UC Berkeley acknowledges 400th anniversary of African slavery with educational events

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Through a series of educational events that constitute a yearlong program, the UC Berkeley campus will spotlight African American history after the passage of the 400 Years of African-American History Commission Act.

The 400 Years of African-American History Commission Act is a federal measure that seeks to “acknowledge the impact that slavery and laws that enforced racial discrimination had on the United States,” according to the act. In an effort spearheaded by campus professor Denise Herd and the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society, a committee will develop a program that details key aspects of African American history.

“Slavery has had a profound effect on the historical development of the country,” Herd said in an email. “For example, slavery has influenced the development of medicine; immigration policy; policing and incarceration; education; law; and democratic social movements.”

The first event on the roster is a daylong symposium on Aug. 30 that will feature speakers including UC Berkeley professor Stephanie Jones-Rogers, author of “They Were Her Property: White Women as Slave Owners in the American South,” and Columbia University professor Saidiya Hartman, author of “Lose Your Mother: A Journey Along the Atlantic Slave Route.”

Other major events include an interdisciplinary speaker series hosted by faculty across campus and a film series that will explore the institution of slavery, the Civil Rights Movement and related topics. The organizing committee plans to partner with the Berkeley Art Museum & Pacific Film Archive and with Cal Performances.

“This is an important national initiative that aligns with UC Berkeley’s values and goals of improving the climate for racial and ethnic diversity on our campus,” Herd said in an email.

Herd noted that this anniversary presents an opportunity for the campus to produce informative learning spaces to explore African American history, grasp the ongoing effects of slavery and “create new paths for social and economic justice.”

In addition to Herd’s team, the project will be supported by the African American studies and history departments, the African American Student Development Center, and the Black Staff & Faculty Organization.

Herd said the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society has hosted similar events in the past. Examples include a conference titled “Race & Inequality in America: The Kerner Commission at 50,” which proposed policy solutions to combat racial inequality, and “Anti-Black State Violence in the Americas: Power and Struggle in Brazil and the U.S.,” which was about state-perpetrated anti-Black violence across the Americas.

“Together as a campus, we will acknowledge, study and discuss the meaning and lasting impact of a despicable chapter in our nation’s history,“ said Chancellor Carol Christ in a letter to the campus community.

Contact Sasha Langholz at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @LangholzSasha‏

Correction(s):
A previous version of this article included the incorrect image.