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The untold stories of slavery

Pulitzer Prize-​​winning author Dou­glas Blackmon, who has exten­sively researched African Amer­ican slavery in the late 19th and early 20th cen­tury, said he is often asked why he wrote a book por­traying such ter­rible events. His answer: it’s a way to infuse per­son­ality into sto­ries that were orig­i­nally written in dehu­man­izing ways.

“I think it’s impor­tant we acknowl­edge how many untold sto­ries there are,” said Blackmon, who spoke on campus Friday. “We absolutely cannot forget these things. We have to remember them because pri­marily it is the only thing we can do to restore some sort of dig­nity to the lives that were taken.”

Sto­ries of racial injus­tice and 20th cen­tury African Amer­ican slavery that were once swept under the rug were brought to the fore­front during Blackmon’s lec­ture. The event, titled “Slavery By Another Name: Uncov­ering the Untold Sto­ries, was part of “50 Years For­ward,” Northeastern’s year­long com­mem­o­ra­tion to the people, places, and orga­ni­za­tions ded­i­cated to civil rights in America and to the 50th anniver­sary of the Civil Rights Act.

About 120 people attended the event, held in the Raytheon Amphithe­ater and co-​​sponsored by the School of Law’s Civil Rights and Restora­tive Jus­tice Project, the Col­lege of Social Sci­ences and Human­i­ties, and the North­eastern Human­i­ties Center.

“Today’s pro­gram takes us back a bit more than 50 years into the time of the civil rights strug­gles before the 1960s,” said Uta Poiger, dean of the Col­lege of Social Sci­ences and Human­i­ties. “It also takes us into the sys­tem­atic enslave­ment of African Amer­i­cans and forced labor sys­tems that went well into the 20th century.”

In 2009, Blackmon received the Pulitzer Prize for gen­eral non­fic­tion for his book Slavery by Another Name: The Re-​​Enslavement of Black Amer­i­cans from the Civil War to World War II. The book exam­ines how laws estab­lished during that time period made it dif­fi­cult to live as a black person and devel­oped a new form of slavery for hun­dreds of thou­sands of African Americans.

In addi­tion to the sto­ries that Blackmon researched for his book, two North­eastern law stu­dents shared the sto­ries of two African Amer­ican men whose brutal mur­ders in 1948 were never inves­ti­gated until now. Jes­sica Yamane, L’14, and Mary Nguyen, L’14, worked with the Civil Rights and Restora­tive Jus­tice Project, in which law stu­dents inves­ti­gate and lit­i­gate civil rights cold cases.

“Our mis­sion is to cor­rect the injus­tices in the his­tor­ical record, edu­cate our stu­dents on the dif­fi­cul­ties of making jus­tice in our country, and pro­vide some mea­sure of remedy for com­mu­ni­ties and fam­i­lies that have been vic­tim­ized,” said North­eastern law pro­fessor Mar­garet Burnham, the program’s founder. “We are working hard, we are working fast, but time is against us.”

Friday’s event also included a per­for­mance by the band Joyful Noise led by Leonard Brown, an asso­ciate pro­fessor in the Depart­ment of Music and the Depart­ment of African Amer­ican Studies. The band played four songs, including Some­times I Feel Like a Moth­er­less Child, which was sung by Danielle Ponder, L’11

-By Joe O’Connell

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