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Telling the Truth about All This: Reckoning with Slavery and Its Legacies at Harvard and Beyond

“Nations reel and stagger on their way; they make hideous mistakes; they commit frightful wrongs; they do great and beautiful things. And shall we not best guide humanity by telling the truth about all this, so far as the truth is ascertainable?”
—W.E.B. Du Bois, Black Reconstruction in America, 1860–1880 (1935)

Over the past two decades, universities around the world have begun to engage with their legacies related to slavery. Many have issued reports detailing some of their historical ties to slavery, the substantial financial benefits the institutions and their affiliates extracted from slave economies, and universities’ intellectual contributions to racist ideologies and practices. At the same time, this research has uncovered a long history of African American resistance, and we are just beginning to address the impact of legacies of slavery on Black students at these institutions into the 21st century.

With this history uncovered, we must now ask: What must institutions of higher education do? What types of repair work can and should we undertake? We will explore these questions in our conference through discussions about a range of topics, including engagement with descendant communities, legacies of slavery in libraries and museums, and novel public engagement and educational opportunities.

This program is presented as part of the Presidential Initiative on Harvard and the Legacy of Slavery, a University-wide effort anchored at Harvard Radcliffe Institute.

After Slavery Report, What Next? (Harvard Magazine, 5/5/22)

At Radcliffe Conference, Bacow Pledges to Dedicate Resources to "Repair the Damage" of Harvard’s Slavery Ties (Harvard Crimson, 5/2/22)

One Lie Leads to Another until We Tell the Truth (Harvard Gazette, 4/30/22)

Event Videos

Play Telling The Truth About All This conference video, Part I

Welcome

  • Tomiko Brown-Nagin RI ’17, dean, Harvard Radcliffe Institute; Daniel P.S. Paul Professor of Constitutional Law, Harvard Law School; professor of history, Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences; and chair, Presidential Committee on Harvard and the Legacy of Slavery

    
Remarks from Lawrence S. Bacow, president, Harvard University

Poetry Reading       

  • Introduction: Suzannah Omonuk, master’s candidate, Harvard Divinity School
  • Tracy K. Smith, Susan S. and Kenneth L. Wallach Professor, Harvard Radcliffe Institute, and professor of English and of African and African American studies, Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences

      
Panel 1: Universities and Their Role in Repair of Legacies of Slavery

  • Introduction: Shandra M. Jones, PhD student, Graduate School of Arts and Sciences at Harvard University, Program in Education at Harvard Graduate School of Education
  • Jody Lynn Allen, assistant professor of history and Robert Francis Engs Director of The Lemon Project: A Journey of Reconciliation, College of William & Mary
  • Adam Harris, staff writer, the Atlantic, and author, The State Must Provide: Why America’s Colleges Have Always Been Unequal (Ecco, 2021)
  • Kemeyawi Q. Wahpepah, PhD student, Graduate School of Arts and Sciences at Harvard University, Program in Education at Harvard Graduate School of Education
  • Moderator: Nancy F. Koehn, James E. Robison Professor of Business Administration, Harvard Business School 

Play Telling The Truth About All This conference video, Part 2

Morning Keynote

  • Introduction: Alan M. Garber, provost, Harvard University; Mallinckrodt Professor of Health Care Policy, Harvard Medical School; professor of economics, Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences; professor of public policy, Harvard Kennedy School of Government; and professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health
  • Ruth J. Simmons, president, Prairie View A&M University; president emerita, Brown University; president emerita, Smith College
  • Discussant: Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and director of the Hutchins Center for African & African American Research, Harvard University

Play Telling The Truth About All This conference video, Part 3

Welcome Back

    
Panel 2: Sites of Memory and Repositories of Knowledge

  • Introduction: Annette Gordon-Reed RI ’12, Carl M. Loeb University Professor, Harvard University
  • Ana Lucia Araujo, professor of history, Howard University
  • Julia Rose, historic house manager at Marietta House Museum, Prince George's Parks and Recreation
  • Kevin Young, Andrew W. Mellon Director, National Museum of African American History and Culture
  • Moderator: Evelynn M. Hammonds, Barbara Gutmann Rosenkrantz Professor of the History of Science and professor of African and African American studies, Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences, and professor in the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences, Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health

Play Telling The Truth About All This conference video, Part 4

Panel 3: Innovative Approaches to Public Engagement with History

  • Introduction: Tiya Miles RI ’22, Radcliffe Alumnae Professor, Harvard Radcliffe Institute, and Michael Garvey Professor of History, Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences
  • Andrew M. Davenport, director of the Getting Word Oral History Project, International Center for Jefferson Studies at Monticello, and graduate student in American history, Georgetown University
  • Dom Flemons, cofounder of the Carolina Chocolate Drops; singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and music scholar
  • Honorée Fanonne Jeffers, professor in the Department of English, Dodge Family College of Arts and Sciences, University of Oklahoma, and author, The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois (Harper, 2021) and The Age of Phillis (Wesleyan University Press, 2020)
  • Moderator: Meira Levinson RI ’03, Juliana W. and William Foss Thompson Professor of Education and Society, Harvard Graduate School of Education

Play Telling The Truth About All This conference video, Part 5

Roundtable Discussion: Global Perspectives

  • Introduction: Sven Beckert, Laird Bell Professor of History, Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences
  • S. James Anaya, University Distinguished Professor and Nicholas Doman Professor of International Law, University of Colorado Law School
  • Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela RI ’21, South African National Research Foundation Chair in Violent Histories and Transgenerational Trauma and the Research Chair in Historical Trauma and Transformation, Stellenbosch University
  • Simon P. Newman, Sir Denis Brogan Professor of American History, Emeritus, and Honorary Professorial Research Fellow, University of Glasgow; coauthor, Slavery, Abolition and the University of Glasgow; and Honorary Fellow, Institute for Research in the Humanities, University of Wisconsin, Madison
  • Densil A. Williams, pro vice-chancellor and principal, Five Islands Campus, University of the West Indies
  • Moderator: Martha Minow RI ’18, Three Hundredth Anniversary University Professor, Harvard University

More Events & Exhibitions

iron fence decorated with Harvard shield

Report of the Presidential Committee on Harvard & the Legacy of Slavery

The report of the Presidential Committee on Harvard & the Legacy of Slavery documents the University’s ties to slavery—direct, financial, and intellectual—and offers seven recommendations that will guide the work of reckoning and repair now beginning.

Read the Report