Over the past decade, historians have probed the relationship between higher education and slavery through innovative public-facing projects that raise important questions. What role have academic institutions played in perpetuating racial inequality? How are scholars and students today working to hold universities accountable for past and present injustices? What role should public engagement play in shaping the future of scholarship and the mission of the university? As campuses buzz back to life, our hosts Ebun Ajayi and Mélena Laudig discuss the legacy of universities and slavery with up-and-coming scholars in Black Studies: R. Isabela Morales, Charlesa Redmond, and Ezelle Sanford, III.
The Culture of _
- President Eisgruber’s message to community on removal of Woodrow Wilson name from public policy school and Wilson College, June 27, 2020
- Editorial Board, “After five years of student activism, it’s time for the U. to stop dragging its feet,” The Daily Princetonian, July 2, 2020
- Maya Kassutto, “Remains of children killed in MOVE bombing sat in a box at Penn Museum for decades,” BillyPenn, April 21, 2021
- “MOVE Bombing at 30,” Democracy Now, May 13, 2015
- Benjamin Ball, “Students hold protest in solidarity with MOVE,” May 2, 2021
- Association of Black Anthropologists, “Collective Statement Concerning the Possession and Unethical Use of Remains,” April 28, 2021
The Breakdown - Guest Info
Dr. Morales (left) received her Ph.D. in history from Princeton University in 2019 and is Editor and Project Manager of the Princeton & Slavery Project. Her first book, Happy Dreams of Liberty: An American Family in Slavery and Freedom, is forthcoming from Oxford University Press in 2022. After two years working for the 9/11 Memorial Museum, she will join the Stoutsburg Sourland African American Museum while working on her second book project.
Dr. Sanford (middle) is an Assistant Professor of History at Carnegie Mellon University and received his Ph.D. in the history of science from Princeton in 2019. A scholar of African American, medical, and urban history, Dr. Sanford’s book project, Segregated Medicine: How Racial Politics Shaped American Healthcare, explores the history of racial inequality in healthcare through the lens of St. Louis’s Homer G. Phillips Hospital, America’s largest segregated hospital in the mid-twentieth century. Before coming to his current position, Dr. Sanford was a Postdoctoral Fellow and Project Manager for the Penn Medicine and the Afterlives of Slavery Project.
Charlesa (right) is a Ph.D. student in History at Duke University. A 2017 graduate of Princeton University, her senior thesis work was based in materials made accessible through the Princeton & Slavery Project. Her Ph.D. research aims to explore how colleges and universities tried to answer “the slavery question,” and how such answers manifested themselves into tangible actions—frustrating the slave trade at times while furthering it at others.
See, Hear, Do
- The Princeton & Slavery Project
- Penn & Slavery Project and Penn Medicine and the Afterlives of Slavery
- Komal Patel, “Penn Museum to remove Morton Cranial Collection from public view after student opposition,” The Daily Pennsylvanian, July 12, 2020.
- Rachel L. Swans, “272 Slaves Were Sold to Save Georgetown. What Does It Owe Their Descendants?” The New York Times, April 17th, 2016
- Georgetown Slavery Archive and Georgetown Reflects on Slavery, Memory, and Reconciliation
- “Black at Mizzou,” APM Reports, August 14, 2020
- Courtney Perrett, “MU alumna shares her 'Black at Mizzou' experience in new audio documentary,” Missourian, August 18, 2020
- Eddie R. Cole, The Campus Color Line: College Presidents and the Struggle for Black Freedom (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2020)
- “College presidents and the struggle for Black freedom,” Princeton University Press Ideas Podcast, December 1st, 2020
- Stanley Nelson and Marco Williams, Tell Them We Are Rising (PBS Independent Lens, 2018)
Ebun Ajayi (00:07): I'm Ebun Ajayi.
Melena Laudig (00:07): And I'm Melena Laudig.
Ebun Ajayi (00:08): And you're listening to the official podcast of Princeton University's Department of African-American Studies.
Melena Laudig (00:14): Welcome to the fourth episode of our second season. Before we begin, we'd like to welcome new listeners and offer a quick reminder of what we're all about.
Ebun Ajayi (00:21): The aim of this podcast is to address questions and themes spanning African-American and black diaspora studies through engaging interviews with scholars and activists, as well as our own takes on black culture and cultural production.
Melena Laudig (00:33): Our first segment, The Culture Of, introduces us to our topic through discussions about popular culture today. The main segment, The Breakdown, is a conversation with academics and activists about the episode's issue. Finally, our segment entitled See, Hear, Do will give you some recommendations of where to turn next to keep learning more.
Ebun Ajayi (00:51): In our last episode, we talked about Juneteenth, a celebration that has grown in recognition over the past few years.
Melena Laudig (00:57): As of June 17th 2021, Juneteenth is a federal holiday. Our episode, however, was initially prompted in part by Princeton's decision to celebrate it this year. This leads to an even larger question. How do universities commemorate and come to terms with their historical ties to slavery?
Ebun Ajayi (01:15): Episode Four, University Reckonings.
Ebun Ajayi (01:25):The summer has gone by so fast and I'm already thinking about declaring my major next year. I knew from the beginning that I wanted to study something related to our society and policy, so I'm currently pursuing a degree in Public and International Affairs. The major wasn't always called this, though. At the time, when I first got in, students referred to this major as Woody Woo, short for the Woodrow Wilson School. Only shortly before I started at Princeton did the name change to the School of Public and International Affairs.
Melena Laudig (01:53): In a message to the university on June 27th 2020, President Eisgruber announced that the school would no longer bear the name of the former US president Woodrow Wilson, who was infamous for his approval of white supremacist movements and oversaw the segregation of the federal government. In a way, this signaled the beginning of Princeton's response to the widespread protest movement from last summer, the summer of 2020, in the wake of the police murders of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd and far too many others.
Ebun Ajayi (02:22): Yeah. As an incoming freshman, I remember some older students feeling that this change was long overdue. Apparently, students had been advocating for this change and for many other changes for years. Some thought the name change was not nearly enough, while others were grateful to see the school responding to student demands. And then there were also concerns that the university was simply making a political move in response to the ongoing racial reckonings in America. I also encountered people who had no opinion either way.
Melena Laudig (02:49): And back to what you said about this change being long overdue. What needs to be underscored is the fact that the name change was a delayed recognition to years of Princeton student activism and student-led discussions that initially resulted in the administration preserving Wilson's name in the title of the school.
Ebun Ajayi (03:04): To summarize, in November of 2015, two student groups, the Black Justice League and Black Student Union, organized a 33 hour sit-in at Nassau Hall. The school responded by establishing the Wilson Legacy Review Committee, but the committee ultimately decided to keep the former president's name on the School of Public and International Affairs and a residential college.
