spring of 2015 on the role of slavery in Columbia’s early history. The Columbia University & Slavery project was initiated to draw on further research to be conducted by faculty and students.

Date

2015–2017

Authors

Professor of History, Eric Foner

Georgetown University

In the fall of 2015, the University convened the Working Group on Slavery, Memory, and Reconciliation to help explore this history, to engage the community in dialogue, and to outline a set of recommendations to guide future efforts. Through new research, digital archives, events, dialogues, and outreach, the University is bringing the research about this history to life and making it accessible.

Date

2015–present

Authors

President John J. DeGioia

Harvard Law School

Harvard Corporation has approved the recommendation of the Harvard Law School Shield Committee to retire the HLS shield, which is modeled on the family crest of an 18th century slaveholder.

Date

2016

Harvard Universty

Drawn from the collections of the Harvard University Archives, the items on display in this exhibition represent the beginning of work underway to identify the links between Harvard and the system of racial bondage that defined American society.

Date

2016

Authors

Professor of History, Sven Beckert; Professor of History and African American Studies, Evelyn Higginbotham

Indiana University

The Banneker History Project was a service learning project during which students investigated the history of the Benjamin Banneker School, a segregated school that operated from 1915–1951 in a Midwestern college community. This article discusses the research these students conducted and the perceptions they adopted as a result of their work.

Date

2001

Authors

Prof. Marilynne Boyle-Baise, Indiana University, Bloomington; Prof. Paul Binford, Indiana University, Bloomington

Oregon State University

A team of scholars, consisting of both OSU faculty and an external scholar, assessed available primary and secondary sources regarding the lives and legacies of Benjamin Arnold, Joseph Avery, Thomas Hart Benton, and A.T. "Slats" Gill. The team produced individual historical reports on each of these people, and the buildings that carried their names. The committee concluded that these individuals were unworthy of public commemoration due to their Confederate sympathies, anti-Native American stances, and discrimination against blacks in OSU athletics. This process of historical inquiry—coupled with input from the community—informed the Building and Place Name Evaluation Workgroup and Architectural Naming Committee, which then gave its recommendations to the President. It includes guides to the archival resources used by the researchers.

Date

2016–present

Princeton University

The Princeton & Slavery Project investigates the University’s involvement with the institution of slavery. It explores the slave-holding practices of Princeton’s early trustees and faculty members, considers the impact of donations derived from the profits of slave labor, and looks at the broader culture of slavery in the state of New Jersey, which did not fully abolish slavery until 1865. It also documents the Southern origins of many Princeton students during the antebellum period and considers how the presence of these Southern students shaped campus conversations about politics and race. The site also offers stories of enslaved people who worked at Princeton, and includes articles written about how Princeton chose to address its history.

Date

2013–present

Authors

Professor of History, Martha A. Sandweiss

Rutgers University

The Scarlet and Black project was formed in 2015 to examine the role that two disenfranchised groups—enslaved and indigenous people—played in the founding and development of Rutgers University. The Committee on Enslaved and Disenfranchised Populations in Rutgers History was also charged with making recommendations about how the university can best acknowledge its influences on our history. As the project continues with subsequent volumes, Committee members will expand and develop their research to map out the history as it relates to slavery and issues of race, moving us up to the present day of Rutgers University. The essay links Rutgers' history to that of the Ivy League colleges of its period and the treatment of enslaved people and economies.

Date

2015–present

Authors

Professor of History, Deborah Gray White; Professor of Women’s & Gender Studies and History, Marisa Fuentes; Professor of History, Camilla Townsend; & Chancellor Richard L. Edwards

Smith College

The exhibit traces the legacy of the Black Student Alliance from the admission of the first African American students in the 1890s, to the founding of the BSA in 1968, and through the 1980s and 1990s. Sections deal with confronting racism, the creation of a cultural center, and building alliances. Of particular note is the story of Carrie Lee, who was admitted in the fall of 1913. She was denied her room assignment when her white roommate refused to live with her. Lee’s father and the NAACP protested the refusal of the college to find her housing, other than by working as a servant off campus. In October, the Board of Trustees took up the question of Carrie Lee’s housing and “declined to vote to exclude colored students from housing.”

