University Symposium Will Tackle Issues of American Universities and the Legacy of Slavery

Two-day public symposium is part of university effort to reflect on its own history

A two-day public symposium organized by Duke historian Thavolia Glymph will focus on the legacy of slavery in the history of American universities, Provost Sally Kornbluth announced Friday.

Sponsored by the Office of the Provost, “American Universities, Monuments, and the Legacies of Slavery,” will be held at Duke March 30-31 in the Holsti-Anderson Room in Rubenstein Library. It is part of the university’s multi-year effort to explore Duke and Trinity College’s history and the institution’s relationship with African-Americans and with the larger community of North Carolina.

Following the removal of the Robert E. Lee statue from the entrance to Duke Chapel in August 2017, the university launched a campus conversation about “controversy and injustice in Duke’s history.” A university Commission on Memory and History issued a report calling for the university to develop an “open and deliberative process” for continued discussion about difficult issues of race and university history.

Kornbluth said the symposium will be a central part of that effort. It will bring together leading scholars of history, law, economics, art history, and sociology with keynote addresses by historians Nell I. Painter and Darlene Clark Hine.

One purpose, she said, is to “reflect on the meaning of monuments, racism, white supremacy, the history of the South and their meaning for the present.”

“With this effort, Duke University joins other universities across the country that are exploring often troubling pasts in the midst of debates about monuments, the direct and indirect ties many universities had to the institution of slavery, the political disfranchisement of African-Americans, segregated education, and systemic social, civic and economic inequalities,” Kornbluth said in an email sent Friday to students and faculty. “These subjects are even more relevant today when contested views about the history of Confederate monuments and the events they ‘commemorate,’ exploited by forces of intolerance and exclusion, have deepened the current polarization in the country.”

More detailed information on the schedule and speakers is available at the symposium website.