Melena Laudig (03:25): In the end, it seems that the ongoing shifts and the political tides made it impossible for the institution not to take action. The Change WWS Now group also deserves credit for reigniting the conversation. Some members expressed their frustration about Eisgruber's refusal to acknowledge the student activist groups by name.
Ebun Ajayi (03:43): Right. Which is part of why we're recognizing them here. It's true that names and what they stand for matter a lot, but it's also important to acknowledge the policies that are deeply entrenched into the runnings of the university.
Melena Laudig (03:54): While there are curriculum changes in places like the School of Public and International Affairs, some feel that the university has not been vocal enough in its commitment to anti-racist policies.
Ebun Ajayi (04:03): And honestly speaking, this is a discussion that we are going to constantly have. As a school and a society at large, we have to grapple with questions about the extent to which institutions need to address their past. This past April, wounds were opened yet again on Princeton's campus.
Melena Laudig (04:20): It came to light that professors at the University of Pennsylvania's Museum of Archeology and Anthropology as well as Princeton's Department of Anthropology mishandled and improperly used the remains of two children, 12-year-old Delisha Africa and 14-year-old Tree Africa, for research and teaching. Tree and Delisha were two of the 11 victims killed by the Philadelphia police during the 1985 bombing of the MOVE compound. For our listeners who may be unfamiliar, here's some quick background.
Democracy Now Clip (04:46): Today marks the 30th anniversary of a massive police operation in Philadelphia that culminated in the helicopter bombing of the headquarters of a radical group known as MOVE. The fire from the attack incinerated six adults and five children, and destroyed 65 homes. Despite two grand jury investigations and a commission finding the top officials were grossly negligent, no-one from city government was criminally charged.
Ebun Ajayi (05:10): The remains of these two children were used in the Princeton online Coursera course titled Real Bones: Adventures in Forensic Anthropology, taught by Janet Monge. I remember when I first heard about this. All of the student group chats were blowing up. Students were outraged.
Melena Laudig (05:26):This situation is incredibly painful and unfortunately we can't give it due justice in this short segment, but we encourage you to keep learning more using the links in our show notes.
Ebun Ajayi (05:35): What's remarkable is that even during a year of socially distanced learning, a group of Princeton students gathered in front of Nassau Hall in solidarity with the MOVE organization, seeking to amplify their demands for deeper investigations, justice for MOVE members who are still incarcerated, and reparations.
Melena Laudig (05:52): Anthropology professor Laurence Ralph read a statement from the Association of Black Anthropologists urging further consideration of how racism has been institutionalized through anthropology textbooks, courses and curricula. Professor Ralph's words highlight the fact that academic institutions are not only complicit in maintaining symbols of racism, something many are trying to address, but even the knowledge produced within them bears marks of inequality and historical oppression.
Ebun Ajayi (06:20): And that's exactly where we are going with this episode. Academics across the world have been increasingly interested in how the rise of the modern university has been tied to projects of enslavement and imperialism. In November of 2017, Princeton hosted a symposium for the Princeton and Slavery Project, directed by Martha Sandweiss, Professor of History.
Melena Laudig (06:41): Princeton's project was not the first, nor will it be the last. The research process and findings form the beginning of a broader conversation about how universities can embrace an anti-racist agenda by reckoning with their history. But what exactly have scholars found in these projects? And how are these messages being shared with the public?
Ebun Ajayi (07:00): Today, we have not one, not two, but three guests-
Melena Laudig (07:04): (laughs)
Ebun Ajayi (07:04): For you. All scholars at various career stages, who have worked on university and slavery projects, including Princeton's own.
Melena Laudig (07:12): Isabela Morales received her PhD in History from Princeton University in 2019, specializing in the 19th century United States, slavery, and emancipation. She serves as editor of the Princeton and Slavery Project, and until very recently, worked as a manager of exhibition development at the 9/11 Memorial and Museum.
Ebun Ajayi (07:32): Ezelle Sanford the Third is an Assistant Professor of History at Carnegie Mellon University, and just wrapped up as a postdoctoral research fellow on the Penn Medicine and the Afterlives of Slavery Project. A historian of medicine and public health, he received his PhD in the History of Science from Princeton University in 2019.
Melena Laudig (07:51): And finally, Lesa Redmond is a graduate student in history at Duke University, studying the history of universities and their connections with slavery. She graduated with a BA from Princeton in 2017, and worked on the Princeton and Slavery Project as a student.
Ebun Ajayi (08:06): This conversation gave us a lot to think about. We hope it supports your own thinking about the institutions you may be a part of and your roles in shaping them.
Ebun Ajayi (08:18): Awesome. Well, thank you all for being here with us today. We're so excited for our conversation. Before we get into the deeper material, could you each just go around, say a little bit about your current position or project, and the extent of your involvement with either the Princeton and Slavery Project or efforts of other institutions? We can start with you, Lesa.
Lesa Redmond (08:35): So I am currently a PhD student in the history department at Duke University. I graduated from Princeton in 2017 with a major in US History, and a certificate in African-American Studies. Um, I actually graduated the year that the, uh, certificate program switched to a department, so I'm very happy about that. Um, during my sophomore year, I began working with the Princeton and Slavery Project and I continued this work through my senior year-
Ebun Ajayi (09:08): Mm.
Lesa Redmond (09:08): And I ultimately ended up writing a few, um, posts on the website, the Princeton and Slavery website. And I am still very passionate about the topic of universities and slavery and so I've continued that research in my graduate studies. Um, I am currently in my third year of a PhD program at Duke University.
Ebun Ajayi (09:32): Awesome. Thank you, Lesa. And you, Ezelle?
Ezelle Sanford (09:35): Hello, everybody. Thank you so much for having me to speak today. Uh, my name is Ezelle Sanford the Third, and I'm currently a postdoctoral fellow in the Program on Race, Science, and Society at the University of Pennsylvania, which is directed by Professor Dorothy Roberts. And there, I manage the Penn Medicine and the Afterlives of Slavery Project, which was established in 2019 by Professor Roberts, following the work of the Penn and Slavery Project led by Professor Kathy Brown, uh, which revealed the extent to which the medical school was the dominant part of the university, um, and also elucidated some of the connections between the medical school, uh, and enslavement, uh, in the early United States. And so the Penn Medicine and the Afterlives of Slavery Project, uh, is actually charged with figuring out, uh, how the history of enslavement impacted the development and evolution of the medical school on campus. Um, but we're also interested in tracing the afterlives of enslavement, which is, uh, the consequences of a slave ... Enslavement, uh, and the history of medicine today.
Melena Laudig (10:41): Mm.
Ebun Ajayi (10:42): Awesome. Thank you. And last but not least, Isabela.
