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Talking Politics - The African American Experience in Missouri

Jesse Hall on the University of Missouri Campus

Welcome to Talking Politics. KBIA’s weekly show dedicated to talking about local and national politics. Last week, the University of Missouri began its 18 month lecture series it’s calling The African American Experience in Missouri.

Keona Ervin, an MU history professor, said the series was created in response to the race-related events that took place on the university’s campus last fall.

“In late November early December, we started to talk about ways to really promote the rich history that is the African American experience in the state, as a way to kind of respond to the campus protests of 2015 and Ferguson in 2014. And really use all of our resources here on campus, kind of toward the effort of building a kind of historical consciousness, a collective historical consciousness of what this state was really about,” Ervin said.

The series is comprised of 12 lectures given by top scholars in the field of African American Studies. It was created by MU’s Division of Inclusion, Diversity and Equity in collaboration with the state Historical Society of Missouri.

Diane Mutti Burke, an associate professor of history at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, gave the first lecture of the series, called Contesting Slavery: Enslaved Missourian’s Enduring Struggle for Self-Determination.

Burke’s lecture will serve as a base line of knowledge about what enslaved Missourians had to endure; from which the rest of the series will build.

In her lecture, Burke said a crucial component in the university’s efforts to move forward, is to understand the history of African Americans in the state of Missouri.

 “It is very important to try and understand this history. The often troubling race relations in the state, and I think it is also important to gain a greater appreciation for the resiliency and the accomplishments of African Americans. So in order for us to move forward I think we need to understand this history as so many people have said her tonight,” Burke said.

Ervin said if there has been an upside to the race-related events that occurred on campus last fall, is that they have made the topic of racism a more welcomed conversation.

 “The event’s happening on campus here, and really just across the country, the wave of campus protests, the rise of the black lives matter movement, all of that is really encouraging a kind of national dialogue about matters of race. And what is exciting for me is that, people are thinking historically and wanting to know the kind of history behind these questions, so that is exciting, “Ervin said.

Ervin added that with the start of the lecture series the university can begin taking the necessary steps needs in order to move forward past last semester’s struggles.

 “That is the work, right? Our work is to provide a kind of foundation for thinking about this history in very complex ways and learned ways. And then, in a sense, kind of grapple together with what that means. What barring does history have on present? I think that’s something….that’s the next endeavor,” Ervin said.

University of Missouri graduate student, Andrew Olden, was also in attendance at the university’s lecture series. He said only time will be able to tell what impact the series has on the university’s campus.

 “I think that they are attempting to make progress and that they are definitely showing stead-fast improvements but only time will tell,” Olden said.

The next lecture will be on March 23rd.

Martha S. Jones, a professor of history at the University of Michigan will give a lecture that will look at the role violence had on enslaved women, in a presentation called #SayHerName: Black Women and State Violence in the case of Missouri versus Celia, A Slave.

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