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Three Lectures for Black History Month

February is Black History Month, and three past lectures at the Kluge Center focus on lesser known aspects of African American history in the U.S. and Britain.

In 2009, Kluge Fellow Srividhya Swaminathan examined the dialogue between British pro-slavery and anti-slavery activists in the later part of the 18th century. Swaminathan wondered how slavery became status quo in Britain? How did the language of slavery enter British national discourse? As a literary scholar, Swaminathan set out to uncover what documents, novels, newspapers and magazines helped to establish slavery as the status quo. What she uncovered in her research was shared in her lecture, “Defining Enslavement: Literary Depictions of Slaveries in Early 18th Century Britain.” Swaminathan is now Associate Professor of English at Long Island University. At the Kluge Center she completed a book titled, “Debating the Slave Trade: Rhetoric of British National Identity, 1759-1815.”

In 2009, historian Maurice Jackson published his book, “Let This Voice Be Heard: Anthony Benezet, Father of Atlantic Abolitionism.” The book was finished while Jackson was in residence as a Kluge Fellow in 2005. It was the first biography of Benezet, the founder of the 18th century antislavery movement in America. Benezet was a Quaker, and he believed the British ban on slavery should have been extended to the American colonies. In his lecture at the Kluge Center, Jackson delineates how Benezet worked to convince his Quaker brethren that slave-owning was not consistent with religious doctrine. Jackson is now Associate Professor of History at Georgetown University.

In 2006, historian Patricia Sullivan was a distinguished visiting scholar at the Kluge Center working on a history of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). The Library of Congress holds the NAACP papers, the largest single collection ever acquired by the Library (more than 3 million items). In her presentation in 2006, titled “Freedom Writer: Virginia Foster Durr, Letters from the Civil Rights Years,” Sullivan focused on the letters of Civil Rights activist Virginia Forster Durr, the subject of her first book. Virginia Foster Durr was a southern white woman descended from slaveholders. In that respect she was an unlikely candidate to become a leader in the Civil Rights struggle. However in the 1930s and 1940s, Foster Durr moved to Washington and worked tirelessly to advocate for Civil Rights. Her letters, written after she left Washington in 1951, document what changed and what did not as segregation was coming to a close, as well as her own journey within the movement. Sullivan came to know Foster Durr personally when Sullivan was writing her dissertation. Sullivan is now Professor of History at the University of South Carolina.

Incidentally, Jackson and Sullivan teamed up for a “lightning conversation” as part of last year’s #ScholarFest. The pair discussed the origins of the NAACP and the use of violence to enforce racial order in early 20th century America.

For more African American History Month lectures, oral histories, images and online exhibits, visit the African American History Month web portal created by the Library of Congress, National Archives, Smithsonian Institution, National Park Service and National Endowment for the Humanities. Click here to view it now.

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