Isabela Morales (10:45): Hi, everyone. I'm Isabela Morales. I'm a historian of slavery and emancipation, and hold a PhD in History from Princeton University. I am currently the editor and project manager of the Princeton and Slavery Project, which is an investigation into Princeton's historical involvement with slavery in the 18th and 19th centuries, as well as ongoing legacies of institutional racism. I've been involved in the project since its inception in 2013, but all of our research and findings, along with a digital archive of more than 400 primary sources, is available online at slavery.princeton.edu. I am contractually obligated to say the URL at least one time-
Melena Laudig (11:29): (laughs)
Isabela Morales (11:30): Uh, any time I talk about this, so thank you for-
Ebun Ajayi (11:32): (laughs)
Isabela Morales (11:32): Your forbearance.
Melena Laudig (11:33): Thanks for sharing that, Isabela. Can you, and- and maybe Lesa can also weigh in, um, provide us with kind of a- a brief capsule history of the Princeton and Slavery Project, um, and maybe tell us what some of the most surprising takeaways were? We can start with you, Isabela.
Isabela Morales (11:48): Sure. Absolutely. So, like I mentioned, the project started in 2013 as a single undergraduate research seminar at Princeton, taught by Professor Martha Sandweiss in the history department, who is the director of the project and the founder. And at that time, we really had no idea what we were going to find.
Melena Laudig (12:07): Mm.
Isabela Morales (12:07):
A lot, of course, has been written about Princeton University, but at that time no-one had yet done a really thorough investigation of the school's relationship to slavery or the slave trade. So even really basic facts, like whether the university ever owned slaves as an institution, the number of presidents who owned enslaved people-
Melena Laudig (12:26): Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Isabela Morales (12:26): Uh, for example, was an unknown.
Ebun Ajayi (12:28): Wow.
Isabela Morales (12:29): So we were lucky to have a lot of help and guidance from university archivist, Dan Linke, who was able to provide a lot of insight into where in the library's special collections we might begin to find this sort of information, and we did. Professor Sandweiss continued to- to teach that Princeton and Slavery seminar several times over the next couple years. Uh, more undergraduate and grad students got involved in the project and we were able to move from those kind of low-hanging fruit questions to more complex analysis. So, you know, as an example, you know, Princeton was founded as The College of New Jersey in 1746, so before the American Revolution.
Melena Laudig (13:07): Mm.
Isabela Morales (13:07): And you would expect that any institution that old is going to have some sort of historical link to slavery. Any American institution from that period is going to be connected to slavery in some way or another.
Melena Laudig (13:19): Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Isabela Morales (13:19): Um, one thing I should note is that we did find that Princeton as an institution did not own enslaved people, unlike Georgetown, for example.
Melena Laudig (13:28): Okay.
Isabela Morales (13:28): But the first nine presidents owned enslaved people. Five of those presidents brought enslaved people to campus to serve them at the President's House, what is today the Maclean House-
Melena Laudig (13:38): Mm.
Isabela Morales (13:39): Right outside Nassau Hall. All of the founding trustees owned enslaved people.
Melena Laudig (13:43): Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Isabela Morales (13:43): And Nassau Hall stands on four acres of land that were donated by a local slave owner-
Melena Laudig (13:50): Wow.
Isabela Morales (13:50): Uh, Nathaniel FitzRandolph, who is the namesake of the famous FitzRandolph Gates.
Melena Laudig (13:54): Mm.
Isabela Morales (13:54): Um, so, you know, a lot of key people associated with Princeton were very involved in slavery and ultimately that's not too surprising, considering that slavery existed in every North American British colony at that period. What we found that makes Princeton unique among other colleges of the time was how closely it was tied to the south.
Melena Laudig (14:17): Mm.
Isabela Morales (14:17): If you look at Harvard and Yale, the number of southern students who attended those colleges before the Civil War was, on average, around 10%. At Princeton, it was around 40%. And in some years, southerners who came to the college-
Ebun Ajayi (14:32): Wow.
Isabela Morales (14:32): Could make up 50 or even 60% of a given class.
Melena Laudig (14:37): Mm.
Isabela Morales (14:37): And that was not an accident. Uh, Princeton's leaders purposefully targeted the sons of wealthy southerners, many of them slave owners-
Melena Laudig (14:45): Okay.
Isabela Morales (14:45): As a source of funding and students. And so that's something unique to Princeton in the northeast and it's something that really shaped Princeton's culture throughout the antebellum period and beyond. You know, Princeton students and faculty were notably conservative on the issue of slavery. This was not a hotbed of anti-slavery activism, which is what made it appealing to southern parents who knew their sons weren't gonna come home with any crazy ideas.
Melena Laudig (15:11): Mm.
Isabela Morales (15:11): You know, if you look at the sort of violence that happened in and around Princeton at that time, in the 1830s, a mob of Princeton students forced their way into a local free black man's house to drag out the white abolitionist who was, um, collecting funding and speaking-
Melena Laudig (15:28): Oh, wow.
Isabela Morales (15:28): There, and they ran him out of town. In 1846, a gang of southern students specifically attacked a black man who dared to confront two of them who had been harassing a young black woman on the street.
Melena Laudig (15:42): Mm.
Isabela Morales (15:42): Of the more than 600 alumni who fought in the Civil War, more than half of them fought for the confederacy, and this wasn't something that was just the pre-Civil War period. In 1924, we see the Princeton Alumni Association donate 1000 dollars to help fund the Confederate monument in Stone Mountain, Georgia.
Melena Laudig (16:00): Mm.
Isabela Morales (16:00): So Princeton clearly had very deep, long-lasting ties of money and people to slavery and the slaveholding self-
Melena Laudig (16:09): Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Isabela Morales (16:09): And that's something that is important to recognize because it has shaped the culture and history of the institution and the community. So in terms of maybe the most interesting or surprising finding, obviously there are many stories that we feature on the website, but that, uh ... The percentage of students who came, their deep connections to slavery in the south might be the most significant.
Melena Laudig (16:29): Wow. Thank you so much for all the work you're doing as project manager. Just to plug the website once again, (laughs) all of our listeners should go over, um, and check it out. It's a trove of really important resources. Um, Lesa, do you have anything that you wanna add, maybe that was surprising to you as you came in as an undergraduate working on the project?
Lesa Redmond (16:47): Well, thank you, (laughs) Isabela for that amazing introduction and plug. Um, I guess I can talk from the, yes, the other side of being an undergraduate, being enrolled in one of those, um, Princeton and Slavery seminars and really simultaneously, you know, doing a lot of hands-on research about the university I was enrolled in. And also, falling in love with history as a profession and history as a discipline, um, and as a practice. And I would say I think that, you know, I was always fascinated with the facts and stories in history that I uncovered, both in the seminar and also as I continued my work through junior and senior year with the project. But I was also constantly questioning why exactly this history was not necessarily public-
Melena Laudig (17:43): Mm.
