VCU’s speaker series addresses Southern identity and race issues

An impressive schedule of learned speakers comes to Richmond courtesy of VCU—all of them ready to help us figure out how we handle race and history in the South. Perhaps this will lead to some change.

Photo by: jystewart

It’s been a wild month in the South. Since the shooting of nine black churchgoers by a white supremacist in Charleston who loved to brandish the Confederate battle flag, we’ve all been examining the Confederate symbols in our midst. Richmond media took a largely progressive stance, often calling for the removal of street names and monuments that venerate men who symbolize a terrible mindset that used to characterize the region of the world we currently inhabit.

There’s a whole big chunk of our city’s population that is actively offended by the symbols, and another less countable population of potential Richmonders who decided against moving here because of the way the city represents itself via these symbols.

To many of us, removing the symbols is just fine. We don’t identify with Southerners from 150 years ago. We’re just trying to eat biscuits and go about our business.

“But wait,” said another group. “That’s our history! To us, these men represent honor and nobility and the stick-to-it-iveness that we feel we as Southerners represent.”

“Plus,” said a subset of that group. “Those are our ancestors, and we need to respect them.”

“And don’t forget us over here,” said a surprisingly large sub-subset. “We actually still believe the stuff those guys did. Yeah! Turns out we still exist!”

The only thing that’s entirely clear is that the South doesn’t always come off favorably to other parts of the world–and it can’t really get a firm grip on what it believes itself. It’s confusing. It’s shifting all the time, and now, more than ever, I doubt any of us have thought of any great solutions. Is there even a solution?

In a very timely fashion, VCU announced their speaker series a few weeks ago. Entitled Race, Citizenship, and Memory in the South, the series would be a stellar opportunity for all of us to get in a room, listen to some opinions, and talk it out.

Kicking off with the legendary Cornel West on September 3rd, the series is something we’ll be keeping a close eye on. See you there?

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The schedule

Cornel West • “Invoking Our Collective Memory”

Cornel West, Ph.D., one of America’s most prominent public intellectuals and a champion of racial justice, will launch the series with a keynote address. West has written 19 books, including “Race Matters,” “Democracy Matters,” and his new memoir, “Brother West: Living and Loving Out Loud.” He has been a frequent guest on CNN, C-Span, “Real Time With Bill Maher,” and “The Colbert Report,” as well as on Tavis Smiley’s PBS TV and NPR radio shows. This event is co-sponsored by VCU’s Office of the President, the Division for Inclusive Excellence and the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs.

  • Thursday, September 3rd • 6:00 PM
  • Stuart C. Siegel Center, 1200 W. Broad St.

Kathy Merlock Jackson • ” ‘You Can’t Run Away From Trouble’: Song and Story in Disney’s ‘Song of the South’ “

Kathy Merlock Jackson, Ph.D., a professor and coordinator of communication at Virginia Wesleyan College, will speak about the cultural politics of Disney’s “Song of the South.” First released in 1946, “Song of the South” was an ambitious and innovative cinematic experiment combining live actors with animation. But the film’s depiction of African-American former slaves and of race relations in the Reconstruction era was condemned by many critics as overtly racist. The film has never been released on home video; indeed, the Disney Corp. keeps it firmly locked away. The film’s troubled history provides a remarkable window onto changing attitudes toward race in the mid- to late-20th century. This event is co-sponsored by VCU’s Southern Film Festival.

  • Thursday, September 10th • 6:00 PM
  • The Depot, 814 W. Broad St.

James Loewen • “What Does the Civil War Mean in Richmond Today?”

James Loewen, Ph.D., one of America’s most provocative public historians, will speak about Civil War memory in Richmond and the South. Loewen’s research focuses on how Americans remember their past and the ways in which that past has been misrepresented in the classroom, and he is best known for his book, “Lies My Teacher Told Me.” Loewen has taught at several universities, including the University of Vermont and the Catholic University of America. He has played a central role in conversations across the nation about the reframing of U.S. history textbooks to provide students with a more balanced and accurate knowledge of the past.

  • Tuesday, September 29th • 6 p.m.
  • VCU Student Commons, Richmond Salons I-IV, 907 Floyd Ave.

William Maxwell • “F.B. Eyes: How J. Edgar Hoover’s Ghostreaders Framed African-American Literature”

William Maxwell, Ph.D., an associate professor of English and African and African-American Studies at Washington University in St. Louis, will speak about his new book, “F.B. Eyes: How J. Edgar Hoover’s Ghostreaders Framed African-American Literature.” Drawing on nearly 14,000 pages of recently released FBI files, the book exposes and examines the FBI’s policing of African-American poems, plays, essays and novels over five decades in a bid to anticipate black protest. The agency sought to prevent these authors from traveling abroad and laid contingency plans for the arrest of many of these authors in the event of national emergency. It shows that the FBI’s fear of black protest was fueled in large part by its recognition of the power of African-American literature.

  • Tuesday, October 13th • 4:00 PM
  • VCU Student Commons, Richmond Salons III-IV, 907 Floyd Ave.

Kristin Green • “Something Must Be Done About Prince Edward County: A Family, A Virginia Town, A Civil Rights Battle”

Journalist Kristen Green will discuss her new book, “Something Must Be Done About Prince Edward County: A Family, A Virginia Town, A Civil Rights Battle.” Virginia’s Prince Edward County refused to abide by the Supreme Court’s unanimous 1954 decision in favor of desegregation, closed its public schools, established in their place a private academy and appropriated supplies from closed schools for their all-white classrooms, while black parents struggled to find alternative education for their children. Green grew up in Farmville and attended Prince Edward Academy, which did not open its doors to black students until 1986. In this book, she has uncovered her hometown’s dark history and also her own family’s complex involvement in the community’s response to civil rights legislation.

  • Monday, October 19th • 7:00 PM
  • VCU Student Commons, Richmond Salons I-II, 907 Floyd Ave.

Django Unchained: Screening and Panel Discussion

“Django Unchained” is Quentin Tarantino’s most commercially successful and perhaps his most controversial film. Some critics have condemned the film’s representation of race and slavery, while others have defended Tarantino against these attacks. Many aspects of the film have attracted the attention of scholars and a recent collection of essays edited by Oliver Speck, Ph.D., an assistant professor of German and European cinema in the School of World Studies, part of the VCU College of Humanities and Sciences, brought together a range of academic perspectives on the movie. This panel discussion, featuring experts in film studies, African-American studies, and women’s and gender studies, to be followed by a screening of the film, will engage some of those perspectives in an open conversation about “Django Unchained” and its implications. This event is co-sponsored by the VCU School of the Arts’ Cinema Program, the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs and the Richmond branch of the NAACP.

  • Tuesday, October 27th at 6:00 PM
  • Grace Street Theater, 934 W. Grace St.

Nicole Myers Turner • “Powering the Pulpit: Religion, Race and Politics in Post-Emancipation Virginia”

Nicole Myers Turner, an expert in African-American history who will join VCU’s Department of History as a professor in fall 2016, will speak about her current book project, “Faith and Freedom: The Politics of Black Religious Institutions in Post-Emancipation Virginia.” Her research explores the ways in which Virginia’s free and freed people used their churches and religious educational institutions to define and fight for freedom in the late-19th century. Focusing on black churches in Petersburg and Southside Virginia, Turner shows how religious and political movements became tightly interwoven during the decades following emancipation.

  • Wednesday, November 18th • 7:00 PM
  • VCU Student Commons, Richmond Salons I-II, 907 Floyd Ave.
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Susan Howson

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