Found: Original Racial Violence Syllabus (November 2021)

I knew I had to teach the course. After six years of graduate school, when V.P. Franklin and Bettye Collier-Thomas offered the opportunity to teach at Drexel University, it was my top priority. U.S. and African American history surveys were already the basic content I could teach with depth and agility. Collective Racial Violence was the course proposal that drove my passion for the profession.

Now, twenty years later, the American Historical Association has adopted the theme and created an online resource to encourage educators and scholars to follow this model. It reminds me about conversation I had in 2005 with Dallett Hemphill about the existence of breeding plantations in the antebellum South. As a colonial historian, she regarded them as rumors – unproven conjecture. The work I had done on the sexual abuse within systems of racial violence showed me how real they were. Over the last fifteen years, the scholarly consensus has moved to recognize the horror of forced intercourse, labor, and childbirth in service to land expansion and financial profit. I look forward to the future scholarship on the states of Virginia and Maryland that will document these historical realities in greater detail.

When I published the Racial Violence Syllabus online as a response to claims that white nationalist violence in Charlottesville, Virginia (and nationwide), was rare and abhorrent, I never expected that over 4 billion users would engage with the content and translate it into seven languages. It transformed the global consciousness of white supremacy, demonstrating the importance of publicly engaged historical scholarship. It raised emerging scholars like Keisha Blain, Ibram Kendi, Kevin Kruse, Kaye Whitehead, and Hettie Williams to national, even international, prominence. Most importantly, it encouraged a range of journalists, including Jamelle Bouie, Jason Johnson, Joy Ann Reid, Wesley Lowery, and Jonathan Capehart to demand higher standards of knowledge and expertise about racism from their peers. Most provocatively, it provided a framework for Nikole Hannah-Jones to create the 1619 Project with the New York Times.

Through it all, Michele Norris’ question persisted with me. “Where is the original document?” With my move to Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota, I had occasion to search through nearly every part of my personal archive. This week, as I continued to re-organized my papers, I finally found it.

Here, at last, is the original vision of the syllabus for my 2001 course – Collective Racial Violence in the United States. It is literally the proposed syllabus that was approved by the university. It is not the final syllabus that I actually used for the course (I still think that all of those copies were destroyed). However, many critics doubted that I had taught the course and questioned whether the syllabus ever existed. Given the ongoing (and growing) significance of this work, I am ecstatic to share this primary document with you.

Author: waltergreason1

Public Figure.

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