Lesa Redmond (17:43): Um, or known.
Melena Laudig (17:45): Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Lesa Redmond (17:45): And so I think, you know, one of the great things about the project and one of the great things about all of the iterations of this research going on at all of the universities, um, the reckoning that's happening is that we really are asking ourselves well, why didn't we know or talk about the fact that-
Melena Laudig (18:03): Right.
Lesa Redmond (18:04): Um, Princeton was the southernmost I- Ivy? That- that was its- its nickname. And why isn't anyone sort of calling to question this reputation, calling to question, um, who founded the institution with what money and for what purpose? Um-
Melena Laudig (18:21): Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Lesa Redmond (18:21): Why now? What- what was going on in the, you know, centuries beforehand, that this wasn't talked about?
Melena Laudig (18:28): Right.
Lesa Redmond (18:28): And so I think, you know, I have a lot of interesting stories in terms of archival work that I came across, but always the- the most interesting thing to me is sort of how history has been tol- told that narrative and-
Melena Laudig (18:43): Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Lesa Redmond (18:43): What we can do to retell the story.
Melena Laudig (18:47): That's great. And we're really excited about your future work, um, which is gonna continue building (laughs) upon the work you've already done and contributing to this really important, you know, history-telling. So, thank you for sharing that.
Ebun Ajayi (18:59): Yeah. And I really like what you said about narratives, because I think that the way that history is told has a really, really important impact on how we perceive things and kind of how we move forward as a nation. So, now, turning to you, Ezelle, you're a historian of the 20th century with an interest in public history and the lived experience of communities. How has this and this experience been adapting your scholarly toolkit to think about the influence of slavery on the development of modern medicine?
Ezelle Sanford (19:23): Thank you so much for that question. And I- and I really appreciate, uh, Lesa and Isabela's comments, i- in essence because, um, the Penn Medicine and the Afterlives Slavery Project really deals with these same themes, right? So, you know, our- our work sort of is an outgrowth of the Penn and Slavery Project, which is led by Professor Kathy Brown, uh, and also her former p- postdoctoral fellow, Alexis Broderick Neumann, who have demonstrated with their work, along with undergraduate researchers' work, you know, sort of how dominant of a school the medical school was at the University of Pennsylvania, its connections, uh, to slavery, particularly training southern medical doctors. And- and- and that project also em- emerged out of- out of comments by the President of the University of Pennsylvania-
Melena Laudig (20:13): Mm.
Ezelle Sanford (20:14): Uh, Professor Amy Goodman, uh, who said that the University of Pennsylvania, uh, didn't have any connections to slavery and, of course, this project has- has shown otherwise.
Melena Laudig (20:23): Mm.
Ezelle Sanford (20:24): Um, but what, uh, Professor Roberts and I wanted to really do with the Penn Medicine and the Afterlives of Slavery Project ... Which I should be clear, itself doesn't, um, you know ... We haven't engaged in empirical research, though our student fellows have and we also build upon the work of, again, the undergraduate researchers of the Penn and Slavery Project, who've been in the archives, really drawing out, uh, these connections. But what Professor Roberts and I, uh, really want to do with this project, again, was to really think about how this connection to slavery between the medical school at the University of Pennsylvania, uh, uh, uh, and slavery-
Melena Laudig (21:03): Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Ezelle Sanford (21:04): Uh, have structured the production, uh, and distribution o- o- of medical knowledge-
Melena Laudig (21:10): Mm.
Ezelle Sanford (21:10): Um, ideas about blackness in particular, uh, how it structured medical education-
Melena Laudig (21:16): Yeah.
Ezelle Sanford (21:16): Right? How medical students, even to today, are, uh, taught, uh, how to think about race in terms of biology, in terms of, uh, disease-
Melena Laudig (21:26): Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Ezelle Sanford (21:26): Right? In terms of sort of certain social conditions that might impact one's health, right? Um, the establishment of- of automatic race corrections, for example, and tools like, uh, estimated glomerular filtration rate, uh, or eGFR-
Melena Laudig (21:39): Yeah.
Ezelle Sanford (21:39): Uh, race corrections and a spirometer, for example, that historians have worked on, including the historian Lundy Braun, right? And so for me, my work with this project is really about sort of understanding the primacy of enslavement-
Melena Laudig (21:55): Mm.
Ezelle Sanford (21:55): And later, other systems of racial oppression and subjugation, uh, a- a- and how we still are reckoning with those consequences-
Melena Laudig (22:05): Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Ezelle Sanford (22:05): Even today. Uh, and I- and I should say here too, in terms of Lesa's point here about what- what histories we forget, (laughs) right?
Melena Laudig (22:13): Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Ezelle Sanford (22:14): When we think about the University of Pennsylvania, when we think about Princeton as, um, significant nodes in higher education, right? You know, even when we're thinking about the formations of this nation, right? These institutions already being here. You know, today we- we are familiar, right, with- with their place, right?
Melena Laudig (22:35): Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Ezelle Sanford (22:35): And their sort of ... Their historical importance, right? But we're not familiar with their entanglements with slavery.
Melena Laudig (22:40): Right.
Ezelle Sanford (22:41): A- a- and I think it's important for us to really sort of meditate on that for a minute, right?
Melena Laudig (22:45): Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Ezelle Sanford (22:46): What we remember and what we forget. Uh, and- and my work with the PMAS project, you know, in- in some ways has really sort of, you know, helped me to continue developing as a scholar, um, and understanding, again, how important slavery was, you know, how important ensuing, again, systems of- of- of racial oppression, uh, have structured medical knowledge, right? Have structured medical policy.
Melena Laudig (23:12): Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Ezelle Sanford (23:12): A- a- and- and we're still contending with that legacy, uh, today. And so-
Melena Laudig (23:17): Yeah.
Ezelle Sanford (23:17): You know, most of our work with this project has been public engagement-
Melena Laudig (23:21): Mm.
Ezelle Sanford (23:22): Uh, which is also ... I sort of shifted my focus as a historian to really sort of thinking about how do you communicate this long history-
Melena Laudig (23:31): Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Ezelle Sanford (23:31): Uh, to folks who are not historians, right, but who are certainly interested in the subject matter. Um, but also, again, why have we forgotten these histories, right?
Melena Laudig (23:40): Right.
Ezelle Sanford (23:41): I think that there's something there. A- and- and I'll end on this, which is that, you know, now when I speak to medical students, which is a- is a ... Which is a significant part of- of my, uh, position in any sort of public engagement, were about, uh, the connections between medicine, uh, and enslavement and their, uh, ensuing consequences and legacies today. You know, I often get asked a question, "Well, if we're not supposed to use race, then what?" Right? Um, but, you know, my answer as a historian is that, you know, well, we have to understand why race, particularly in the context of enslavement, uh, and empire today-
Melena Laudig (24:19): Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Ezelle Sanford (24:20): Has become such a useful tool in medical practice, right? So sort of highlighting those historical contingencies-
Melena Laudig (24:27): Right.
