MIT & the Legacy of Slavery – Community Dialogue

Hello. Good afternoon, everyone. My name is Gabby Ballard and I
am a third year undergraduate student studying computer
science and anthropology. I’m also one of the co-chairs
of the black students union, where I serve as the
head of the political action committee. I’d like to be the first
to welcome you to our event MIT and the Legacy of Slavery:
Reviewing the Early Findings. Today, we have two
amazing sets of panelists to illuminate for us the
history of this institution’s relationship with slavery. After the panels, we’ll
have time for a brief Q&A. We realize that this
may be a lot to process, so we encourage you
to ask many questions. You can submit
questions via Twitter at this hashtag,
hashtag MIT and slavery. If you include
that in your tweet, then we’ll be able to see them. We’ll also have time for people
to ask questions in real life. I hope you all bring open
minds and willingness to act responsibly in light of
the information you learn here. Without further ado, I’d
like to release the podium to our president,
President Rafael Reif. Thank you, Gabby. Let me just say something
to honor our SHASS dean, Melissa Nobles. Good afternoon. That’s what she wanted. Thank you, Gabby, for
your introduction, and also for your
leadership at the BSU. I also am grateful,
really grateful, that the BSU and the BGSA
collaborated so closely with Vice President Kirk
Kolenbrander in my office to bring this event
together today. Our audience, glad to
see so many of you. Thank you so much
for joining us today as we begin this very
important exploration. We also extend a warm
welcome to everyone taking part remotely via LiveStream. We’re here to launch
an effort we’re calling MIT and the Legacy of Slavery. As we begin this
work, I want to thank all of the members
of our community who have brought us this
far and who will continue to help us with their guidance. At the top of that list
are professor Craig Wilder, archivist Laura Murphy,
teaching assistant Clare Kim, and everyone involved in the
MIT slavery course, especially the students. I’m extremely grateful
for, and extremely proud of, the work they’re all
doing for our community. On behalf of the
entire MIT community, I also want to express
our deep gratitude to SHASS dean, Melissa
Nobles, who already has a big and hard job, but
who, nevertheless, agreed to lead the effort for the
next phase of our community conversation. For that, I think you. And I believe this is
also a perfect moment to thank the many students,
faculty, and staff who have, over decades,
worked to make MIT more equitable and more inclusive. In particular, I
want to thank all of those whose efforts help
inspire the MIT and slavery class. I see many of you here today. And I thank you. The frame of discussion, let
me offer just a little context. Last spring, I asked
Professor Wilder to recommend the
best way for MIT to explore its historical links
to the institution of slavery. In response, Greg provided
us with our remarkable tool for uncovering the facts, an
ongoing undergraduate primary research course. With this new tool,
MIT students will help create a more complete
history of MIT, a version that examines the more
painful human realities, along with the technical
and scientific achievements. I’m thrilled that the
participants in last fall’s course will share the highlights
of their findings today. And I believe the work of
this class about our past is also important to the
present and the future. Something I’ve always loved and
admired about the MIT community is that we seek
and we face facts. If in this case we
have the courage to look at even the most
unflattering and disturbing parts of our history, I believe
we have a much better chance of approaching the
present and the future with humility and
self-awareness, too. For example, 150 years from now,
how will the MIT community then look at how we are
conducting ourselves today? What will shock or
disappoint them? And the one thing
history teaches, as we work to invent the future. In the words of one of
the students, Mahi Elango, technology is never neutral. So how can we make sure that
technologies we invent today will, indeed, contribute
tomorrow in making a better world for all? It’s clear that we
have a great deal to learn and reflect on
together, so let’s get started. Craig, Melissa, Nora, would you
please join me on the stage? Lisa, let me– is the mic on. Can you hear me? Lisa, let me start with you. OK. You briefly said something
about history a moment ago, but can you give us some
more historical context of the course and what
we’re going through today? Sure. Good afternoon, everyone. So I’d like to provide,
actually briefly, two historical contexts. The first is about the
recent developments at other colleges and
universities around the country and the examination of their
relationship to slavery. And then the second is the
larger historical context of the US at the time of
MIT’S founding in 1861. So the first. So over the past 20 years
or so, many US colleges and universities have
undertaken studies to delve into their historical
relationships to slavery. Brown University was the first
to launch such an investigation back in 2001 under then
President Rich Simmons. Then after that effort,
there was a lull in activity. In the meantime, Craig’s book,
Ebony and ivory: Race, Slavery, and the Troubled History
of American Universities, was published in 2013. And in a really important way,
Craig’s book was revolutionary. It changed the conversation. In fact, it reinvigorated
the conversation. In his book, in
very important ways, conceptualized Brown’s
efforts by showing that our country’s oldest
institutions of higher education had been
entangled with slavery. In other words,
Brown was not alone. Slave labor was used
to build campuses. The money generated by the slave
trade and by slave ownership was used to finance
those institutions. And a number of faculty members
at colleges and universities around the country
used their positions to help develop the
intellectual arguments needed to justify slavery. The MIT and Slavery
website, class website, provides a list of
colleges and universities that, today, have undertaken
these historical studies. And I encourage you to
take a look at the website. You will notice that many of
the universities and colleges are not in the South. In fact, they are
here in the Northeast, and they include some of our
country’s oldest and most prestigious universities. So this observation leads to
my second contextual point, which is the larger
historical context? So at the start of
the Civil War in 1861, our country’s economy,
politics, and social order were fundamentally shaped by
the institution of slavery. We were, in the words of one
historian, a slave nation. And here are just a few
facts that help illustrate the truth of that description. So as we know, before the Civil
War, the country was divided. Of the 34 states then in
the Union, 19 were free and 15 were slave holding. Cotton grown in the slave
holding South, southern states, was the country’s
leading export. It helped to fuel the
manufacturing revolution here in New England, principally
in Lowell, Massachusetts, and in Europe. It paid for all manner
of American imports, including steel. It was a major
source of capital. Slaves represented more
capital than any other asset except for land. So it was basically
slaves and land. And the American
government was dominated by pro-slavery interests. So abolitionists here
in Boston, principally, would rail against
the slave power. And what they meant
was the evident power that pro-slavery interests
and slaveholders wielded in the national government. Part of that power was derived
from the Constitution itself with the 3/5 clause, which
meant that for the purposes of political representation,
slaves counted as 3/5 persons. But it went beyond the Congress. It also included the chief
executive presidents. So of the 16 presidents
from Washington to Lincoln, 10 owned
slaves, and several of them, including presidents Washington,
Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, and Jackson, owned slaves
while they served as president. So I provide that
context as a way of offering a framework for
our better understanding of the findings of the class. And with that, I’ll
turn it over to Craig. So indeed, without
historical context, how did the course work? I mean, how did you put it
together and how did it happen? And from the facts
here unearthed so far, what do you think
is the most relevant to us? What should be important
to this community? I think how the
course comes about, there’s an honest answer
and a dishonest answer. And so I’ll give it
dishonest one first. You turned to us and asked
us what we should do, and I thought the way
for us to move forward was an undergraduate
research course, taking advantage of the
thing that we do best, and particularly the thing
that we do best in SHASS, which is teaching and using these
moments to actually challenge our students to produce
the kinds of knowledge that we know they’re capable of. And so we learned from, in
fact, what was happening at a lot of other universities. I’ve been visiting
a lot of them. We stole the best
of their ideas, and then we did things
that were peculiarly MIT. We have an extraordinarily
well-trained, excellent and accessible libraries and
archives professional staff. And so one of the
things I wanted to do was to start there,
to really actually web the class to the
archives and create this as kind of joint
project moving forward. I didn’t tell the
libraries that. I sort of came to
them with this design, and they were extraordinarily
