News Release: Arts and Humanities, Events, Research, University News

Feb. 1,  2011

"Slavery and the University" Focus of Emory Conference Feb. 3-6

The first-ever conference examining the history and legacy of slavery’s role in higher education will take place at Emory University Feb. 3-6.  Sponsored by Emory's Transforming Community Project (TCP), “Slavery and the University: Histories and Legacies” will bring together representatives and scholars from more than 30 schools across the nation and beyond.

Brown University President Ruth Simmons will deliver the keynote address, “From the Shadows to Plain Sight: Slavery and Justice at Brown University,” at 7:30 p.m., Thursday, Feb. 3 in Glenn Memorial Auditorium, 1660 N. Decatur Road. The talk is free and open to the public, and will be followed by a panel discussion with Emory President James W. Wagner and Provost Earl Lewis, moderated by Emory history professor and conference organizer Leslie Harris.  


“It is vital to recognize the foundational role of slavery and slave labor in the creation of institutions in the United States and around the world,” says Harris, noting the attention given the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the U.S. Civil War, as well as the U.N. Declaration of 2011 as the International Year for People of African Descent.

“By focusing on institutions of higher education as one critical place where enslaved labor played an important role, and where arguments for and against African slavery were developed, discussed and debated, we begin to understand how central slavery was to society as a whole,” she says. “By knowing these histories we can better address the issues with us today.”

Other highlights include a national, invitation-only workshop on Feb. 3, where representatives from 21 universities will learn from TCP staff how to use history to inspire dialogue and change around challenging issues of race and difference, and implement a program like TCP on their own campus.

The TCP, funded in part by the Ford Foundation, is regarded as a national model for how academic communities can productively discuss complex racial and ethnic issues. A wide variety of schools will be represented at the workshop and include Harvard, Johns Hopkins and Clemson universities, Oberlin College, University of Texas, the Georgia Institute of Technology and others.  

In depth interview with conference organizer Leslie Harris


The conference will conclude on Sunday, Feb. 6 with a day of commemoration, reflection and celebration open to the public at Emory’s Oxford College, located on the university’s original historic campus in Oxford, Ga. 

The programs at Oxford will be led by former Emory anthropologist Mark Auslander (now at Brandeis University), who will address the history of Catherine Andrew Boyd (1822–1851), also known as “Miss Kitty,” a slave who was owned by Emory’s first board of trustees chairman.  A panel on “Slavery and Jim Crow in Oxford, Georgia: A Talking Circle” will include residents of Oxford and Newton County, Ga., and members of the Emory community, including descendants of enslaved and slave-owning families, who will reflect on slavery and its legacies. Panelists will begin the conversation, and audience members will be invited to ask questions and share their own reflections.

The events also include an installation work in Oxford College’s Old Church by the noted African-American artist Lynn Marshall-Linnemeier. Titled "Unraveling Miss Catherine's Cloak," this multimedia piece emerges from the artist's collaborative work with many people from Emory and the areas around Oxford College.

The conference takes place during Emory’s annual Founders Week, kicking off a yearlong commemoration and celebration of Emory's 175th anniversary.  As part of that celebration, the university has published a book of Emory’s history, “Where Courageous Inquiry Leads,” that includes a chapter on Emory’s history as it relates to slavery based on research by Auslander and others.

The executive committee of Emory’s board of trustees recently adopted a formal statement of regret over the history of the school's involvement with slavery.

View the full conference schedule

Originally published Jan. 31, 2011

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