Ezelle Sanford (24:27): (laughs) which- which I think, you know, once you sort of, you know, pose that to not only practitioners, but historians of medicine-
Melena Laudig (24:34): Right.
Ezelle Sanford (24:34): Uh, then we can sort of see how, again, you know, the context of slavery, uh, was so important, right, to the early foundation of modern medicine that we have to return to these histories.
Melena Laudig (24:47): Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Ezelle Sanford (24:47): We have to bring them to light in order to- to explore new possibilities, right?
Melena Laudig (24:52): Right.
Ezelle Sanford (24:53): Uh, that might, you know, help us establish a more equitable healthcare system, particularly for racial minorities today.
Melena Laudig (24:59): Wow. Yeah. That's great. And I'd like to dive more deeply into this question of imagining new possibilities, um, and kind of using these historical narratives about slavery to understand, you know, the structures and the- the policies and the knowledge production that we have today. And so I'd love to hear you all speak more about the intended audiences of these projects, and what you kind of see as the end goals. Is the goal, you know, reconciliation, is it reparations? I'd love to start with Isabela.
Isabela Morales (25:29): Sure. So for the Princeton and Slavery Project, our hope was that we could ultimately get to the point where knowledge and understanding of Princeton's relationship to slavery really became a part of campus DNA.
Melena Laudig (25:41): Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Isabela Morales (25:42): At this point, it's been several years since, uh, the last Princeton and Slavery seminar has been taught. We are still continuing to conduct research, but not specifically through these undergraduate classes. So, you know, currently at Princeton, I don't believe there are any undergraduate students who were around when the project started or when the website launched, and yet we want that ... The memory of the project and the information that came out through the project to remain a part of campus memory and campus tradition so that, you know, no student who matriculates at Princeton can go four years without knowing about the university's relationship to slavery because these are historical facts that need to be known.
Melena Laudig (26:23): Right.
Isabela Morales (26:23): So, you know, to that end, our target audience was really the local Princeton community, students, faculty, Princeton residents and alumni.
Melena Laudig (26:32): Mm.
Isabela Morales (26:32): Um, we've been fortunate, however, that our research has gotten a much wider hearing than initially expected and has been discussed at the national level, even. You know-
Melena Laudig (26:43): Yeah.
Isabela Morales (26:43): We were featured in The New York Times in 2017, when we launched our website, which brought a lot of attention both to this project, but also to university slavery studies more broadly.
Melena Laudig (26:53): Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Isabela Morales (26:53): Um, and it's allowed us to serve as a model for how to conduct and present this very difficult research in a way that reaches people with a variety of political opinions.
Melena Laudig (27:05): Awesome. Lesa, do you- you wanna add to that?
Lesa Redmond (27:07): Yes. So, um, I actually will speak not necessarily from the standpoint of Princeton and Slavery specifically, but in general, sort of where I ... Who I think, um, the intended audience for these universities and slavery projects are. And I would say that, o- on the whole, I think these projects are at their best when they are public-facing and making this historical knowledge accessible-
Melena Laudig (27:38): Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Lesa Redmond (27:39): To, you know, as wide of an audience as possible. So certainly they serve their university, but they also serve the larger community. And what I mean by that, especially when I think about my own work, um, as I go into sort of proposing a dissertation topic, I- I believe that what we are doing collectively is not just talking about X school and its relationship to slavery-
Melena Laudig (28:08): Yeah.
Lesa Redmond (28:08): But we're really redefining how we understand slavery as an institution-
Melena Laudig (28:14): Mm.
Lesa Redmond (28:14): How it functioned, how pervasive it was, and that's important because it gives us insight to our nation today and how it works today, but it also ... I- I do wanna say and center African-American history-
Melena Laudig (28:29): Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Lesa Redmond (28:30): And the lives of those enslaved on university campuses. So this work speaks to their lives-
Melena Laudig (28:38): Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Lesa Redmond (28:39): And helps us tell a fuller story of their world and helps us get a fuller accounting of that history, um, which, you know, for decades and decades and decades, in the academy, that was not talked about.
Melena Laudig (28:51): Right.
Lesa Redmond (28:51): Enslaved people were not centered. Um, and so I- I think, you know, a goal I would hope that all of these projects have is to really center the lives of those enslaved on these campuses and, you know, shift the conversation and to talk about black life in America.
Melena Laudig (29:11): Mm. Yeah. I really appreciate that point, that we- we shouldn't be so focused on the institutions, but- but rather, you know, the enslaved people, um, whose stories have often been, you know, either overlooked in the archives or just not in the archives at all. So, yeah, we should definitely keep that as our focus. Ezelle, do you wanna weigh in?
Ezelle Sanford (29:30): Yeah. Um, so, again, with the Penn Medicine and the Afterlives of Slavery Project, our audience is both internal to the institution, uh, but also, of course, public-facing, uh, and external. A- and let me just give you a few examples. So we have been involved, uh, for example, with thinking about alternatives, uh, in medical education, the curricula for the preclinical students here, uh, in terms of how they think about race, right? What's Penn's perspective on automatic race corrections, right? How can we sort of mobilize and use the knowledge and expertise that we have, uh, in the Program on Race, Science, Society to help to shape university policy, right? So that's- that's one arm of- of our project, but the other is also, again, our public-facing work, right? So we also maintain a website that-
Melena Laudig (30:25): Right.
Ezelle Sanford (30:25): Uh, features the research of our student, uh, uh, fellows who've done work on eGFR, uh, who've done work on the cranial collection of Samuel George Morton that was, until very recently, uh, on display, uh, in a classroom at the Penn Museum. A- a collection that also maintained, uh, several remains of enslaved people. We, uh, have planned a slate of public programs, uh, including, uh, inviting speakers to campus, community events. Now I should say that many of these events were canceled, uh, in light of the pandemic, um, but our ... One of our goals really was to expose and educate folks around some of the perceived harms, um, between the University of Pennsylvania and the West Philadelphia community, so that's our local focus. Um, but also thinking, again, about the centrality of the University of Pennsylvania within the distribution, uh, and production of medical knowledge, not only of the United States, but around the world, right? So we also had sort of a broader focus here of repairing some of the harms that have emerged, again, from Penn.
Melena Laudig (31:36): Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Ezelle Sanford (31:37): And, of course, you know, conversations about reparations have always been on the table. And- and I will say that in- in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, uh, in light of the murder of George Floyd, uh, which have produced this sort of national, you know, what I call sort of a third wave of a racial re- reckoning here in the United States, uh, we've also seen, you know, exposed, through our project and through the efforts of others, uh, some more local contestations-
Melena Laudig (32:03): Mm.