gracious in actually partnering with us. And so that’s where that
part of the class comes from. But the more honest answer was
I sat down with a piece of paper and I started thinking
about what we do best and how we should do it,
which is exactly what I just described. And then I turned to the
history department staff, because nothing happens here
without our administrators actually making it happen,
our staff making it happen. And so the history department
staff, Mabel Chin and Meghan Papen, who got us
our course approval, got us our course
number, actually got us into the catalog, did
all the advertising for us– we went live the
week that students were registering for classes. And so we didn’t have a
class until that moment, and they made that happen. And so really one
of the things we wanted to do with the class was
to sort of take us from there, and then what was the
educational goals of the class? There were things
that we already knew about MIT’S
relationship to slavery. And just to describe
it very quickly, one of the things
that we knew was that there was an engineering
revolution in the United States in the four decades
before the Civil War. Somewhere between
about 1819 and 1860s, there’s an extraordinary
growth of engineering schools in the Northeast,
and that’s, in fact, driven by the slave economy. What’s happening in the
Northeast is that the products of slavery, slave-grown
cotton from the south, coming into the commodities
markets of New York– the first great
commodity, actually, in the commodities
exchange, is cotton– and then being funneled into, or
transported, into New England, where it’s turned into textiles. And cotton manufacturers
need engineers. They need engineers
to build factories, to maintain and build machines. They need design. They’re seeking out competitive
advantages in the marketplace. And so they begin pouring
money into engineering. In the mid-Atlantic, it’s
sugar grown by enslaved people in the Caribbean. That’s actually pouring
into places like Brooklyn, which will create Brooklyn as
the region of the United States that comes to dominate
the entire sugar economy of the world
in the 19th century. The first monopoly. When the United States Congress
begins investigating monopolies is, in fact, the
Brooklyn sugar trust. And that group of families
that own those sugar refineries begin pouring money
into what becomes the Brooklyn Polytechnic
Institute, now part of NYU. And so in the decades
before the war, there is, in fact, this
extraordinary revolution in engineering that’s
driven by the slave economy. And in some ways, MIT is the
culmination of that story. Our founding in 1861
positions us in, I think, a unique way to
think about slavery, not just the way in which
slavery transformed and shaped the American economy
and the economy and the realities
of higher education, but the way in which slavery
reached past the Civil War into the 1870s, 1880s, and 1896,
and fundamentally transformed the nation that we became. You anticipate,
perhaps, the course to evolve into doing some
historical comparisons and assessing, in addition
to getting fact-finding, assessing, analyzing, and
reflecting the way both of you just did. I think so. One of the things that we
we’re interested in is we always knew that
the class would have to grow in multiple
directions, we’d have to take different
historical angles. And one of the things
I was reluctant to do was to write the history
of other institutions. I don’t think it’s
fair for us to do that, although those other
institutions are part of our story. And so what we’ve
been doing instead is reaching out to our
kindred institutions, the other engineering and
technical schools founded before and during the Civil
War, and partnering with them to create a consortium of
engineering and science schools that are studying their
relationship to slavery. And so far, we’ve gotten
extraordinarily excited feedback on that, and
we’re looking to actually have our first meetings
this spring and a conference probably next year. I don’t know if my mic is on. Here at MIT, we’re
known, obviously, for science and technology. But as the Dean of SHASS, the
School of Humanities, Art, and Social Sciences,
part of my job is to help ground contextualize
that kind of learning. And in a certain
way, we constantly say that the world is more
than science, technology. In fact, it exists
within human conditions and it is, in fact, a
reflection of human endeavor. But this helps us look
at it in yet another way. So it’s not merely talking
about the importance of science, technology today, as
important as it is, but also, this allows us
to look critically back at that question in a very
important part of our country’s history. So I think it does a lot of– provides a lot of ways
of better understanding the nature of a science,
technology education, in addition to helping
us better understand our country’s history and
this relationship to slavery. I agree. It’s really an
interesting moment for us when I hear you both
of you speak and you talk about the labor, the
economy, the engineering. The combination of
all those things, I don’t know, 50
plus years and going, what we’re actually
undergoing today. So we can learn a
great deal, not just from our history, in
terms of the facts, but from what it
means to the present. Nora, what made you go to
look at the Virginia census documents? I mean, what drove
you that direction and what did you find? I blame the class, partly. We met one day with
Phillip Alexander, who’s author of A Widening
Sphere, History of MIT. At Rogers’ memorial service,
Major Jedediah Hotchkiss spoke, and when he spoke
he referred to Levi as Rogers’ Negro serving man. And I thought, well,
that’s interesting. Who’s Levi? So it set me on a path of
looking for this person. And I looked at the
Society of Arts’ minutes, and sure enough,
at the memorial, there are two references
to Levi in there. And one of the
references is that Levi is giving a tour of
the geology of Virginia to a Charles Daubeny, who is a
French geologist and visiting. Rogers was ill and unable
to give the tour himself, so Levi gave the tour. That still didn’t provide
a lot of information, because it was simply Levi was
in the household, and Rogers, he met with Daubeny. So I thought about
what we might have. I looked at some of
the correspondence we have of William Barton
Rogers, his papers. Didn’t find any
references there. But in the published
work, Life and Letters of William Barton Rogers,
which is his correspondence that his widow,
Emma Savage Rodgers, published after his death,
there was one reference to Levi. And it was in January
1838, and in that letter, Rogers talks about Levi
coming in to the drawing room to tell him that one
of the horses had died, and the both men
were upset by this. But the letter goes on, and
it’s the letter William has written to his brother, Robert. And he says, “and I’m
very excited to hear that you enjoyed your visit
with Daubeny as well.” So it begins to put a
place, that three men are in the same location in
Virginia in late 1837, 1838. So I know that Rogers and Levi
were together at that time. So how to find out any more? I thought of the census records. I’ve been an archivist
for a very long time and am aware of how
to use the records. So it took a little digging,
going through various census records. But the 1850 census
for Virginia, when Rogers and his bride, Emma,
were there and living at UVA with his brother Robert and his
wife, I found them all there. That was good, in line with
all the other faculty at UVA, and then realized that there was
a slave schedule that was also done at the same time, which was
compiled both in 1850 and 1860. So I looked at
the slave schedule and there, as head of household,
is William Barton Rogers, and it lists six enslaved
people in the household. What this means, I don’t know
anything beyond that, other than we have a list of, I think
it’s three females and three males, a little boy who’s 10,
and the others who are adults. So there’s more work for the
students to do, for the class to do, to see what
we can find out about these people,
who they are, if we can get any more detail. The census does not
give any names for them. It only gives ages and gender. I said to Dean Nobles one day,
if you set an historian, MIT students, and an
archivist on a path, we find all sorts of things. You’re all welcome to use the
archives for any questions any time. It’s actually riveting. It’s fascinating. I mean, when you
put emotion aside, to see how you’re
learning about all this. And it’s all here, just nobody
had the time or the interest to look into that. Craig, Nora already mentioned
something about perhaps what the students
could do this semester. She sort of suggested
something, but what do you have in mind for
the class going forward? How do you envision
that continuing? The peculiarities
of the MIT class design– well, first the
partnership with the archive, that Nora and I would
teach the class together, that the class would actually
be embedded in the archive, but also that it would
be a two semester course. The students don’t have
to take both semesters, but the fall semester
is focused on deep dives into MIT’S history,
just the students defining their own
research topics and then finding out as
much about those topics as they possibly can,
or inheriting topics from previous students
after this year. And then the spring
semester, actually, the focus is a little bit different. I think it’s peculiar to us. It’s unique to us. Rather than having the students
turn over their research at the end of the semester
to the faculty members and the graduate student
who are working with them, and we produce the material,
