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Image of the webinar on the Maritime Underground Railroad

Celebrating Black History Month at the John W. Kluge Center

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The John W. Kluge Center has had the privilege of hosting many scholars of Black history, who have shared their expertise with the public in events, blog posts, and podcasts. As Black History Month 2022 comes to a close, we are taking the opportunity to highlight opportunities to learn about Black history from our recent and past programs.

The Underground Railroad, a secret network of routes and safe houses run by abolitionists, is famous for helping Black Americans escape the states where they were enslaved and enter free states, Canada, or other destinations. Maritime escapes are often overlooked, but were also frequently used, particularly when fugitives needed to travel a longer distance to reach freedom. In new event The Maritime Underground Railroad, panelists discussed the history of this escape route, sharing stories of the people who risked prison and death while escaping and helping others escape.

In a new recorded interview, available here, former Kluge Center Distinguished Visiting Scholar and Georgetown historian Adam Rothman interviewed Distinguished Visiting Scholar Martha Jones on her upcoming books. Jones recently signed an unusual four-book deal to write on Black history, slavery, and race in America.

In the event, Jones discussed one of the books, a biography of Roger Taney, the 19th century Supreme Court Chief Justice who authored the infamous Dred Scott decision that denied Black Americans the right to citizenship. She shared information about another upcoming book that deals with the history of slavery and sexual violence along with a memoir of her own family’s history.

The Kluge Center held another event with Jones in 2021, this one an interview about her book “Vanguard: How Black Women Broke Barriers, Won the Vote, and Insisted on Equality for All.” In the event, available here, she talked about the history of African American women activists that is too-frequently left out of accounts of the struggles for racial and gender equality in the US. The conversation touched on the stories of trailblazing activists like Maria Stewart, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, and Fannie Lou Hamer, and the political battles they fought against unjust systems.

The Kluge Center podcast African American Passages, released in 2019, looked at the lives of Black Americans in the 19th century through the lens of material found in the collections of the Library of Congress. In the podcast, host Adam Rothman and guests tell the stories of an 1831 memoir written by an enslaved man in Arabic, and a Black Civil War veteran’s entry in a left-handed penmanship competition, and others. Rothman also wrote for the Kluge Center’s blog about an unusual letter in the Library of Congress collections sent by an enslaved woman to President James Polk.

Rothman held an event titled African American Passages as well, where he discussed Black lives in the 19th century and relevant collections at the Library of Congress with Kluge Center Distinguished Visiting Scholar Jesse Holland. Read more about the event here.

Wendi Maloney interviewed Holland in 2020 about his book on Freedman’s Village, “a lost African American city that sat on the grounds of Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia, and was populated by freed slaves, Black abolitionists and members of the United States Colored Troops during and after the Civil War.”

In 2021, the Kluge Center’s Janna Deitz interviewed political theorists Melvin Rogers and Jack Turner on their edited volume “African American Political Thought: A Collected History.” In the interview, Rogers and Turner discussed the evolution of the concept of freedom over time, as well as their mission to make the book a work of collective history. Rogers is a former Kluge Center Distinguished Visiting Scholar as well as Associate Professor of Political Science at Brown University, and Turner is Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Washington. Read more about the event on our blog.

In a 2019, Danielle Allen, the 2020 winner of the John W. Kluge Prize for Achievement in the Study of Humanity, participated in an event based on her book “Our Declaration: A Reading of the Declaration of Independence in Defense of Equality.” In the book and event, she gives a close reading of the Declaration of Independence, making the case that the document was written to safeguard equality as much as it was to secure freedom.

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