Brown to host conference on race, memory and memorialization

The Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice will host a series of public presentations that reevaluate memorials and the history that they represent.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] —In a two-day conference that will bring together scholars, activists, artists, civil rights leaders and members of the public, Brown’s Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice will examine how the Civil Rights Movement has been represented through memorials and exhibitions. It will also ask how one might create a memorial or marker that confronts the racial injustices of the present moment.

"Race, Memory and Memorialization" will be held on May 4 and 5 at Brown and will feature panels, roundtable discussions and a public forum. The events will focus on several of the center’s core activities and research areas, including how universities reckon with historical connections to the transatlantic slave trade and how museums, monuments and markers impact the ability to grapple today with slavery’s legacy.

“The conference is really structured around questions of memorialization, race and the Civil Rights Movement,” said Anthony Bogues, director of the Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice (CSSJ). “How do we think about the Civil Rights Movement today? How can we remember it, how do we remember it, and what are the implications of how we remember it for thinking about race today?”

Bogues said thinking about slavery, its legacies and public history is at the heart of the work of the center, which is celebrating its fifth anniversary this year.

The CSSJ was established as part of Brown’s effort to publicly acknowledge the University’s historical relationship to slavery and the transatlantic slave trade. Brown’s Steering Committee on Slavery and Justice, appointed in 2003 by then-President Ruth J. Simmons, worked for three years to research and document how some of Brown’s founders and benefactors participated in slavery and the slave trade and the benefits the University derived from these activities. In its 2006 report, the committee recommended that Brown establish CSSJ and explore ways to memorialize Rhode Island’s involvement in the slave trade.

The conference’s opening panel, Bogues said, will examine the work universities have undertaken to uncover their connections to the transatlantic slave trade. Subsequent panels and roundtable discussions will focus on the Civil Rights Movement, and the conference will conclude with a public forum with young activists working on issues of race today.

Journalist, teacher, author and activist Herb Boyd will deliver the keynote address — Brown’s 2018 Debra L. Lee Lecture on Slavery and Justice — on May 4. Across the two days, nine presentations will explore the legacy of slavery and the Civil Rights Movement. Topics will included the conflicts cropping up in American cities over monuments and memorials tied to the history of slavery, how to make the movement relevant to students today, and race at historically black colleges and universities, among others.

In addition to Boyd, speakers and guests will include, among others, Adam Rothman, history professor at Georgetown University and curator of the Georgetown Slavery Archive; Christy Coleman, CEO of the American Civil War Museum; Jeanne Theoharis, political science professor at Brooklyn College and the biographer of Rosa Parks; Charlie Cobb and Courtland Cox, members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee; young activists working with Providence nonprofits; and artist and University of Rhode Island professor Bob Dilworth.

The conference, which is open to the public, is the first of three major events marking the CSSJ's fifth anniversary. In September 2018, an exhibition titled "The Civil Rights Movement: Unfinished Business" will use archival material, music and first person accounts to facilitate visitors' understanding of the African American political organizing tradition. In November, a second major conference, "Race Today and the Civil Rights Movement," co-hosted with the Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity in America, will bring together activists, journalists, artists and scholars to consider issues of race as manifested during the height of the Civil Rights Movement and today.

The Race, Memory and Memorialization conference is free and open to the public; tickets are not needed, but attendees are encouraged to register.