the narrative, for the website, we’re actually asking
the students to do that. In the spring semester,
the students actually do the work of editing, thinking
about the presentation of, and the production of, the
material for the website, everything from the narrative
and editorial decisions to decisions about the kinds
of images and documents that should attend
that narrative. In other words, I want
to make real the claim that we began with, that this
was MIT students rewriting the history of MIT
for MIT, and we want that to be true from
the first research step to the final publication launch. Well, we’re going
to listen here. We’re going to hear the
students in a moment. In fact we’re a little
bit behind schedule to hear the students. But before we introduce
them, following up on Greg’s question, Lisa,
how would you envision? How would you like to see
this conversation evolving? What would you like
to see moving forward? Sure. So I’m going to make
good use of the expert that we have here in Craig. And given his experience
of going around and looking and working at
other universities and how they’ve dealt with
the findings of their studies, and one of the
things he advised me, and I’m listening
very closely, which was that he said,
listen to everyone, be open-minded and
invite conversation, and listen closely. So I intend to do that
and in the coming weeks, I expect to bring
together a group of folks who will help me think about
how we move forward with this. So I say to everyone who’s
interested, stay tuned, but it will certainly
be an effort of listening and gathering
ideas and comments and reactions and such. My one hope, though,
the spirit that I encourage us to embark
on this journey is this. We’re looking at old
things with new eyes, and I hope we take that sense
of curiosity and commitment to learning the truth and
taking that forward, and working together in a mutually
respectful way. If we are able to do that, I’m
confident that this will be– really, it is
important for MIT team, and will continue to
be more important, and we can be a model for the
universities, who I expect will begin to take up this charge. As you said, Melissa, look. Let me just say that I’m willing
to introduce the students now, but let me just say that
we all really owe these two individuals a huge
depth of gratitude. I mean, Craig came up
with something remarkable, our own students writing
our own history in a course, I mean, in a technological
institution, I mean, that is where they need to really learn. It’s remarkable. And Noble’s helping us to
figure out what is the right way to have this conversation. Nora, doing this
amazing research that you remind me of
my days in the lab, except that this is a
different kind of lab, the one that you are doing. So please, all, just give a
good round of applause to thank. Now to introduce the
students who, I mean, they claim the credit, but the
students actually did the work. Let’s hear from the
students and the TA. I’m willing to introduce
them all to come and join me on the stage. Unfortunately, my
schedule doesn’t allow me to stay
until the end, so I’m going to be probably–
under until 2:00 or so, I have to leave. But I heard some
of this already. I want to hear it again. It’s really, riveting. It’s really worth
paying attention to how they went
about, and how did they decide, each of them to
do what they wanted to do. So in that order,
Claire, Alicia, Mahi, Calvin, and [? Shalon, ?]
please join me on stage. Good afternoon. So I’m actually going to take
up a little time here today, before you hear from the
student presentations. And what I want
to do is actually take time to really elaborate
and describe the work that we were doing
in the classroom. And the reason why
I want to emphasize the work and the skills
that the students developed over the course
of the semester is because it’s really out of
our collaborative, engaged discussions that they
were able to develop the vocabulary, the
ways of thinking, of framing their historical
research projects that you’re going to hear today. And so I really want
to underscore that. And one of the biggest
and most daunting problems that the students had
to come up with is. How do you craft a historical
narrative out of the research that you have? And I do want to highlight this
one particular memory that I have, where the
students recognized the daunting that would be
and silence filled the room. So Alicia, I remember,
leaned back in her chair with Mahi and Charlotte both
crouched on their computers, and Calvin was
just sitting there, and he was the one
to break the silence. He burst out into a grin
and said, don’t worry, guys, we got this. So I was very excited
by how receptive they were to learning very
quickly different strategies that you can use to craft
the stories that you’re about to hear. And there were different
ways we approached that. So we looked at various
literature’s on the histories of MIT and slavery, and
we really dissected it. We looked at what decisions that
the scholars had made in order to forward the arguments,
to forward the stories, and think about
the implications. And in our collective
discussions, the students really came– there was a moment of
recognition where we all recognized that we needed to
interrogate our assumptions without both MIT and
slavery, but also race, science, and technology. The one of the readings
that we had done was to look at the
history of the Slave Ship. And the students conducted
amazing, sophisticated multiple readings
of it, recognizing that it was not just a
vessel of transportation. It was not just a
feat of engineering, it was also a state of violence. It was a prison. There were these
multiple layers that we needed to come to terms with. So I’m really proud
of you guys for that. So not to take too
much time away, I do want to conclude, actually,
with a task for the audience members here today, and for
those who are listening in on the LiveStream. So when you listen to these
histories and these stories and presentations that
you’re about to hear, I would like to ask that you
not just passively receive it. After these
presentations, whenever you go back to your laboratory,
when you go back to your office at MIT, I want you to take time
to look at your environment. Look at the scientific
objects you’re working with and really consider how
the language practices your thinking and approach
to, or thinking about, MIT’S science and
technology actually include traces of the histories that
you’re about to hear today. Thank you. I forgot to introduce
my speaker, actually. So for our first
presentation, actually, it’s my pleasure to welcome
Charlotte Minsky to the podium. We’ll be talking about the
presence of southern students at MIT in its early
formative years. Hello. As Clare said, my name
is Charlotte Minsky. My research was investigating
early southern students at MIT and trying to look at the origin
stories at MIT that were told and re-evaluate it in the
context of the Civil War. So I started my research
by going through the course catalogs for the first
15 years of MIT classes, so this was from 1865 to 1881. And I pulled out the name of
every student from the South during this period. And what we have here is the
29 students from the South who attended MIT during
these first 15 years. Looking at the demographics
of these students, in general, they were evenly distributed
between different locations in the South. And so for the most part,
we see one or two students from each city, and one from
Macon, one from Atlanta, but no more than two
students per city, except for the unique case
of Louisville, Kentucky. 11 of the 29 students
were all from Louisville. So in contrast to just one
or two students from all the other cities,
this immediately struck me as a surprisingly
disproportionate representation, and I
wanted to investigate why this might have been. Looking more at the
broader demographics of the southern
students, it’s clear that there’s a
disproportionate representation not just from the
city of Louisville, in particular, but from
the border states at large. So Kentucky, Missouri, and
these other border states constituted a surprisingly
large portion of the students from the South overall. This makes sense because
these border states were playing a very unique
role in America’s history during this post Civil War time. So there are several reasons
why Louisville and the border states might have been
particularly poised to send students to get a
technical education at MIT, and here are a few of
the possible factors. Louisville, in particular, had a
unique role in the slave trade. If you look at the
demographics of Louisville prior to the Civil War,
you see that, unlike a lot of other cities in the
South, its percentage of enslaved residents
was actually declining rather than increasing. So at first glance, it
seems like Louisville was less connected
to the slave economy than other southern cities. But looking closer, you can see
that, although the populate– the standing slave
population– was decreasing, there was a really large number
of slaves being transported through Louisville, being sold
down south on the Ohio River, and Louisville had a
really important place in the slave trade. And so Louisville was able
to benefit economically from the slave
economy, but didn’t have to undergo the same
demographic and labor shifts after the Civil
War, as in other more agriculturally based
southern cities. The second unique
thing about Louisville was its railroad industry. Because Louisville’s economy
and strategic position was so dependent on its
place on the Ohio River, as waterways became
less important in the American
transportation economy and railroads emerged as
