Tag it:
Delicious
Furl it!
Spurl
NewsVine
Reddit
Digg
March 18, just days after the New York Times ran an article on President Ruth Simmons appointment of a committee to tackle the question of howand ifBrown should atone for its early ties to slavery (see Sins of Our Fathers, July/August 2003), the committee held its first public event. The Times article had precipitated an all-out media circus, and a crowd of 175 or so came to Salomon Center that night mostly professors, alumni, and other local residents; student turnout was conspicuously low.

A panel of scholars discussed the Rhode Island slave tradespecifically the involvement of the Brown family, which included both a slave trader and an abolitionist, both uncles of the benefactor after whom the University is named. The panelistsnone of them a member of the reparations committeeincluded J. Stanley Lemons, professor of history at Rhode Island College; Bela Teixeira, executive director of the Rhode Island Black Heritage Society; Rhett Jones, professor of Africana studies at Brown; and Joanne Pope Melish 86, 96 PhD, associate professor of history at the University of Kentucky. They talked for about an hour.

Then things heated up. In the back-and-forth with the audience, Roy McKechnie 55 told the panel that after the Times article, his phone had rung off the wall with calls from irate, curious, puzzled classmates. He criticized the presidents remarks as they were quoted in the newspaper, which reported that she would be disappointed if the committee decided there was nothing Brown could or should do. It sounds to me like marching orders, McKechnie said, arguing that Simmons had tainted the committee by effectively supporting reparations.

Committee chair James Campbell, an associate professor of American civilization and Africana studies who moderated the panel, retorted that Simmons had given his committee no such charge. I have no idea what Ruth Simmons thinks of the idea of reparations, he said.

Two weeks later, Today show viewers got a clearer view of Simmonss stance. She told national correspondent Jamie Gangel, If [the committee] came back and said, By the way, I think that the University owes the descendents of the two slaves who worked on the College edifice a million dollars, Id probably be the first person to say, I dont think so. She elaborated: To me, this is more about truth and reconciliation than it is about blame, punishment, payment.

The committee expects to study the issue for two more years. Its members meet in a University Hall office, Campbell pointed out, in which stands a grandfather clock that once belonged to Esek Hopkins. In 1764 Hopkins captained the brig Sally, which carried 170 African slaves in a venture undertaken by the Browns. Between an outbreak of smallpox and a slave revolt only twenty-four slaves survived the voyage. Campbell posed a series of metaphorical questions: What should Brown do with the clock? Throw it away? Strip it of the plaque bearing Hopkinss name? Add another plaque? Whats remarkable, he said, is how few people in this country choose to ask these questions.

The committees charge and members are online, at www.brown.edu/Research/Slavery_Justice.March 18, just days after the New York Times ran an article on President Ruth Simmons appointment of a committee to tackle the question of howand ifBrown should atone for its early ties to slavery (see Sins of Our Fathers, July/August 2003), the committee held its first public event. The Times article had precipitated an all-out media circus, and a crowd of 175 or so came to Salomon Center that night mostly professors, alumni, and other local residents; student turnout was conspicuously low.

A panel of scholars discussed the Rhode Island slave tradespecifically the involvement of the Brown family, which included both a slave trader and an abolitionist, both uncles of the benefactor after whom the University is named. The panelistsnone of them a member of the reparations committeeincluded J. Stanley Lemons, professor of history at Rhode Island College; Bela Teixeira, executive director of the Rhode Island Black Heritage Society; Rhett Jones, professor of Africana studies at Brown; and Joanne Pope Melish 86, 96 PhD, associate professor of history at the University of Kentucky. They talked for about an hour.

Then things heated up. In the back-and-forth with the audience, Roy McKechnie 55 told the panel that after the Times article, his phone had rung off the wall with calls from irate, curious, puzzled classmates. He criticized the presidents remarks as they were quoted in the newspaper, which reported that she would be disappointed if the committee decided there was nothing Brown could or should do. It sounds to me like marching orders, McKechnie said, arguing that Simmons had tainted the committee by effectively supporting reparations.

Committee chair James Campbell, an associate professor of American civilization and Africana studies who moderated the panel, retorted that Simmons had given his committee no such charge. I have no idea what Ruth Simmons thinks of the idea of reparations, he said.

Two weeks later, Today show viewers got a clearer view of Simmonss stance. She told national correspondent Jamie Gangel, If [the committee] came back and said, By the way, I think that the University owes the descendents of the two slaves who worked on the College edifice a million dollars, Id probably be the first person to say, I dont think so. She elaborated: To me, this is more about truth and reconciliation than it is about blame, punishment, payment.

The committee expects to study the issue for two more years. Its members meet in a University Hall office, Campbell pointed out, in which stands a grandfather clock that once belonged to Esek Hopkins. In 1764 Hopkins captained the brig Sally, which carried 170 African slaves in a venture undertaken by the Browns. Between an outbreak of smallpox and a slave revolt only twenty-four slaves survived the voyage. Campbell posed a series of metaphorical questions: What should Brown do with the clock? Throw it away? Strip it of the plaque bearing Hopkinss name? Add another plaque? Whats remarkable, he said, is how few people in this country choose to ask these questions.

The committees charge and members are online, at www.brown.edu/Research/Slavery_Justice.





Be the first to comment on this article

Name and Class Year:
Email:
Comment:

Code:* Code