In the News #BigIsms | Slavery ‘Powerfully Shaped Harvard’ | Black Jet | Harriet Tubman Military Raids | Bubble's Taps | Montpelier Repairs


Landmark University Report Details How Slavery ‘Powerfully Shaped Harvard’
Cara J. Chang and Isabella B. Cho, April 26, 2022, Harvard Crimson


Harvard University faculty, staff, and leaders enslaved more than 70 Black and Indigenous people over about 150 years, including some who lived on campus, according to a long-awaited University report released Tuesday that detailed and acknowledged the “integral” role slavery played in shaping the school.

The report found that the institution of slavery was essential to Harvard’s growth as an academic institution, serving as a key source of the University’s wealth across three centuries. Harvard had “extensive financial ties” to slavery through key donors who built their wealth off of slavery, the report said — including some who are memorialized across the University today.

The report is Harvard’s most significant public acknowledgement of how it was supported and shaped by the institution of slavery. Its release comes more than two years after University President Lawrence S. Bacow formed the Presidential Committee on Harvard and the Legacy of Slavery. On Tuesday, the University pledged to allocate $100 million to implement the report’s recommendations.

“Slavery—of Indigenous and of African people—was an integral part of life in Massachusetts and at Harvard during the colonial era,” the report said.

The report, which was conducted by a team of Harvard faculty, offered seven recommendations, including a public memorial, partnerships with Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and a Legacy of Slavery Fund.

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Education Professors React to Divisive-Concept Laws
Adrienne Lu, April 25, 2022, The Chronicle of Higher Education


New state laws and other actions limiting what teachers can say in the classroom about topics including race, racism, and sexuality typically apply to elementary and secondary schools. So professors, while often opposed to the laws, have largely remained unaffected. But at least one group of faculty members has felt a direct impact: those training teachers.

Since 2021, more than a dozen states have passed laws — sometimes referred to as divisive-concept laws — or used other statewide actions such as executive orders to restrict how teachers discuss certain issues. Many draw language from an executive order signed by President Donald Trump in 2020, which has since been revoked by President Biden.

Faculty members at teacher colleges have had a unique perspective as the nation’s culture wars have shifted into classrooms, where many of their students work or soon will. Worried that the laws will have a chilling effect on teaching, some recommend their students consider the environment when they decide where to teach. They urge them to think creatively about how they can serve the needs of their pupils even under the constraints of the laws. And some have actively fought against the laws, testifying in statehouses against them or working to get higher education exempted from bills, and organizing faculty senates to pass resolutions opposing the laws.

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They Called Her “Black Jet"
Keisha N. Blain, April 28, 2022, The Atlantic


It is late evening on Tuesday, May 25, 1971, in Sunflower County, Mississippi, in the small Delta town of Drew. A young Black woman stands on Union Street in a yellow dress. She is a teenager, thin, pretty, and dark-skinned, with straight black hair and thick bangs. At this moment, she is chatting with friends near Eddie’s and Susie’s Cafe, a popular hangout, at the end of a day of celebration.

A car is cruising down Union Street, toward the café. Inside are three white men who have been drinking beer by the quart. The driver’s window opens. A hand emerges, holding a .22-caliber pistol. There is only one shot, but it finds the young woman’s neck. The car drives off.

Joetha Collier was 18 when she died. She and her friends had gathered to celebrate her class’s graduation that day from Drew High School—a formerly all-white school that she had helped integrate. Joetha was heading to Mississippi Valley State, a historically Black college nearby, on a scholarship. She wanted to be a teacher. She wanted to help lift her family out of poverty, haul them out of Drew to someplace better. Graduation night was meant to be the beginning of her climb. As she fell to the pavement, newspapers reported, she was still clutching her high-school diploma.

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Harriet Tubman led military raids during the Civil War as well as her better-known slave rescues
Kate Clifford Larson, April 28, 2022, The Conversation


Harriet Tubman was barely 5 feet tall and didn’t have a dime to her name.

What she did have was a deep faith and powerful passion for justice that was fueled by a network of Black and white abolitionists determined to end slavery in America.

“I had reasoned this out in my mind,” Tubman once told an interviewer. “There was one of two things I had a right to, liberty, or death. If I could not have one, I would have the other; for no man should take me alive.”

Though Tubman is most famous for her successes along the Underground Railroad, her activities as a Civil War spy are less well known.

As a biographer of Tubman, I think this is a shame. Her devotion to America and its promise of freedom endured despite suffering decades of enslavement and second class citizenship.

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Never the Same Step Twice
Brian Seibert, May 12, 2022, The New York Review


Brian Seibert reviews Brian Harker’s Sportin’ Life: John W. Bubbles, an American Classic


In a scene from the otherwise unremarkable 1937 Warner Brothers musical Varsity Show, the star, Dick Powell, finds some fraternity boys shirking their studies by watching the school’s Black janitor dance in the boiler room. Powell shoos them off, then tells the janitor, whom he calls “Bubbles,” to show him “that step you were teaching the kids.” Bubbles obliges—not with one step, but a slew of them. His swiveling, crossing feet scrape coal dust on the floor with the rhythmic phrasing of a great jazz drummer playing brushes. Here, and in the minute of dance brilliance before Powell’s entrance, Bubbles’s taps have the sound of surprise—hesitating, then pouncing in dense, crunchy clusters—without losing an easy swing. Through all this intricacy, he ambles, winds, and unwinds with a tossed-off nonchalance that’s echoed in his chuckling and snatches of song. This man in the cap labeled “janitor” is clearly one of the great dancers of his time or any other.

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Changes at Montpelier work against repairing the wounds of slavery
Stephen P. Hanna, Derek H. Alderman and Amy E. Potter, April 29, 2022, The Washington Post


As scholars who have conducted research at Montpelier, we are saddened and angered by the Montpelier Foundation’s withdrawal from its power-sharing agreement with the Montpelier Descendants Committee as well as by the firing of dedicated and talented staff who worked diligently to tell a more inclusive account of American history. Plantation museums, including those dedicated to the nation’s first presidents, have been justly criticized for marginalizing, trivializing or even erasing enslavement from their presentations of history. Before these actions, Montpelier was at the forefront of efforts to have descendants of enslaved people reclaim their family histories and have a say in how their histories are interpreted for the public. Montpelier’s current leadership seemed to be withdrawing from this effort.

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“Politicians, Priests, and psychiatrists often face the same problem: how to find the most rapid and permanent means of changing a man’s belief…The problem of the doctor and his nervously ill patient, and that of the religious leader who sets out to gain and hold new converts, has now become the problem of whole groups of nations, who wish not only to confirm certain political beliefs within their boundaries, but to proselytize the outside world.” – William Sargant “Battle of the Mind”

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