a more dominant method of transportation,
Louisville was heavily motivated to invest in
the railroad industry. And so it was a center
of really developing railroad infrastructure. The third way that Louisville
was unique in the South was that it benefited
from Union occupation during the Civil War. And so this is something that
also speaks to the broader ability of border
states to send students to get a technical education,
because unlike other cities in the South which were
destroyed by the Civil War, they actually had military
money flowing in from the Union and were more protected
during the war. Finally, the border
states, in general, had social and
institutional ties to the North that were not as
severed during the Civil War as states and cities
in the deeper South. So all of these are just
possible contributors to why Louisville
and the border states might have had a stronger
connection to MIT and send more students to
get a technical education in these post-war years. In order to investigate
further, this disproportionate representation and just get
an idea of the relationship between the South and
MIT during this time, I looked closer at
three students– Nelson Whitney Conan, Ernest
Saltmarsh, and Joshua Breed. These were the first
three southern students to attend MIT for four more
years of the period we consider an undergraduate education. What I did for these
three students is I reconstructed a certain overview
of their career trajectories after they graduated from MIT. So this is just a list
of all of the jobs that these students held
after their graduation. And I don’t know if it jumps
out to you immediately, but what jumped out to me
was the presence of railroads in all of these
students occupations. I was surprised that, out
of the first three students I chose to look at, not
only were all of them involved in the
railroad industry, but the railroad industry seemed
to really dominate their post graduation trajectories. Looking more broadly at
the students graduating during this time, this trend of
being involved in the railroads was not just limited to
these three students, and it was not just limited
to southern students. The railroad industry was the
number one specific industry or occupation that students
went to from 1865 to can ’87. And looking at United
States in this period, this absolutely makes sense. This is a map of the railroad
system in the United States in 1861, so just
before the Civil War. And I just want to
point out to you, Louisville, you can see here,
is a really important node for connecting the
northern railway system to the southern railway system. So this just speaks to the
unique role of Louisville and its advantage in
this developing economy. So in this postwar
period, we see the development of
railroads is really one of the engines
of reconstruction, and there is a ton of
federal, state level, and institutional money flowing
into the railroad industry. So it absolutely makes
sense that students getting an engineering technical
education at MIT were going into
this economy that had so much funding
into it, and was really part of the post Civil
War infrastructure building that was so
characteristic of the United States during this time. So what this research shows
is that there is a perception that we often have of
the north and the south the United States as culturally,
socially, and economically disparate areas. And this research is showing
that not only is this absolutely not true, but
that MIT, in particular, was a frontier of the exchange of
people, resources, education, and ideas between
these locations. There was a flow from Louisville
and border states to MIT, and there was a flow
of MIT education and MIT people
back into the South and back into the
railroad economy. Really, the story of MIT is
the story of reconstruction, and it is central to
MIT’s origin story, that it was growing up in
this period of post Civil War economy. Thank you. For our next presentation,
I am proud to invite Alicia Alexander to the podium. Oh, goodness. So when I was
starting the class, I was really, really
interested in the culture that was emerging
at MIT at that time, specifically around
discussions about slavery and its connection with race. And in looking into these
kinds of histories and the way that we talked about
slavery and the way that we talked about race,
there were also different kinds of things that were
emerging, where there were very absent conversations. First of these is MIT’s
reception of the slave ship. So to get a bit of context, this
story does not start with MIT. It starts, actually,
several decades before with the Zong
Massacre, originally known as the Zong Incident. For those who aren’t
familiar, this incident occurred when a crew coming
to deliver slaves into Jamaica mistook Jamaica shores for
the shores of Espanola, and went several hundred miles
before realizing their mistake. In turning around, they
encountered a typhoon, and low on rations, they
realized that they would not make it to Jamaica with the
crew that they had on board, and decided to throw
off the cargo in order to save the rest of the crew. To be incredibly
clear, this cargo was, indeed, the
slaves on the ship. They were not concerned
about dropping the cargo because the cargo
was, indeed, insured, and they dropped several
hundred of the slaves off the ship on their
way back to Jamaica and returned back
home without incident. When they did return,
the insurance company had issues with paying out the
compensation for the slaves, and when brought to Parliament,
the conversation then shifted to whether this should
be a case of mass murder or should be an insurance case. It was eventually
decided that this would be treated as
an insurance case and the company was
properly compensated for their insured cargo. In 1840, J.M.W. Turner created
this painting, Slavers Throwing Overboard the Dead and
Dying, Typhoon Coming On, to depict his interpretation
of the massacre that occurred. It’s traditional [INAUDIBLE]
maritime painting, and what’s very, very
prominent about this painting is the shifting of
colors at the top from light to dark,
and obviously, the boat in the background. And what I also found
particularly striking was the waves at the bottom that
show the hands and the blood, and the reaching
out, and the eating of all these different
fish and sharks of the bodies in the water– I think about a third
of the painting. But what was really
peculiar about the painting and its prominence
is that critiques all throughout the
19th century have no mention of any of
the slaves in the water, and refer to them
only as symbols and as depictions
of death, but not necessarily as human bodies. In January 1882, this
painting appeared as an imitation in the
architect’s drawing room. This was a pretty big deal
because the architects were the cool kids at the time. The architects not only had
the larger spaces of MIT, they also had a
drawing room that sat amongst the most
prominent professors and some of the more nicer areas. When commentary about the
piece emerged specifically within the students,
all of the commentary focused on the architects,
the first talking particularly about the broad strokes of
the piece and the colors and the tech, another from an
angry civil engineer about how architects get so many
nice things, including this painting– not mentioning the content, and
only the clarity of the piece– and finally, another
complaint about the architects and their nice things. Most the conversations
circling this piece at MIT talk about the technique,
talk about the brushstrokes, and talk about the
artist, but failed to mention the incident
that it was inspired by or the actual
content of the piece. And what I felt was very
powerful about the fact is that it’s not just
about what’s there, it’s also about what isn’t. When talking about
more explicit, say, terminology at MIT,
I found a couple of really interesting
examples, the first being here on the right, or left– my right– of the very, very
first edition of the tech, and also on the influence
of different artists like, Arthur de Gabineau,
on the different literature that students were reading and
was influencing their science. So the first one here by Arthur
D. Little of the class of ’84, he talks about the
behavior of ants. This seemingly
innocent article that talks a bit about how the
ants interact with each other, how they grow, how they
move around and create all these very intricate
pieces, explicitly talks about how
different species of ants should tend towards slave
behaviors, and essentially indicates the thinking
of this person as someone who feels that slavery is
a natural part of nature. The idea that people were
coming from different species, polygenism, was very, very
prevalent during this time, and so it’s not
exactly a stretch to feel as though the way
that people were thinking about their science is
influenced by how they were thinking about slavery. So early courses at MIT
actually included a good amount of courses that talked about
race, science, and sociology, and ethnology, specifically. In course 4 in
architecture, they were required to have an anatomy
class, or an anatomy equivalent course. And in 1882, they changed this
from any anatomy equivalent course, pulled influences from
a Harvard Medical School course. This Harvard Medical
School course had a whole host of
different writings, but one of the more prominent
writings of the course was by Arthur de Gabineau. He wrote the essay, Essay on
the Inequality of Human Races. This very extensive
essay, essentially, ranks humans in
three categories, black, yellow, and white. And within that has a
hierarchy with the Aryan race of the white being the
