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History Department presents ‘Race and Ethnicity in America: Past and Present’

hands raised in protest
Hands raised in protest. iStock.com

Before she entered Furman, Asha Marie ’22 had already carved out a niche for racial equality and activism. Marie, who has lived most of her life in Greenville, South Carolina, was behind the petition to change the moniker of her high school named in honor of slave owner and Confederate general Wade Hampton. Due to a longstanding law that protects names and monuments in South Carolina, her efforts all but evaporated.

Asha Marie '22
Asha Marie ’22

But that didn’t discourage her from sharing her experience and underscoring the stories behind monuments, names and other memorials.

She will do so on Wednesday, Oct. 7, at 7-8:30 p.m. when she participates in a virtual Cultural Life Program panel discussion, “An Unmasterable Past? Monuments, Memory and the Confederate Legacy in American Memory,” the first event in a year-long series by the Department of History about race and ethnicity in America.

Other panelists joining Marie, an advocacy and justice studies major, include Claire Whitlinger, assistant professor of sociology, Jason Hansen, associate professor of history, and Courtney Tollison, assistant professor of history and Distinguished University Public Historian and Scholar.

Kelly Sharp
Kelly Sharp, assistant professor of history

“We recognized the impact of this moment – of 2020 – and more generally, the Black Lives Matter movement,” said Assistant Professor of History Kelly Sharp, who with Hansen created the series. “We wanted to connect contemporary events with their historical roots.”

Hansen pointed to the killings of George Floyd in Minnesota and Breonna Taylor in Louisville. “This has been going on for a long time – it’s nothing new,” he said. “We keep saying we want change, but change doesn’t happen. And so we as a department thought about what we can do to make the situation better – to lead to more understanding, beyond symbolic things.”

Yet, Hansen says that symbolic efforts are still important.

Jason Hansen
Jason Hansen, associate professor of history

“Symbolism matters, renaming buildings matters,” he said. “But renaming Clemson’s Ben Tillman Hall won’t change the fact that Breonna Taylor got shot.”

Hansen said the series is a chance to do what they do best – to educate and talk about the history of race in America in a way that is not politically partisan.

After the Wednesday, Oct. 7, session on monuments and memory, two more sessions are slated, with more to come.

On Tuesday, Oct. 27, 7-8:30 p.m., the sessions is “Southern Democrats and African Americans: The Odd Couple of American Politics.”

Robert Greene II of Claflin University looks at how the Democratic Party’s fortunes were heavily tied to African Americans during and after the civil rights movement. He examines three elections for which white Southerners were on the ballot, 1976, 1980 and 1992, and how Democratic strategists rallied Black support while holding on to white moderates to fend off an ascendant Republican Party.

On Thursday, Nov. 12, 7-8:30 p.m., the session will be “Your Place in History: African American Genealogy as a Means for Understanding the Present.”

Genealogist Walter Curry of Claflin University, an Orangeburg, South Carolina, native sheds new light on African American history in the state by exploring his own family. His ancestors include a slave who purchased his freedom, a woman freed by virtue of her service as a cook in the Confederate Army, a young relative who was murdered, and a sharecropper who became a prominent soil conservationist.

During spring semester, the history department will continue the “Race and Ethnicity in America” series by screening the musical “Hamilton,” which Hansen believes goes a long way toward creating a more diverse memory of our nation’s founding.

“I like that ‘Hamilton’ uses history in a way that is more inclusive and opens the national story to more people, as opposed to using history as a way of reminding people of past wrongs,” he said.

As for Furman’s series, Hansen said it’s a step in the right direction.

“Part of empathy is listening,” he said. “We as academics can talk all we want, but people, and students specifically, want to feel like they are being heard. They need to see our reactions when someone talks about growing up in the South and being African American and going to Wade Hampton High School, whose mascot is the generals, and how does that make you feel? Students need to see us listening to that.”

Check the CLP Calendar for information about how to register for the virtual events in the series “Race and Ethnicity in America.” Or visit this link for the Oct. 7 session.

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