Ezelle Sanford (32:04): Right, around the relationship between Penn and African-American communities-
Melena Laudig (32:08): Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Ezelle Sanford (32:08): Right? So, uh, one of our researchers, they recently discovered, uh, that there were remains from black Philadelphians that were used in the research collection of Samuel George Morton that- that, uh, had not been discovered until very recently, remains from the Philadelphia Almshouse, the grounds upon which now the Penn Museum stand.
Melena Laudig (32:29):Right.
Ezelle Sanford (32:30): We have seen, you know, again, very recently, contestations over the treatment, the unethical treatment of the remains of two young women, uh, who were killed in the 1985 bombing of the- the MOVE house-
Melena Laudig (32:44): Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Ezelle Sanford (32:44): By, uh, two professors employed, uh, both at the University of Pennsylvania and at Princeton. You know, and we've been there, right?
Melena Laudig (32:52):,Yeah.
Ezelle Sanford (32:52): Uh, sort of, you know, working with the community, trying to sort of, uh, collaborate and coordinate university responses or at least responses from our own program, again, to attempt to repair, right, uh, some of the harms that- that really have emerged, you know, in the context of everything else that's been going on in and around campus, but also, um, across, uh, the nation. And so I think if anything, you know, we've- we've only exposed, you know, or began to scratch the surface, right, of- of the deep, deep work-
Melena Laudig (33:28): Yeah.
Ezelle Sanford (33:29): That needs to be done-
Melena Laudig (33:31): Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Ezelle Sanford (33:32): Right? That I think, you know, really sort of begins with, um, these indirect connections to slavery between the- the- the medical school, right, um, um, but also, again, sort of the erasure of that history, right?
Melena Laudig (33:45): Yeah.
Ezelle Sanford (33:45): Which- which- which is really sort of, I think, you know, the beginning point o- o- of this history, right, that we have to, again, begin to address and- and- and readdress, right?
Melena Laudig (33:55): Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Ezelle Sanford (33:56): And so as I leave, uh, the Program on Race, Science, and Society, you know, that's still, uh, an item that's left on the table, but that we're working on-
Melena Laudig (34:05): Right.
Ezelle Sanford (34:05): For.
Ebun Ajayi (34:05): Right. Yeah. Isabela, Lesa, Ezelle, you've all touched on these really powerful ideas of conversation really exposing the things that are happening in order for us to move forward, and I guess that really makes ... I think many people wonder how exactly do we move forward? How do we talk about these things? Because we live in a society right now where it's hard to have these hard conversations about the reality of our past, and so many people would agree that staying and, you know, maybe living in the past is not ideal, yet in order for us to move forward, we have to acknowledge our past. So, how do we balance these two somewhat competing ideals? How do we empower students? How do we shape and improve the political conversations that we have on campuses? What are your thoughts on that? Anyone can jump in first.
Ezelle Sanford (34:47): (laughs)
Lesa Redmond (34:49): I'll go. Um.
Ebun Ajayi (34:49):,(laughs)
Lesa Redmond (34:51): This is something I grapple with a lot, and I have two answers. Um, sort of the knee-jerk response, right, is, of course, you must know your past in order to learn from it, which I think is simplistic, but useful to a point. No-one wins by obscuring the past. No-one wins by covering up and hiding away from the history.
Lesa Redmond (35:21): I will say the second answer I have is more complex and more complicated, and it is this. I do believe that when you look to sort of the broad strokes, general, um, history of universities and their relationships to African-Americans in slavery and in freedom, that history is a history of exclusion and exploitation by and large. And so there's a way to sort of look at that and then look at what we are facing in our present, which is also exploitative and exclusionary-
Melena Laudig (35:55): Yeah.
Lesa Redmond (35:56): And get dismayed and disheartened, and I don't think that that's what history is for.
Ebun Ajayi (36:02):,Right.
Lesa Redmond (36:02): I do believe that we are not necessarily destined to repeat our history and we are not chained to it, and I think that higher education and institutions of higher learning can be real agents of change and real agents of progress in the time we are living in. Just because they haven't in the past does not mean they can't be now. Um, and so I would hope that the way we m- move forward is by understanding that history, but also committing ourselves to being better than we were before.
Isabela Morales (36:38):,I can speak to the Princeton and Slavery Project specifically, in terms of how I see it shaping the sort of political conversations on campus and off campus. The first thing I have to say is that Princeton and Slavery is a research project. It's not like a lot of other university studies that have a mandate from the president or the board of trustees to make recommendations or advocate for specific changes on campus. We never had that decision-making power, we never had that authority to advise the Princeton administration. But on the other hand, there was a lot of freedom in being an independent project. Uh, first of all, it meant that there was no time limit to produce a report, right? We were able to do solid research, research only, for four years before we launched the website and made everything publicly accessible in 2017, which-
Melena Laudig (37:28): Wow.
Isabela Morales (37:28): Is an amount of time that commissioned studies don't get.
Melena Laudig (37:32): Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Isabela Morales (37:32): You know, and so we're continuing to conduct research and add stories and sources and resources to the website even now. So we've ... Because of kind of the project's grassroots origins as an independent faculty project, as a seminar, we've had time to do a deep dive into the archives on a wide range of topics, um, and that's really where we hope that we could make our contributions. Conducting the research, making it accessible, and then through that, hopefully ensuring that the debates and conversations that do occur on campus around these topics are as informed as possible so that students, administrators, community members all have the most and best information available to base their recommendations and decisions off of. And I think we've begun to see this happen at Princeton. As an example, you know, until we launched the website in 2017, the project was kind of underground.
Melena Laudig (38:24): Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Isabela Morales (38:25): Besides students who were in the seminars, not a lot of people on campus or really in the administration knew the kind of work we were doing.
Melena Laudig (38:32): Yeah.
Isabela Morales (38:32): And we saw that really come into play in 2015, when there were a number of protests, sit-ins and walkouts on campus, uh, led by Princeton students and the conversation around these events were really focused on Woodrow Wilson, um, and whether Princeton should be honoring him by having his name on the public policy school, which it no longer is.
Melena Laudig (38:52): Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Isabela Morales (38:53): And so, you know, that's obviously a significant part of Princeton's history and a necessary conversation, but Princeton's longer history, the pre-20th century research that we were uncovering as part of the Princeton and Slavery Project was not a part of the conversation yet in 2015, at least not on campus. And so now we're seeing that change. You know, articles in The Princetonian about reparations, about representation of, uh, folks on campus and campus iconography and building names, they- they reference Princeton and Slavery-
Melena Laudig (39:23): Mm.
Isabela Morales (39:23): Research.