highest, and the lowest being the darkest
of the negroids. This was taught in anatomy
class to better frame and give context to the students
about how they should depict certain kinds of people and how
they should go about drawing and creating those people. Also, in biology, they
had strong influences from powerful figures
within their bibliography. The Harvard biologist
and geologist, Louis actually his papers
were very, very prominent in the validation of
slavery as a moral argument, essentially stating that that
particular race was essentially incapable of
governing themselves, and that the human race
does not strictly evolve from one ancestor, but several. Some more evolved than others
before the eventual mixing of the species. And finally, Benjamin
Silliman, who was a Yale chemist, and
also one of the founders of the Connecticut
Colonization Society– the Connecticut
Colonization Society was an abolitionist
society that thought that once the slaves
were free, they should be sent back
to Africa, Liberia specifically, and created
several funds in order to do that, though they never
actually succeeded. He was a Yale chemist,
and even though he was a prominent
abolitionist, he kept slaves in his own home several
years after the Emancipation Proclamation. And once they were
finally officially free, kept them as indentured
servants in his home for the rest of
their natural lives. Finally, in course 9
in general studies, this was a more mild
interpretation of race science by MIT’s own Dr. William Ripley. He essentially states that
race, properly speaking, is responsible only for
those peculiarities, mental and bodily, which are
transmitted with constancy along the lines of
direct physical descent from father to son. And what was really interesting
about his take on this was that he,
essentially, asserted that even though genetics plays
a very particular role in how humans develop, he also stated
that culture and nurture has a lot to also do with that. Though his stance was more
mild within his course, he included several of
these other influences and doesn’t have
any other literature that goes against the idea
that the darker people were inferior. What I found was just
really interesting about all of these influences was that
things that people think are not absent
from their science. Science is not neutral. Technology is not
neutral, and all of these students that they are
teaching, that they are putting out into the world,
who travel to the south and to several parts of the
north, and even the west, take these ideas
with them, not just from their humanities courses,
but also from their science courses, and in the
way that they validate these ways of
thinking and even be seen in how we approach
different science today. So like Clare said, as
you go back to your labs, I encourage you to
challenge your assumptions, and also to think about
where your different notions of science come from. Thank you. It is my privilege
to introduce Mahi to the stage to speak a bit more
on her research on the class. Hello, hello. So my research
this past semester has been exploring the
early MIT curriculum and the circulation of
ideas right after the end of the Civil War. So in particular,
I’m asking questions such as, what are students
and faculty members teaching, learning, and talking about
in the context of and entirely new host of issues– post-slavery, such as
labor, productivity, engineering advances and the
pedagogy of these issues. So not only are the students
and faculty members talking and circulating these
ideas, these MIT graduates are actually contributing
back to the field. They are entering
the labor force. They are the ones advancing
engineering and talking about methods of production. So I want to begin
with the motto of MIT, the mind and the hand. And the mind represents,
what I think, is the civic and
moral education, and the hand represents the
technical and vocational education. And I wanted to ask
the question of, how well does MIT’s early
curriculum actually reflect MIT’s motto? And so to really understand
the intersection of these two types of education, I focused
on the mining and metallurgy department, which was
established in 1865. This department is particularly
interesting for a few reasons. The first is that it
embodied the core principles of the mind and the hand
quite well, as we’ll see later in my presentation. The department was
also the pride of MIT. William Barton Rogers was
a geologist by profession, and the mining engineering
department actually started as a
Department of Geology. And third, outside of
non-agricultural occupations, so few occupations
made use of slaves as universally, and
for such a long time, as the mining of coal
and production of iron. So I wanted to look at the
typical mining student, what they’re doing in 1873. So these are all
required classes, on the left the third year
students needed to take and on the right, the fourth
year student needed to take. And if you look at
the top, there’s quite a lot of mention of
field practice and laboratory practice, right? So these students are
certainly developing the technical and
vocational education. You’ll see that the
field practice actually refers to mining excursions
that students would take during the summer,
starting in 1871, and especially in
1873, these students are going to coal mines in
California, Nevada, Michigan, Minnesota, Pennsylvania. So they’re traveling
all across the nation, and the students are seeing
firsthand post-slavery labor forms. So not only are they
discussing these in class, reading these from
textbooks, but they’re also seeing it in person. And in addition, these students
are practicing this production of iron and coal in labs. So our second president,
President Runkle, instituted what he called
instruction shops that would create a systematic
and thorough way for students to truly understand the ways
in which mind and coal are produced. He ensured that students would
not only learn these techniques as apprentices, when it was
beneficial to employers, when these students needed to learn,
but would actually understand a systematic way
of these practices, that again, I would
like to reemphasize, that they’re accessing
in person when they’re visiting these coalmines
year after year. And the third part that’s
interesting, and circling back to the other
half of curriculum– which is the mind and
civic and moral education– that these students are gaining
is, on the left-hand side, you will see logic, the
systematic treatment of formal logic, and
on the right-hand side, political economy. So in 1876, President Runkle
convinced a few faculty members and their wives, and
got a group of people to go to the exhibition
in Philadelphia, which is the first in the United States. And so this is the first time
that MIT is promoting itself on the international stage. And in his words,
the pride of MIT where excursions
and mining regions and manufacturing works,
because this was unique. None of the
institutions in the past had encouraged its
students to actually see the forms and labor
forms actually in practice. And again, emphasis
on actual mining in metallurgical
laboratories, that students are, again, learning
and doing by themselves. It’s a tie back. So remember, in the fourth
years, required coursework. So a mining student was required
to take political economy. So this class was taught
by Professor George Holmes Howison who was the
first professor of Logic and Philosophy at MIT. He was specifically hired
by William Barton Rogers and Runkle to introduce
the second half to the technical and
vocational education, that is, the civic and moral education. And you’ll see highlighted,
this is the examination that this class has to
define labor and prove that the service of slaves,
or any other involunteer work, is not labor, in
the economic sense, to state some of the principal
advantages of division of labor, shows the
mutations and point out some evil tendencies, which
seemed to be counteracted. So these students
are discussing, day in and day out, these
issues of labor, of slavery, of production, of labor, right? So I just want to
emphasize that there’s two parts to MIT’s education. Not only are these
students doing and seeing these new post-slavery issues
that MIT and the nation is struggling to grapple
with, but that they’re also discussing this in class
and approaching this from both the technical and
the civic and moral side. So thank you so much for
listening to my presentation. I’d like to invite Calvin
Green II to the stage. Good afternoon. So in an attempt to understand
MIT’s relationship to slavery, I thought about
the students, how were they interacting and
thinking and perceiving race? And in seeking an
answer to that question, I chose to look at racialized
images and MIT student publications. So I looked at 30 volumes of
The Tech, our student newspaper, as well as 14 volumes of
Technique, our student yearbook. And when looking
at these images, I was able to classify
them into three categories, the first of which
being waiters, the second being
clansmen attire– clansmen referring
to the Ku Klux Klan– and the third category
being entertainment. So as we moved to the
category of waiters, the very first image
of a black person to appear in an MIT
student publication happens in 1883 in The Tech. This caption reading, “hotel
modern, no fee, no dinner.” And in analyzing
this caption, we see there’s a resistance
to changing times. This is about 20 years or
so after the Civil War. We have a Reconstruction
Era, of the aftermath of the Reconstruction Era. And so this being the first
image of a black person in an MIT student publication
invites us and shows us that MIT is not in a vacuum. Students are interacting