Date

2008

University of Michigan

Mapping Slavery in Detroit is a University of Michigan Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program project to develop and explore the history of slavery in Detroit and its effect on the modern-day city. The primary goal of this project is to provide a more complete picture of slavery in the Detroit area for the general public, students, and scholars in order to acknowledge the full history of the area and to learn from it. The website includes a map to show sites of slavery on a contemporary map of Detroit and census figures.

Date

2014–present

Authors

Professor of History and Chair of the Department of Afroamerican and African Studies, Tiya Miles

University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

In 2016, the President’s Advisory Committee on University History made recommendations regarding how the University should approach questions raised by the community regarding historical names in and on buildings on the University of Michigan campus. The committee explored the history of naming practices at Ann Arbor and issued preliminary recommendations to President Mark Schlissel in the fall of 2016, which he shared and discussed with the executive leadership of the institution. In 2018, it was decided that several buildings would be renamed after it was established that their namesakes held racist and white-supremacist views.

Date

Spring 2016

Authors

http://president.umich.edu/committees/presidents-advisory-committee-on-university-history/ ; http://record.umich.edu/articles/u-m-remove-little-winchell-names-campus-facilities

University of North Carolina

This project is one chapter in an ongoing campus conversation about equity and the history of the University of North Carolina that extended back at least into the 1960s. The project focuses on the legacies of white supremacy embodied in the former Saunders Hall (renamed “Carolina Hall” by UNC Trustees in 2015) and in UNC’s Confederate monument, dubbed “Silent Sam.” To explore the histories of UNC’s buildings and their namesakes, the project, a UNC course, employs a combination of researched long-form essays and a flexible visualization that assembles basic data about the over 250 structures that UNC’s Facilities Services Department classifies as “major buildings.”

Date

2015–2017

Authors

Professor of History, Anne Mitchell Whisnant

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

“Slavery and the Making of the University” is an online exhibition of documents assembled by the University Archives’ staff on a UNC digitization project. The documents included recognize the contributions of slaves, college servants, and free persons of color to building the institution. They also discovered historic acts of these men and women who often saved students from danger. Documents also revealed the sale of enslaved men and women with profits to the University and fees to attorneys.

Date

Physical exhibit, October 2005–February 2006

University of South Carolina

This website, created by graduate students in a history seminar, tells the story of the crucial role played by enslaved people in building the college from 1801 to their liberation by federal troops in 1865. These buildings were made of bricks produced by enslaved workers and by slave labor. Whether owned by the college, its faculty members, or hired from private parties, they maintained every aspect of college life for students, faculty, and the president.

Date

May 2011

Authors

Professor of History, Robert Weyeneth, archivist Elizabeth West, and Graham Duncan, interim Curator of Manuscripts South Carolinian Library

University of Virginia

The Commission’s charge is to offer advice and recommendations to the president on the commemoration of the University of Virginia’s historical relationship with slavery and enslaved people; to investigate the interpretation of historically significant buildings/sites related to slavery at the university; to discuss mutual interests with Monticello to include research and events focusing on Jefferson and slavery; to promote an historical exhibition focusing on slavery at the university; to propose projects that would educate students, faculty, staff, and visitors about enslaved individuals who worked on the grounds; and to consider appropriate memorialization.

Date

2013–present

Authors

Assistant Dean & Professor of History, Kirt von Daacke; Office of the VP and Chief Officer for Diversity and Equity, Marcus Martin

University of Virginia

This symposium included the participation of universities, scholars, community members, descendants, historic sites, preservationists, and public historians who engaged in panels and conversation about researching the enslaved past, disseminating findings to the broader public, and breaking down disciplinary boundaries to collectively work to tell a fuller story about the history of the American university.

Date

October 18–21, 2017

Washington and Lee University

The president of Washington and Lee appointed a committee to examine the role of African Americans in the history of the University. In his instructions to the group, President Ruscio emphasized that its work should include a straightforward look at the history of enslaved people at the institution and should also identify themes, trends, and important moments up to the present time. The site, as of 2018, includes an 1834 document that lists the enslaved men and women owned by Washington College.