Melena Laudig (39:23): Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Isabela Morales (39:24): Um, you know, Lesa did some wonderful research on John Witherspoon, and I can- I can let you speak to this, Lesa.
Lesa Redmond (39:30): (laughs)
Isabela Morales (39:30): But there is a local middle school named for John Witherspoon that has used her research to, you know, consider whether to change the name.
Melena Laudig (39:38): Mm.
Isabela Morales (39:38): And so that's a really concrete step-
Melena Laudig (39:39): Wow.
Isabela Morales (39:39): That kind of shows it- it's- it's a model of the kind of work we wanted to do and how we wanted to make our contribution.
Melena Laudig (39:45): That's fantastic. But, Lesa, if you wanna talk more about your work on that project, that'd be great.
Lesa Redmond (39:50): Oh, definitely. So, you know, this is one of the many, many things I enjoy about being a historian is the intended and unintended uses of your research. I, you know, um ... When I began my project on John Witherspoon, who was, you know, a pretty prominent university president who owned enslaved people, but also educated enslaved Africans or formally enslaved Africans during his tenure at Princeton, um, you know, a very complex guy, I really just set out to understand him and his legacy, his familial legacy and also his legacy at the institution. Um, and now to see my research being not only read by other people, which, as you know, (laughs) a scholar working in the academy, it was like people actually read what I write? That's crazy to me.
Melena Laudig (40:53): (laughs)
Lesa Redmond (40:53): Um, but also sort of they read it and they also took it a step further and drew conclusions that I'd not ... Didn't necessarily draw. Um, but logically it makes sense, um, that after understanding sort of his role in slavery and some of the viewpoints he held, taking it upon themselves as a Princeton town, you know, the-
Melena Laudig (41:17): Yeah.
Lesa Redmond (41:17): Township of Princeton community to, uh, decide to rename the school, I think that's- that's- that's why we do history. (laughs)
Melena Laudig (41:24):That's wonderful. Um, and, Ezelle, we'll jump back to you about this question around moving forward and the future.
Ezelle Sanford (41:31): Yeah. I will say that, um, that I'm actually filled with a tremendous amount of hope and optimism, um, particularly just around the, uh, mobilizations for racial equity, for the conversations that people are having, right? You know, someone will talk about these hard histories, I know I- I've- I've been a participant in many ... (laughs)
Melena Laudig (41:57): (laughs)
Ezelle Sanford (41:58): Uh, conversations aro ... You know, sort of on the hard histories of- of race with people who, you know, really haven't engaged, I think, uh, to this level before. And so, you know, I think, number one, that- that we kind of have to, you know, keep that kernel of hope, right, even at times when, you know, things seem so turbulent and- and contentious. A- and- and I will say even for, uh, the PMAS project, um, working with, you know, student activists, right, um, who have the power and the energy-
Melena Laudig (42:34): Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Ezelle Sanford (42:35): Uh, to really push us forward has been, uh, extremely rewarding. Talking to them, uh, introducing them not only to my own research on the history of racial segregation and medicine, but also, again, on the work of- of the project, which, you know, sort of takes us back even further to the history of enslavement and medicine, the students are really sort of operationalizing these history, um, they're operationalizing these lessons and they're doing the hard work, right? Moment of activism, right, doesn't necessarily result in large-scale institutional change, um, but it's- it's the collection of those moments, right, and aggregate, right? So I think about sort of, uh, the organizer Ella Baker, right, who sort of talked about spadework, right-
Melena Laudig (43:18): Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Ezelle Sanford (43:18): Uh, that, you know ... A- and in many ways, you know, these projects, in- in my mind, are, uh, sort of manifestations of that, right? So Isabela talked about sort of really taking the time to do the work, right, and produce good information that people could then use-
Melena Laudig (43:33): Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Ezelle Sanford (43:34): Right? You know, that's important, right?
Melena Laudig (43:37): Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Ezelle Sanford (43:37): And so all of us, you know, have particular roles to play in this. Uh, I'm currently sort of meditating on being an educator-
Melena Laudig (43:46): Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Ezelle Sanford (43:46): Right? And sort of what role I have to play-
Melena Laudig (43:49): Right.
Ezelle Sanford (43:50): And- and really sort of fostering students, their activism, their hopes for a better future. And so I think that's- that's the way that we have to think about moving forward-
Melena Laudig (44:01): Mm.
Ezelle Sanford (44:01): Right? That it- it's going to be this sort of mix of progress and regression, right? Uh, it's going to be the sort of moments when, you know ... Particularly 2020, at least from my perspective, was, you know ... I- it's such a tumultuous time, right?
Melena Laudig (44:16): Yeah.
Ezelle Sanford (44:16): But also hopeful in a sense, right, when people are really-
Ebun Ajayi (44:19): Yeah.
Ezelle Sanford (44:20): You know, sort of expressing their visions of an equitable future-
Melena Laudig (44:24): Mm.
Ezelle Sanford (44:24): Right? The hopes of medical students who want to be a part of the solution and not a part of the problem, who are reaching out across discipline, right, to really sort of gain some expertise, gain the knowledge. And I think it's important for- for universities, uh, to really invest in these kinds of efforts, right, um, because the knowledge, the lessons that people learn-
Melena Laudig (44:48): Mm.
Ezelle Sanford (44:48): Uh, as Lesa said, I mean, you- you- you have no idea where it might lead-
Melena Laudig (44:54): Mm.
Ezelle Sanford (44:54): Right? But when people themselves have the tool-
Melena Laudig (44:58): Yeah.
Ezelle Sanford (44:58): And can use them in the way that they see best, particularly those who are on the ground, right, um, then- then that's a win for me. And- and, again, it's spadework, right? So it takes time, it takes energy. There's gonna be a lot of disappointment, um, (laughs) as we've seen. You know, even throughout the course of my work, you know, with PMAS to a certain extent, you know, you know, which is, you know ... I had high hopes, right, before- before the pandemic came around-
Melena Laudig (45:24): Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Ezelle Sanford (45:24): But- but still, that, you know ... The work that you do, right, uh, and the knowledge that you produce and disseminate, uh, right, become tools for others-
Melena Laudig (45:34): Mm.
Ezelle Sanford (45:34): You know, to you ... To really sort of ... To- to realize, you know, this future, right? I mean, that- that's- that's, you know, really, you know, sort of the- the project, right?
Melena Laudig (45:44): Yeah.
Ezelle Sanford (45:44): The ... Even since the founding (laughs) of the United States, particularly when we're thinking about African-Americans, right, who wanted to really actualize the democratic ideals, uh, of this nation.
Ebun Ajayi (45:57): Wow. Wow. Thank you. Thank you for that, Ezelle. And thank you for all of you guys for being on here today. This conversation has been just epic.