with the changing society around them. And this is one
of the depictions of how they are doing so. I found 11 such images
between the years that I viewed the images. And you have class dinners, you
have cover pages of The Tech. And one of the cover
pages I want to highlight, which happens in the 17th
volume in the 13th issue, to I would like to read the
transliteration in order to provide further analysis. So I don’t see why white
people make so much fun of us colored people. One of the greatest men in the
Bible was named nigger Dimas. And this is a provides
series of issues. Not only does it
implicitly state that black people
are unintelligent. You can read on the actual
caption in its formatting. And not only does it implicitly
state that black people are unkowledgeable about the Bible,
but it also explicitly shows the internalization of
the racial slur of nigger as if that’s how
they view themselves. And so when you look at the
series, of images I found 18, and 11 of them are waiters. It begs the question, is this
an accurate representation of black male Bostonian
occupations at this time? And that proves not to be true. Professor Otelia Cromwell,
who was Professor emeritus at Boston University,
did a study on the black male
Bostonian occupations, and studied that demographic. She not only highlights
that at this time, there’s an overt
conversation about waiters, but she also outlines that
black males were not only waiters and laborers, but
they were also barbers. They were tailors. They were carpenters. They were engineers,
and they were students. And so out of the 18 images, I
found 11 of which are waiters. None of them
include black people as engineers as students. We know that black people
were attending MIT in some of the images that I found. And I’ll go on into
the further categories and we can further
think about how they may have been interacting
with knowing that this is how their school
was representing them on a very mainstream scale. We’ll move on to
clansman attire. So I found three such images. The first image on your
far left is the cover image of a local society
named [? DYDX. ?] The second image is the cover
page of the fraternities. All of these occur in
Technique, the yearbook. And the third image is the
cover page of the local society, so introducing the local
societies, the first of which we see has just
the clansmen hood, and then later
images they’re now adorned with the white cloak. We know that the Ku Klux
Klan, the role that they played in creating fear in the
black community, was prominent. And in other
communities as well, they are symbols of white
supremacy, of racial hatred, of violence, of rape, of murder. And these are the images that
are being portrayed and clearly outlined in MIT student
publications– again, begging the question
of, as we consider, is MIT being an inclusive
environment at this time, how would black students have
felt, or other students who were aware of Klan
violence, when seeing these images so publicly
portrayed in their student publication? The third category
of entertainment, I found for such
images, and the last of which I want to highlight. I also note here that the sketch
class in that third image, of them drawing a black
girl, may very well be informed by the work
that Alicia pointed out in what they may have
been being taught in some of their curriculum. But in this fourth image
of a minstrel show– to provide context to
those who are not aware, minstrel shows are racially
charged forms of entertainment. Whether it’s a musical
or play or skit, white people would
dress with black face so that everyone is aware
in the audience who they’re portraying, and then they
would act in certain ways to reinforce negative
stereotypes of black people at this time. This being a full
page in the yearbook, and this also occurring in
the same year of the image that I outlined earlier with
the conversation between the two black waiters and the
racial slur involved. This behooves me to believe that
a minstrel show was conducted on MIT’s campus in this year. Further historical
analysis will need to be done to
prove this is true. But the story does
not start there. This is 100 years into
the future in 1989, there are continuity of images,
of such images that I’ve shown you, one of
which being this image. And the conversation that’s
happening in The Tech, which I’ll outline more
explicitly later, is around the clansmen hood
that’s used this image. To provide context,
in 1989, there’s an event called Greek Fest that
happens over a different number of years. But 1989 special in that there
was overpolicing in the area. There were white Virginia Beach
natives that were present. Greek Fest is a
celebration where students of historically black
colleges and universities, as well as members of black
Greek organizations, such as Alpha Phi Alpha
and Alpha Kappa Alpha would convene in Virginia
Beach for celebration. But there was hostility
and there was writing and there was overpolicing. And so this image
is an attempt to put all those thoughts
and those events into a still image in The Tech. The caption reading, “Lily
White, the official suntan lotion of Virginia
Beach,” Lily White referring to the historical
analysis of Lily White being a representation of racial
hatred and disenfranchisement. So in response to this
cartoon, an article was written by Dave Atkins, a
graduate student class in ’90, and he is a Virginia
Beach native. And to give voice to the
writings of the past, I would like to read
the bolded text. And so he talks about how “the
conduct of the Virginia police was commendable. If anybody did the
right thing, it was the police, who, faced
with many opportunities to allow anger to encourage
them to misuse their authority and power, chose restraint.” He also ends his
letter saying, what would those who feel
they are not racist have us do, surrender the
streets to an angry mob? And so we see someone from
Virginia Beach, a white male, is encountering with this
story and in response to this cartoon. But the conversation
doesn’t stop there. A few issues later,
[? Daniela ?] Green, a graduate student
class of ’91, responds. And she’s a black woman. She lived down the
hall from Dave Atkins. And she writes, “I
would like to refute most of the comments made in
Dave Atkin’s recent letter.” She talks about how
the hotel owners had increased their rates
and enforcement of stays. She talks about how
organized groups were not allowed to secure establishments
for their meetings. She says, “the police,
on horse and foot, paraded down Atlantic
Avenue in riot gear. All that was needed was a riot. I know because I was there.” She goes on further to state
that “race was an issue, as it was in the ’60s. Perhaps he should have
done the right thing and thought more carefully
before commenting on the issue. Who knows? He may live next
door to someone who would be able to give him
an eyewitness account.” And so we see in 1889, the
first image of clansmen attire is featured in an MIT
student publication, with no black voices present. Given the sociopolitical
climate at the time, most definitely not
affirming how black people felt toward a certain event. However, 100 years
later we see an image that is now used to affirm
how black people felt in response to an
event, especially those who were there. And this rise of black voice and
black agency in the same medium that was used in years
prior that excluded them in the years prior. And so there’s more work to be
done, more images to be found. But in considering the
question of MIT’s relationship to slavery, it’s important
to consider the student’s interactions with these things. And I think with
more research done, as it relates to
the students, we can better understand MIT’s
relationship with slavery. And now, I would like to invite
Professor Wilder, archivist Murphy, and Dean Nobles back to
the stage for the Q&A session. Hello again, everyone. Hello. So we will now be
starting our Q&A session. For the session, we’ll
have a few students standing by the microphones. Thank you all so much
for volunteering. Thank you all. We ask that you prepare
a single question with minimal background so we
can ask as many as possible in the short time we have today. This is a topic that we
could talk about for days, but we only have
a few minutes, so forgive me if I very
graciously give you the boot. All right, so we can begin
with our first question. When were the first African
American students at MIT, and what do we know about
what they have said or thought while they were students here? All right, the archivist
in the room stand up. The first student
to get a degree was Robert Robinson
Taylor in 1892, and he was graduating
architecture. There are several other students
who attended MIT probably a few years before him, and
there are some afterwards, but there are not a lot. And as I think, as we
all have indicated, there’s a lot more
research to do on all of these various questions. Every issue that the
students looked at just raised more questions, in
terms of who other people there are, and are the people who
need to look at and find more information about that. There are a few,
but not very many. Thank you so much. I’m so very moved by this work. And my name is Michel
DeGraff and I’m from Haiti and I teach here. And I was particularly
moved by these students, because in 2018, the
work you’re doing is so much at the interpose
of students in 1919. In particular, I’m
thinking about the founding of this magazine
that’s still being published at MIT called Voodoo. So in 1919, so the students
wrote that, talk about Voodoo, that the very name under which
