Study on University’s history with slavery revamped

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Photo by Robert Beeland

By Lawrence Rogers

Executive Staff

The 2017 spring semester at The University of the South brings with it a revitalization of the campus effort to understand the university’s complicated relationship with slavery. Although the project is about six years in the making, the real work will begin in earnest next year or the year after, spearheaded by Chair of the Department of History and Francis S. Houghteling Professor of American History Dr. Woody Register (C’80).

The University officially joined the multi-institutional effort Universities Studying Slavery in the summer of 2016 and still has plenty of work left to do on developing its own projects, but it is already abundantly clear that this effort will not be purely academic or scholarly. In addition to the inherently academic aspects of the project, Register and others intend that the effort will generate courses and curricula of inclusion and that the work done on the project will lead to more focused community engagement efforts.

Register is working to change how we tell the story of the campus landscape, perhaps even incorporating our increasingly refined understanding of the university’s history with slavery, race, and the Jim Crow system into campus tours, stating, “I would love to see students pioneer this effort to alter the script.”

Register hopes to hold events twice a semester to showcase research done on the project or related topics within a variety of departments. While the study will be led primarily by members of the history department, every department can contribute to this effort to understand the place of slavery in the university. For instance, the German department has already done research on reparations for Jewish communities in the wake of the Holocaust. Register argues that “It is better to be truthful about this aspect [of Sewanee’s history with slavery] than to allow it to be unknown.”

Register contends that “this campus is a Confederate memorial” and that “it’s a lot more than battles.” He hopes that this project can go beyond answering the historical questions to answer “the question of justice, not just truth but justice, especially if [Sewanee] wants to fulfill its aspirations of being an inclusive university and a university of the twenty-first century South.”

The co-chair and managing director of the Lemon Project, the College of William and Mary’s highly influential slavery study, Dr. Jody Allen is scheduled to speak in Convocation Hall on April 19 at 4:30 p.m.

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