Date

2013–present

Authors

Elizabeth Knapp, Professor of Geology; Thomas E. Camden, Head of Special Collections and Archives, University Library; Julie Campbell, Associate Director of Communications and Public Affairs; Theodore DeLaney, Associate Professor of History; Donald Gaylord, Research Archaeologist; Jeffery G. Hanna, Special Assistant to the Vice President for Advancement; Barton A. Myers, Assistant Professor of History

William and Mary

The project includes a focus on contributing to and encouraging scholarship on the 300-year relationship between African Americans and the College, and building bridges between the College and Williamsburg and Greater Tidewater area. William and Mary held slaves and used slave labor from its founding to the Civil War, and failed to take a stand against segregation during the Jim Crow era. It includes a timeline of the history between William and Mary and African Americans, and access to guides to resources and special collections held at Swem Library on African Americans.

Date

Begun in 2009

Authors

Jody L. Allen, Professor of History

Yale University

On the occasion of Yale University's 300th anniversary, it initiated lectures and a pamphlet that took a more critical and less celebratory approach to its history. The report, “Yale, Slavery, and Abolition” noted that Yale chose to name most of its colleges after slave owners and pro-slavery leaders. In 1831, Yale leaders helped stop an effort to expand higher education for African Americans in New Haven. This project and its essay notes that important abolitionists associated with Yale's history have not been honored.

Date

2001–2002

Authors

Anthony Dugdale, J.J. Fueser, J. Celso de Castro Alves

University of Wisconsin

Chancellor Rebecca Black convened a group to examine the history of the presence of the Ku Klux Klan between 1919 and 1926 at the University of Wisconsin, where there was little opposition to student groups using this name. She did this following the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia. Following the 2018 report of the committee, the Chancellor allocated funds for a permanent exhibition devoted to this era in University of Wisconsin history and support for teaching lines that would address the injustices created by racism.

Date

2018–present

Authors

Professors Stephen Kantrowitz, Christy Clark-Punjara, Department of History


Projects on Student Activism and the University

Columbia University

Featuring documents, photographs, and audio from the Columbia University Archives, “1968: Columbia in Crisis” examines the the causes, actions, and aftermath of a protest that “captivated the campus, the nation, and the world.” The online exhibition is based upon a physical exhibition of the same name which was on display in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Columbia University from March 17 to August 1, 2008.

Date

Physical exhibition March 17–August 1, 2008

Authors

Exhibit Curator: Jocelyn Wilk

New York Times

In response to nationwide student protests for gun regulations, the New York Times published an article highlighting the history of student activism on college and high school campuses in the U.S.

Date

March 15, 2018

Authors

Maggie Astor

Northwestern University

This online exhibit tells the story of the occupation of the Bursar’s office by members of Black student organizations on Northwestern University's campus. The protest heightened awareness of Black students’ experiences of racial insensitivity on campus. The online exhibit includes an overview of the reasons why students of For Members Only (FMO) and the Afro-American Student Union (AASU) presented demands to the University, as well as the legacy of the takeover. “They Demanded Courageously” also features key documents found at Northwestern University Archives, a timeline, participant biographies, photographs, and bibliographic resources. All images and documents featured on this site are held at Northwestern University Archives.

Date

May 1–July 31, 2018 at Northwestern University Libraries, and online

Authors

Charla Wilson, Archivist for the Black Experience, Exhibit Curator

Penn State

A college-wide project bringing together Penn State students, faculty, and alumni to explore what it means to live through historic and contemporary times of change. The college team commemorated the anniversary with events that are rooted in this critical period, including panel discussions, movie nights, and lectures with an eye to understanding what happened not only at Penn State, but on other campuses nationally and internationally.

Date

Online public history project, AY 2017–2018

Authors

Project Director: Kevin Conaway

Penn State

Using archival documents, photographs, and books from the Eberly Family Special Collections Library, this student-curated exhibit highlights the social and political turbulence of the late 1960s across the country and around the world. This public exhibit is a part of the larger “Moments of Change: Remembering ’68” online project (see previous entry).