the being made its appearance is clothed in mystery. For Voodoo, is that name given
to certain magical practices, superstitions,
and secret rights, be it among the Negroes
of the West Indies and more particularly in Haiti. We did not, however,
travel so far to find references to the Voodoo
in our own southern states before the Civil War for doing– We’ll need to cut you
off, but could you ask– So the question is, in
the archives, for example, have you been able to
find actions to the way Voodoo was being put to use,
and how the black students feel, and what was the intent to make
so much fun of the practice of millions of Africans, both
in Africa and Haiti and Brazil? So for me, something that’s
present because Voodoo is still being published
by SHASS, for example. So any take on this
question from the archives or the students? I think there are a few
different answers to give you. One is that the continuing
research of the class will actually examine the ways
in which, as Calvin’s research started to do, African
American and African diaspora cultures get consumed
by students at MIT during these decades, how
they actually get treated and characterized and
consumed, and then what the outcome of that is. And so it’s one of the areas
that we’re looking, actually, as the class continues
to expand into. The other part is, actually,
the more geographic– the connections
between what we do at MIT and the Caribbean
broadly, francophone and anglophone and
Hispanic Caribbean, to really think about, in fact,
the international connections that shaped the early
intellectual and social culture of the Institute, the
intellectual culture of the Institute, in
its formative decades. And we know, in fact,
that that’s actually a major part of both the
economics of higher education in the second half of the 19th
century, when we were founded, but also, in fact, in the
way in which knowledge is being produced. We have a question from
our online viewers. Yes, so many people
online have been asking whether this
video will be available. It will be on the course
website, by the way. So a question, many
people have expressed that they are happy that MIT is
choosing to share this history, as it has a huge
impact in our world. A question we have
received, someone expressed that
they are surprised that it took until now
for information to be shared that Roger had slaves. What took so long? Well, if we are
surprised by that, our surprise is a measure of
how extraordinarily successful we’ve been as a nation at
erasing the history of slavery. And we have been especially
successful at erasing the history of slavery from
the Northeastern states, from, in fact, transforming
that history into a history of relative benevolence. The narrative, actually,
has taken a perverse twist toward the just
that, actually, has no real historical
foundation to all. And so we’re only starting
to wrestle with, in fact, the intimate relationship
between the northern states and the institutions of slave
labor economies of the Atlantic World. And the stories of
universities are, in fact, just one part of that. People who don’t know Turner’s
painting, the Slave Ship, is in Boston Museum
of Fine Arts. It’s worth spending time with. I spend time with
it every few years. Was there any stated or
public reaction by the faculty to the images that
Calvin showed us? Faculty, I believe that the
images were shown the faculty. Is the question
contemporaneously, when they actually appeared
in the at the time, or during the time they
were actually showed? The time that they
appeared, was there any faculty or other
public reaction of MIT at these images? So I would say further
historical analysis will need to be done to
find the specific reactions to the images. I know that when I
looked at the images, and looking at all of
the student publications and their issues, I didn’t
find any conversation when the cartoons
were posted alongside. There was no peace
alongside the reactions. But I think more needs to
be done in searching that and, it’s worth
finding out what were the student’s reactions, what
were the faculty reactions. The fact that images have
existed for so long that relate to certain
stereotypes and such, there must not have been
that much intervention, and understanding, maybe, the
negative role that the images were playing in the community. But more needs to be done
to find out specifically how different members
in the community were interacting
with the images. What have these
recent revelations meant for black students
here at MIT today? I’ll answer it. I’m not a black student at
MIT here, but I’ll answer it. I hope, in fact, that
the history of MIT has an influence
upon students at MIT broadly, and upon the
faculty and our alumni, et cetera, our various
constituencies. I would remind us that,
in fact, actually, the story of MIT and
slavery is not actually African American history. The fact that I’m black and
it’s Black History Month shouldn’t confuse us. The story of MiT and slavery
is actually white history. It’s the other 11 months of
the year that it speaks to. It speaks to the fact of being
the very close relationship between historically white
institutions and slavery, and so forth. What’s fascinating
for me, and what I hope we’ll actually
come away with, is really a different
understanding of the, or more
central understanding, of the way in which
slavery played a core role in the development
of the United States, and especially in
the development of the Northeastern
states and their economies and institutions. I just want to add
to that, I mean, that was part of the
reason why I provided the context that the way,
say, we shouldn’t be surprised that slavery was so
fundamental to our country’s history, its economy,
it’s politics, and such, that it would be
surprising, in fact, if there were no connections. So as Craig said, as we
enter the 21st century, we are still, each
generation, learning more about our country’s history. And in a certain way, a famous
historian, David Brion Davis, described how the South may
have lost the Civil War, but they won the narrative
about slavery in the Civil War. And the erasure that
Craig alluded to earlier is something that we are
continuing to challenge. And in this effort,
I think, should be part of a much larger
national conversation about how we think about our country’s
founding and its relationship to slavery, and
the role that we’re playing as one part of a
much larger conversation. I want to add one other
thing about what this might mean for students at MIT. And I think one way
to think about it is across all the
universities who have conducted investigations
about the university’s relationship to slavery. Here at MIT, that there
is a prior question that needs to be
addressed of, who gets to narrate and write that? And there are different
constituencies that can get
involved, and I just want to highlight
what has already been said to varying degrees
that, including students as part of that is critical. So this is one thing that I
hope students will take away. I also wanted to add,
just to that question, as a black student
at MIT, I feel like there are a lot
of unspoken things that occur every single
day at this Institution that need to be addressed. And I bring that to the BSU. We bring those to our
different black organizations. And to have this, and had to
have this level of history, so that it’s not
just in our heads, these are things
that we can point to. These are things that we
can address as a community. It is not just
the responsibility of the black students unions,
the political action committee, it’s the responsibility
of all of us as a community and not
just the black students. So all of these things
that we’re learning, these conversations
that are being had, the encouragement to go back
and see these in your labs, to see these in your
interactions with other people, and to see these here
at MIT, interactions with other institutions,
it’s not just an idle call to action, it’s
we’re asking you to think. We’re asking you
to ask questions. And in that narrative
that students are forming, please bring them to us. We want to make this something
that is more fulfilled and give these stories
more perspective, because history is not just
the story of one perspective. It is a collaboration of
several different ones. And I’ll just add
that, how would you quantify the experiences
felt by a black student, seeing those images
that I had put up? How would you quantify that? It’s hard. You need to ask, does it
make you feel uncomfortable? You have a percentage, and
then what does that mean? There are different degrees
of uncomfortableness. And so I would just like
to stress the importance of qualitative analysis. There are stories, there are
questions that you can ask. If you want to know how
a black student feels at MIT, if you don’t
have a black friend, make a black friend. If you want to ask the
question, ask the question. Get to know someone. Increase dialogue,
because you can’t look at data to
supplement, necessarily, the effects of racism. Sometimes you need
to hear the stories, and they, in large
part, are sometimes more important than
the percentages you get back from the survey. You’re going to work for SHASS. Thank you all for your
wonderful responses. Do we have another
online question? So our comment and
question from online is, too many university
students and alumni respond to the legacy of slavery
in today’s context, rather than seeing it in
the context of its time. While politically
correct, it misinterprets and is historically incorrect. What gives anyone
today the right to judge the actions of
people in the distant past by modern popular
moral standards? Well, first, I’ll