Melena Laudig (46:04): Thank you all so much. This conversation has been super illuminating and we've loved speaking with you.
Lesa Redmond (46:11): Thank you.
Ezelle Sanford (46:11): Thank you.
Isabela Morales (46:11): Thank you so much.
Melena Laudig (46:12):Thank you. (laughs)
Ebun Ajayi (46:17): Now, onto our closing segment, See, Hear, Do, where we point you to some additional resources to continue exploring topics from today's conversation.
Melena Laudig (46:26): Our guests highlighted a number of public-facing projects available online, each of which presents the work of student researchers uncovering the legacies of slavery on their campuses. Some of them also include lesson plans for K through 12 teachers and even guides for descendants.
Ebun Ajayi (46:41): Right. So, first, you should check out our own Princeton and Slavery Project at slavery.princeton.edu. In addition to hundreds of prime resources, you can also find essays by our own guests, Isabela Morales and Lesa Redmond.
Melena Laudig (46:55): And while you're there, make sure you also look at the multimedia resources, including a documentary and novelist Toni Morrison's keynote lecture from the symposium held in November 2017.
Ebun Ajayi (47:05): Next, our guest, Ezelle Sanford the Third, pointed to efforts at the University of Pennsylvania that highlighted the importance of the slave trade to the medical school. You can find these resources at both pennandslaveryproject.org and PRSS.sas.upenn.edu. And if that was too many dots, remember, you can find all of the links in our show notes.
Melena Laudig (47:27): (laughs) As Doctor Sanford pointed out, the University of Pennsylvania medical school was a major hub for the production of racialized medical knowledge, producing figures such as Josiah Nott and Samuel George Morton, whose collection of skulls has come under scrutiny in the last year thanks to the work of community and student activists. In the Penn Medicine and the Afterlives of Slavery Project, you can follow the efforts of Professor Dorothy Roberts and other researchers to understand how contemporary medical practices stemmed from medical research on enslaved people. For example, the automatic race correction methods used in medical devices today.
Ebun Ajayi (48:01): And finally, we think another important project is the ongoing work at Georgetown University to acknowledge the institution's ties to Jesuit-owned plantations and the sale of nearly 300 enslaved people to keep it financially viable in 1838. You can learn more at georgetown.edu/slavery and slaveryarchive.georgetown.edu.
Melena Laudig (48:22): And one thing worth pointing out here is a set of lesson plans and PowerPoints designed by the Georgetown Slavery Archive for teachers interested in working through the intertwined legacies of slavery, religion, and education with their students.
Ebun Ajayi (48:34): So, Me, say listeners want to learn more about the big picture of slavery, race, and American universities. You're reading for your graduate exam, so you're practically an expert. So, where do you recommend that they start?
Melena Laudig (48:45): (laughs) I wouldn't say I'm an expert yet, Ebun. Um, I'm making my way there.
Ebun Ajayi (48:49): (laughs)
Melena Laudig (48:49): But (laughs) I would definitely begin with historian Craig Steven Wilder's Ebony and Ivy, which came out back in 2013. This book looks at connections between universities and slavery, as well as the broader legacy of exclusion and marginalization within higher education. Here's Professor Wilder explaining how he came to the project while trying to study the history of black professionals.
Professor Wilder (49:11): And one of the things that that forced me to do as I was doing the research for it was to confront the exclusion of black students from American colleges and universities and the long history of that exclusion, and it forced me to think about the university in a different way. Rather than seeing the college as in ... An institution that sits at the sort of backdrop of history and observes, all of a sudden I was seeing colleges shape history, um, shape who was educable and shape the politics of the moment, participating in the political culture of the moment. And so I thought that deserved attention. We, as academics, have an obligation to be as honest about our own past as we are about the histories of other institutions.
Ebun Ajayi (49:51): There's also a lot to think about regarding the more recent past and the legacy of how students have continued to pull together to confront systemic racism and exclusionary cultures. I heard a great podcast last summer from American Public Media Reports' education series on the story of Lauren Brown, who's a student at the University of Missouri. Here she is discussing some of her experience there.
Lauren Brown (50:12): The stories I've seen in the news make it seem like a couple of bad things happened out of nowhere. Then, there were protests and things went back to normal. But that's not what I saw. I saw students put their grades on the line, their jobs, their reputations so they could tell people what was really going on at their school. And that's what I want to tell you about, what it's like to be a black student on a predominately white campus, because this is the same reality black students face all over the country. I want to tell you what we went through and how we took care of each other and how we built a community for ourselves that we call Black Mizzou.
Melena Laudig (50:49): And something that we've tried to do in this episode is to spotlight the efforts of student groups. You know, Ebun, I also heard about a book that came out last year about how college presidents dealt with demands from student activists during the Civil Rights Movement. It's called The Campus Color Line by Eddie Cole. You can get the book from Princeton University Press, as well as hear about it on the Ideas Podcast.
Audio Clip (51:07): We talk about, uh, leading institutions that have a role and responsibility to educate black students and also to try to educate black students in a way that, um, you know, is focused on black liberation and, uh, expansiveness within the community and fighting for equal rights. Uh, often times, these black college presidents, whether they led a private institution or a state-supported institution, still had to answer to, um, some sort of white power structure.
Ebun Ajayi (51:37): Right. Now, one thing we haven't discussed as much on this podcast is the role of historically black colleges and universities and carving out a niche for African-American scholars and the academy. There is just so much to say on this topic.
Melena Laudig (51:50): Yes. And for those listeners who may wanna do a deep dive and sit down with an old-fashioned TV program, we recommend the PBS documentary, Tell Them We Are Rising, from director Stanley Nelson and Marco Williams.
Ebun Ajayi (52:02): This award-winning documentary tells the story of HBCUs and the roles they have played in shaping black intellectual life and by extension, American history more broadly.
Melena Laudig (52:12): It's not airing on PBS right now, but you can track it down on your favorite streaming service. Thanks for listening. My name is Melena Laudig, a PhD student in Religion and African-American Studies at Princeton.
Ebun Ajayi (52:23): And I'm Ebun Ajayi, a Princeton University undergraduate student in the School of Public and International Affairs.
Melena Laudig (52:29): Behind the scenes, we have Mikey McGovern, a PhD candidate in History of Science and African-American Studies, helping out as associate producer. Our executive producer is Elio Lleo, the Department of African-American Studies' computing support specialist. Artistic and creative support was provided by Anthony K. Gibbons Junior, our communications and media specialist.
Ebun Ajayi (52:49): Also, a special thanks to the chair of our department, Eddie Glaude, our department manager, April Peters, our events coordinator, Dionne Worthy, and our office assistant, Jana Johnson.
Melena Laudig (52:59):Thanks for tuning in.
Ebun Ajayi (53:00): Catch you next time.