Date

Through July 31, 2018 in Franklin Atrium, Pattee Library, University Park

Authors

Lauren Nogay, a senior majoring in history and international politics and Stelts-Filippelli, Intern in the Special Collections Library and Conservation, Preservation, and Digitization Department, curated the exhibit with support from Clara Drummond, exhibition coordinator

Pratt Institute

“A Touch of Spring”—named after the term President James B. Donovan used to describe the actions of students protesting issues of civil rights, neighborhood gentrification, and other social and political concerns—this exhibition showcases original documents from the Pratt Institute School of Information records, as well as images from the archives at Pratt’s Brooklyn campus. The research that went into this exhibition uncovers the events leading to the unrest, its aftermath, and the role of students who were enrolled in the Graduate School of Library and Information Sciences at the time.

Date

Spring 2017

Authors

Nicole Festa, Elizabeth Frank, Anna Holbert, Carissa Pfeiffer, Katrina Rink

UC Berkeley

Having received a $3.5 million gift from Stephen M. Silberstein, the University of California Berkeley Library and the Bancroft Library began an ambitious program to document the role of Mario Savio and other participants in the Free Speech Movement. During the three year project (1998–2001), the archive collaborated with institutions and organizations in the fields of free speech, student and social protest, and higher education. The Archive therefore acts as a hub connecting the websites, finding aids, and digital collections which expand on the Bancroft collections. Last updated 7/30/12.

Date

1998–present

Authors

University of California Berkeley Library and the Bancroft Library

UC Berkeley

Started as an honors undergraduate course, “The Berkeley Revolution” is an online archival project documenting the city’s transformation during the late 1960s and 1970s. Berkeley may be best identified with student protests and the Free Speech movements of the mid to late ’60s, but the project emphasizes the fact that change did not stop with Mario Savio. Berkeley became a stage for the Black Arts and Black Power movements, Women’s Liberation, the movement for ethnic studies, the organic revolution, the gay rights movement, the Disability Rights Movement, and the free school movement.

Date

2017–present

Authors

Professor of English, Scott Saul

University of Chicago

This physical exhibit (now closed) displays documentation of student protests that have occurred at the University of Chicago. The material was drawn primarily from the digitized University archives, especially the University of Chicago Photographic Archive and University of Chicago Campus Publications. The scope of the materials, ranging from 1915 to 1992, match the coverage in these two collections.

Date

The Joseph Regenstein Library, Fourth Floor, May 26–June 30, 2017

University of Florida

This exhibition, created by undergraduate students at the University of Florida, focuses on campus activism during the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s. Covering three decades of UF history and culture, the exhibit features photographs, counterculture newspapers, yearbooks, artifacts, and other items from the holdings of the University Archives, the P.K. Yonge Library of Florida History, and the Department of Special and Area Studies Collections. The exhibition covers political activism, sit-ins, and other Civil Rights demonstrations, protests against the Vietnam War, the alternative press at UF, and the hunt for homosexuals and other “subversives” on campus by the Johns Committee in the “age of protest."

Date

Online exhibit based on public display from April 20–May 31, 2009 in the Smathers Library Exhibit Gallery

University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

This online exhibit from the University of North Carolina contains digitized documents, images, and other archival materials relating to 1960s student protests in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. The website contains information, documents, and photos from several student-led protest movements at UNC in the 1960s. The movements include efforts to integrate Chapel Hill businesses, to repeal the controversial Speaker Ban law, to fight for improved pay and working conditions for food service employees on campus, and to protest against the Vietnam War.

Date

Online exhibit, in addition to a physical exhibit at Wilson Library, January 23–June 15, 2007

University of Wisconsin, Madison

“Protests & Social Action at UW-Madison during the 20th Century” does not claim to be exhaustive, but rather attempts to provide a representative selection of student protest throughout the decades, using sources from the University of Wisconsin-Madison Archives. The collection includes digital copies of the four-volume history of the University, plus many other useful sources. The Wisconsin Historical Society Archives also include strong collections on social action.

Authors

Tyler Kennedy and David Null