In our NEH-funded Introduction to Humanities course, we had some fascinating conversations about genealogy, and the challenges in tracing African American family histories prior to the 19th century due to the legacy of slavery. I’m reminded of a comment Henry Louis Gates made during one episode of Finding Your Roots, where he discussed how his white friends were able to track their descendants back to the Mayflower, or back to Europe, but that his family couldn’t do that. Building on his idea that “knowing one’s ancestry untaps powerful forces for healing the deep wounds of racism in America,” Jean Greene and I (Dan Fuller) have decided to launch a genealogy workshop on campus this semester. We’re envisioning a series of hands-on workshops to help students and interested community members tap into their family histories and then extend their research using census records, military service records, and other archival collections. We are planning to hold two or three sessions with Jean and I leading the group to build their trees with as much information as they can gather (the low-hanging fruit, to play with the metaphor a bit more) and then we’ll bring in an expert on African American genealogy in a later session to help the participants push through any roadblocks they may have encountered. Our first introductory session will be held during Founder’s Week on Thursday, March 22nd at 1:30pm in the future Utica Institute Museum.
January was a whirlwind of historic tours, conversations, and learning. We kicked our semester off with a campus historical tour for all the academic faculty on campus. Most folks knew pieces of the story of our founding, but it had been a while since we brought everyone together to share it all. We were also able to share some of our more recent discoveries, including a visit to the original Utica Institute train stop on the old Little J railroad line, which ran from Jackson to Utica. More recently, we were able to take a group of students to the screening of Tell Them We Are Rising, a new film about the HBCU experience coming out on PBS in a few weeks. Students were able to watch the film and meet with the director for a Q&A, along with a panel on the impact of HBCUs like Utica in Mississippi.