answer that one. That’s a good one to answer. First, your black friends
should be voluntary. And secondly, birth
gives you the right to question slavery,
to question history, that we’re intelligent,
thinking human beings. We are not actually
held hostage by history. We have every right
to look at the past. And the idea that to judge
the past of modern values, moral values, is somehow
ahistorical misunderstands what history is. History is, in fact, the
science of really thinking about the past and how it
influences the present, and historians make moral
judgments constantly. We tend not to
complain about them when they celebrate George
Washington and Abraham Lincoln. And we tend to protest
when they start revealing uncomfortable truths. And so I have, actually, some
sympathy for the questioner. But I think that the tension
in that question is misplaced. I think we actually
have to ask ourselves, what about this part of our
past makes us so uncomfortable? And let’s stick in that moment
and deal with the discomfort, rather than actually
questioning the right of people to do history has a project. That’s not the problem. The problem isn’t
that we’re producing new historical
narratives, the problem is, actually, that
there’s someone who has discomfort with it. And let’s actually deal
with the discomfort. We’re capable of that. We’re capable of
actually thinking about the past in
constructive ways, and one of the
goals of the project is, really, to create
the opportunities for us as a community, as
communities, to wrestle with difficult
issues in dialogue, in a very extraordinarily
democratic and open way. I just want to add, one
thing that Clare said to me was that there are several ways
of containing this narrative, and one of those methods is
confining it to the past. So I think here, we need
to set that narrative free, and realize that just
because something is historically normalized
does not make it good. So thank you so much for this. I find it really bewildering
that no modern country, European or otherwise, has ever
had a comprehensive reparations program, either for slavery
or for the colonies. And when we think
about the fact that we have someone in
the White House now who celebrates white
supremacist monuments, and so on, we have to
ask, what can actually push our nation
and the narrative in that other direction? And it seems like institutions
have a big responsibility for that and can be a leader. So I wonder how you think
that MIT can participate in the project of reparations
in addressing these ties, and in terms of really framing
the narrative going forward? I guess that means
the dean talks. The issue of operations, as you
know, is pretty complicated. It’s a pretty complicated one,
but I understand the sentiment. As I earlier said, one way
that MIT is participating in helping the country
rethink its history and looking at it in a
much more complex way, is through this project. Reparations that have
succeeded in other countries are largely political
projects, which means there are ordinary
citizens organized and make demands. They don’t always succeed, and
many times they don’t, but they have to be popular
efforts to the degree that MIT is contributing
to a greater public knowledge about the
depths of our connections to slavery. And what that may require
of citizens going forward is a question that many American
citizens will have to answer, and we are contributing
to that conversation. So I think adding to
the knowledge base is a pretty important
part of this, and that’s what we’re doing. OK, we’ll take another
online question. With the recent controversies
surrounding taking down Confederate statues that are
seen as glorifying slavery, how will you
respond to those who want to discredit or take
down the works of Rogers, or other founders and leaders,
that have ties to slavery? Well, I personally think those
are two separate questions. One is the Confederate
monuments, and other monuments that actually
celebrate, for instance, Native American massacres
and other things. I have absolutely no
nostalgia for American racism. It doesn’t deserve my respect. It doesn’t deserve any
great attention from me, except the historical narrative. And it doesn’t erase history. In fact, removing those
monuments is history. History is a record of change,
and to the extent that we can remove things and
explain and understand why that was done. Now, on the other hand,
with people like Rogers, and I don’t think– my sense is that the
goal of this project, the goal of our
work collectively, is not actually
to remove Rogers. It’s actually to tell
the story in the most honest, complicated, full,
transparent way that we can. And if we do that well,
we will create the space, in fact, for much better
conversations on our campuses, in our cities, in our
states, and in our nation, for conversations about
race, social justice inclusion, diversity. What all of those things
actually really mean can’t be understood
when we’re standing in front of a false
historical background. And one of the ways
in which I think about this is that you have to,
in addition to being honest, you have to claim that space. We understand the
black students union is housed in Walker Memorial,
named after Francis Walker, who had racist views. And I understand
that we just had the multicultural conference
in Endicott House, the MIT mansion that was
funded by cotton, by the money made from cotton. And so we understand that
certain things happen in certain buildings
in certain contexts, but we have to call
attention to them. So maybe you don’t
take something down. I know there’s a story, there’s
this road in South Carolina that you have a Confederate
statue that sits on Martin Luther King Boulevard. I mean, whether you take it down
or you call attention to it, it’s important to be honest
about that narrative. And that’s one way
that you can deal with the history of the past. Rogers is also
just one character in this entire narrative, right? So for example, the second
president of MIT, John Daniel Runkle, during the
Civil War, he actually volunteered for the
Freedmen’s Aid Society to help mobilize teachers to
educate newly freed slaves. George Holmes Howison,
as I mentioned earlier, the first professor of
philosophy and logic, his parents actually randomly
decided to uproot their family and free all their slaves,
and he was brought up in that situation. So Rogers and Walker
and Runkle and Howison, they’re all moving parts
of this entire puzzle. Narratives aren’t just one
character in one situation. We have to look at
a collection of all these people representing MIT. There’s a saying that when
lions have historians, hunters will cease to be heroes. So I’d like to thank
you for giving voice to the lions in the
work that you are doing, but I also would like
to thank the hunters for laying down your weapons
and engaging in conversation. What would you say are the
implications of your project and what you’re finding
for teaching of science, but also the teaching
of history of science. Because when science is taught
and when history of science is taught, what
you’re describing is generally stripped out. It’s not either side research,
it’s just, I don’t remember. In the history of science that
I ever did, some of these things were always– there’s a
fantastically triumphalist narrative, in terms of how
science is often taught. So I think there are many
different implications about that. And the tendency as we think
about science and technology– and that became the
center of our discussions in the classrooms, of
how to talk about it. The tendency is to
isolate it and treat it as something that is
neutral, these transparent, these different variations. But actually, I think
I want to underscore what the presentations
are shown, like Alicia’s attention
to the language of slavery and human bondage, being invoked
to talk about scientific, and talking about
zoology, about the ants, it makes attention to the
language and to the practice and to do the work,
makes us realize that scientific knowledge
is actually embedded very much in this social context. You can’t treat it alone. But it’s not just about science,
it’s this also goes back to MIT as an institution. We also have a
tendency to treat MIT as isolated from these
other worldly things. And so it’s our obligation. We’re accountable and
responsible for thinking differently and trying
to complicate that. These are very much
the things on my mind as I think about what to
do next in the classroom. One of the things
that’s particularly powerful about MIT’s
investigation into this is that unlike a lot
of other institutions that have started to
look at their own history in this context, we have
a very different role. We were founded more
recently in Boston. We’re a science and
technology institution. So I think all of those facts,
that MIT’s investigation sets an important precedent
for other colleges that are science and
technology oriented, or were founded
recently in the North. But also to show that this
narrative and this connection to slavery is very nuanced,
and that science and technology are an aspect that can no
longer be left to the wings. All right, and with that we
will end our Q&A session, but we won’t end the
conversation surrounding this topic. Again, I’d like to thank you
all, and panelists, and all the volunteers, and
everyone who helped to put this event together. It is important for us to
be mindful of the power structures that
established our institution and affect our
experiences even today. I urge all of the MIT
community to keep this dialogue continuing. Please enjoy refreshments
and introduce yourselves to someone you
haven’t met before.


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